Ear Training with the Radio

Question: For singing I do breathing exercises before bed. I believe in practising breathing and listening together because the listening helps to open the right spaces and even adjusts posture. To do this I just listen to the radio or a CD. Like the breathing I would like to know some specifics and even spiritual aspects to focus on. Do you have any suggestions as to what I should focus on for listening when it’s just listening itself? And should I let it guide my breathing as it would my hands on the guitar or singing voice?

– Carson (Canada)

Albert’s reply: For ear training, I recommend listening for the harmonies above all. In your musical training you should build up a vocabulary of standard harmonies which you can recognize by ear, starting with tonic and dominant, then subdominant, then submediant and supertonic, and then branching out from there. You can also assess the harmonic rhythm, listen for key changes, and hear the melody as scale degrees. Taking a further step back, you can listen for the structure of the piece. A lot of (but by no means all) popular music, for example, is limited to a strophic form and three or four harmonies, and this makes it easier to analyze “on the fly.” I caution that some of it can get very tricky, however, with added tones and nonstandard harmonic motion!

It’s important to note as well that this sort of analytical listening is not necessarily the “correct” way to listen to music, although it is a vital part of musical training. If there is any “correct” way to listen, it is simply getting caught up in the musical flow and the emotions of the music. That’s the point of music, after all!

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