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My Ear Training Exercises

ear training

Question: In my ear training exercises, I can currently hear every scale interval in my mind’s ear in every key. I am wondering about the minor intervals. I can hear them externally and correctly match them but I have not yet been able to hear them in my mind’s ear first in every key. I have heard of listening to familiar songs with these intervals in them and using them as a reference. This has proven helpful but I don’t know if it is the best way. Any suggestions?

Also, after interval recognition, you mentioned playing melodies by ear (on the Play Piano by Ear page). I also like the 2 methods mentioned on this page but I don’t want to try these 2 too soon. Should I learn all the chords before attempting them? In what order would you recommend attempting these exercises?

Thanks and best wishes.

– Tevaun (Georgia, USA)

Albert’s reply: While shortcuts such as associating the opening of familiar melodies with specific intervals is indeed helpful, in actual music this method tends to break down. The reason is that the intervals occur in different places within the scale, and your mind would have to jump to a key other than the one you’re actually hearing, which confuses your ears.

It’s best to use the notes within the scale for ear training. When you hear a melody, find the tonic (scale degree 1), then sing the scale degree numbers. For example, “Mary Had a Little Lamb” would be 3–2–1–2–3–3–3, 2–2–2, 3–5–5, and so on.

This will work for the minor intervals as well as major – the only differences are scale degrees 3 and 6 (and 7 if it’s not raised to the leading tone).

Then, hear any notes outside the scale as chromatic neighbors: for instance, #4 doesn’t belong to the major or minor scale but is heard as leading to 5. This way, you’ll be hearing horizontally – in other words, you’ll hear where the tones want to go.

As for the order of the exercises, I recommend doing them in the order listed on the Play Piano by Ear page. There’s no need to learn all the chords first… there are too many of them. It’s simply important to learn the most basic ones by ear (starting with I, V and IV), then gradually expanding your harmonic vocabulary.

If you learn to hear within the scale, you’ll actually be doing melodic and harmonic ear training at the same time!

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