Missing Notes in Ear Training?

Question: Here’s one I can’t explain… in specific ear training where the student is asked to do chord identification (major/minor with inversion) using 4-note chords, the student can only hear (and can sing back perfectly) three of the notes… and it’s not always the matching octave note that’s missing. She can’t hear the 4th one and must make an educated guess by singing in succession.

Any ideas as to what this is? Some sort of hearing or “translation by the brain” deficiency? It’s never been noticed in her playing or listening to other forms of music.

Any ideas as to how to “fix” this?

Albert’s reply: This is a great question, and it’s a surprisingly common situation. My guess is that it has something to do with how we hear fundamentals and overtones. In my experience, less experienced students easily confound the root and fifth of a chord, and sometimes even the third.

Also, there are definitely psychoacoustic processes at work. For instance, establish a minor key, then play the third and fifth scale degrees and ask a student to identify the interval. Very many students will say it is a minor third, not major, since they’re still hearing the tonic in their mind’s ear.

My solution is always to simplify and take a step back, then gradually work back up to the more complex material. Thus, I’d work with three-note chords and have your student sing each note until she’s able to do that both accurately and immediately. Then reintroduce four-note harmonies. I’d also try using non-harmonic notes as well, to see whether she identifies them more easily than pure harmonies. The mind can indeed be deceptive!

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