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Ear Training is an essential component of good musicianship.

It is also an invaluable help with sight - singing and transcription.

A musician must be able to read and hear written music as readily as

they speak their own language.

A musical phrase corresponds to a simple sentence.

Recognition of melody - scales and intervals, harmony – chords, and

rhythm - tempo and meter, is critically important.

As you gain experience and become better and better at this, you will
be surprised at the new things you will hear musically and aurally!

You will also find yourself hearing recordings in a totally new light.
Constantly evolving and improving recording technologies allow us
to achieve almost flat frequency response, noiseless and distortion
free audio signals and superb time and spatial resolution – because
listener’s ears are becoming more discriminating and demanding.

Not so much emphasis on solfege

Coltrane to Paul Chambers:

Do do re re mi mi fa fa so so fa fa mi mi do ti do ti do!

Perfect as opposed to relative pitch

Some people can hear a note and say ‘that’s Eb!’ and others are even
more attuned and can say ‘it’s an Eb with the treble boosted by 3dB
at 2.5KHz!’

Kettle story

Chord Spelling and Grammar

Intervals and chords

An interval is usually defined as the distance between two notes

A chord is a combination of three or more notes –

that have intervals between them.

The tone upon which the chord is built is called the root
followed by the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, 11th and 13th

Each tone is named according to its interval relationship to the root

of the chord

A chord may be built upon each tone of a key

A chord is named from the degree of the scale, which is its root
Roman numerals are used as symbols of chords

The I, IV and V chords consist of a major 3rd and perfect 5th

from the root.
These chords are called major chords.

The II, III and VI chords consist of a minor 3rd and a perfect 5th
from the root.
These chords are called minor chords.

The VII chord consists of a minor 3rd and a diminished 5th from
the root.

A chord is major or minor depending on the size of it’s 3rd.

You need to be aware of chord progressions II- V- I , I- VI- II- V etc.

Melodies are generally constructed using chords as a basis.

A melody may follow the line of a scale up or down.
Not all tones of the melody or scale may be found in this chord.
The tones that come between the tones of the chard are called
passing tones and do not generally affect the harmony.
Exercises using the root, 3rd and 5th

Rhythmic Exercises

Training Your Ear – Perfect versus Relative Pitch

There has been a lot of discussion concerning whether or not it is

possible to have perfect pitch or relative pitch or the ability to listen
to the radio and accurately call out the chords as they are being
played over the radio.

I have colleagues that have the ability to do this and after practising
this, I would like to share my thoughts on how this can be done.

1. Intervallic Training

One of the first lessons that piano players learn is the ability to
distinguish intervals. Piano players that learn from a traditional
teacher will play intervals or 2nds, 3rds, 4ths, etc. (Playing the root
note and its 2nd, the root note and its 3rd, the root note and its 4th).
This concept is difficult to teach on the guitar because it is tuned in
4ths and on other instruments there are fingering, positioning or
blowing issues, but this technique is necessary to easily hear and
distinguish the chords that are being played.

When you think of playing the chord scale diatonically, the shortcut
of learning to distinguish intervals will make much more sense. For
example, in the key of C, playing the chord scale diatonically will give
you C, Dm, Em, F, G, Am, B dim, and C following the Major, Minor,
Minor, Major, Major, Minor, Diminished, Octave [MmmMMmDO].
The difference between the C root in C and the E root in Em will
always be a 3rd.
The difference of a 3rd, or a 4th, or a 5th is something that is very
easy to distinguish. Being able to pick these intervals out will help
you figure out how to tell which chords are being played on most
songs that occur on the radio.

Minor 3rd is first interval we learn as ‘playground’ children and the

oldest known to history!
2. Hearing Major vs. Minor

The next step is to be able to distinguish between what has a major

tonality versus a minor tonality. Most people will have no problem
determining the difference between a C major and a C minor.

The problem occurs when you introduce a melody over a chord

When you approach soloing from a Modal perspective, there are
certain modes that introduce a major tonality, while others introduce
a minor tonality. The key is to be able to pick out the root of the
chord that is being played (which happens to be what the Bass is
playing) and tuning out the melody to determine what is being
played as backing chords.

3. 7ths, 9ths and Other Extensions and their Tensions

Once you have learned to distinguish Major versus Minor tonality,

the next step is to be able to pick out the extension.

How does adding the 2nd or 9th effect the chord? What effect does
adding a 6th or a 7th have on the chord?

For most popular music you rarely need to worry about anything
other than the 2nd/9th, 6th or 7th extension but for jazz, you need to
be able to recognise almost all of them, so it would be in your best
interests to be able to distinguish these.

4. Learning by the Numbers - Some Common Shortcuts

Unless there are any key changes, it turns out to be very easy to find
out what key a song is in.

Trick #1 - See if you can find any 2 majors in the progression that are
a whole step apart. If you remember the pattern (MmmMMmDO)
the only instance where you will have two majors in succession are
for the IV and the V. By counting backwards from the IV you will be
able to determine what key you are in, which makes picking out the
minors and other chords very easy.

Trick #2 - Repeat the previous pattern based on two minors and

count backwards from the ii.
Trick #3 - I tend to talk about the MmMMmDO patterns in terms of
Roman Numerals I, ii, iii, IV, V, vi, vii, I - where the upper case
Roman numerals are major and the lower case Roman numerals are
minor. By calling these by their numbers, you will have an easy way
to transpose this to any key. The Chinese use this system almost

So, in the beginning you can call out the changes in, say, the key of C.
Then when you have your instrument, transpose it to the proper key.
With time, you will be able to distinguish an E from an A and really
be able to call out the actual keys as they are being played.

5. Caveats

Make sure the instrument that you are using is in tune!

Don't get frustrated.

Learning by Ear

For a beginner, learning by ear is one of the most frustrating things.

For some people it comes easy, others it doesn't.
It might take a while, so don’t become frustrated and remember that
it takes time to develop a good musical ear.

Start out learning simple tunes, such as nursery rhymes.

A simple rule to follow is this;

before you play it, make sure you can hum it.

A painter first visualizes the painting in his mind before he/she

begins to paint it, and for a musician it isn't any different.

Start with a simple song - Mary Had a Little Lamb or maybe the
Nepali National Song

Start out easy. This is the best way to ‘culture’ your ears. Start with
the simple things and work your way up gradually in order to achieve
solid, established relative pitch.

If you already have good ‘ears’ they can be made even better!

Focus on Relative pitch – it’s only concerned with pitch

It really doesn’t matter what you call the tones!

Don’t use any aids to visualise the intervals! Keys, gtr etc
All visualisation should be done in your own mind!

Also, keep in mind that the ‘equal temperament’ of many musical

instruments makes it impossible for anybody to sing absolutely
perfectly in tune compared to the instrument. Even a perfectly tuned
instrument is in itself, slightly out of tune! Just do your best to stay
in tune.

Practise Your Listening !

Practise, Practise, Practise. The words spin around your head at all
times of the day. How much? How often? Who knows!

So you say you have no energy on the day? You don't have a spare 14
hours to practice today? The sight of your instrument is making you
sick? You just don't feel like it! Now, now, now,don't fret and don't
To put it simply, don't force it. You can miss a couple of days of
practising without the guilt, the heartache, and the stomach-gripping
Attempt to enhance your practising - maybe not the physical side,
but we'll get those ears in line and in shape. I'm going to touch on the
‘mental’ or the aural side of practicing.

"Open your ears and take a couple of days off from the
rigors of physical practicing."
I had a student and just the other day when our session was about to
begin, he explained how he had a very bad week: term papers,
illness, and a car accident. Murphy's Law was in full effect!

After sitting down and alleviating any problems with his past lesson,
I told him to pack up. For the next hour we kicked back and listened
to some tunes, but we listened constructively. We let our ears do
the walking instead of our fingers. I suggested, for starters, some
blues. So I grabbed some CDs like John Coltrane's "Plays the Blues",
Modern Jazz Quartet's "Blues on Bach", Herbie Hancock's
"Cantaloupe Island", which is a blues with a bridge, and then some
down home traditional blues a la Big Bill Broonzy.

Then we switched to some up-tempo tunes in the "Rhythm Changes"

form: "Oleo" and "Anthropology" to name a few. We followed these
tunes with our Real Books not only to see the changes but to hear
them. After checking out these songs, I threw him a screwball and
played a Metallica CD and played the song "Master of Puppets."
After jamming to that I played the same song by a cello quartet
Apocalyptica who have transcribed Metallica songs for the cello.
Very interesting!

When listening to songs, its always fun to visualize yourself playing,

especially if you know a song. I happen to be a master, a guru, a god
on the "air" bass. I'm not ashamed to play my air axe in public, I
might add.

Try listening for the form, melody and progressions in the


Tap the rhythm.

Try picking out the chord tonality: major, minor, diminished?

Listen to music that doesn't include your instrument. Try listening to

your instrument in different musical situations: as an accompanist,
with a string quartet, in a rock band. How about in a swing band?

Try listening to other instruments. How about Yuseef Lateef on

the jazz oboe or bassoon? Eric Dolphy on the bass clarinet?
Try listening to different music: country, classical, bluegrass,
contemporary jazz, world music, etc.
The whole point is just to listen. Open your ears and take a couple of
days off from the rigors of physical practicing. Get those ears in

Lesson 1
Last week, we covered some very basic ear training techniques
involving basic RHYTHM. This week we’re going to move on to

This week, an exercise in focused listening - maybe a field trip onto

the roof to see who can hear and discern the greatest number of
sounds and ALSO to distinguish between them…I heard
dogs/cars/horns etc. barking! Ok, how many different dogs/cars
horns, generators, veg sellers etc. did you hear barking?

Also, some good music tracks with cool little bits that aren’t
immediately apparent e.g.The Doobies ‘Listen to the Music’ piano
part – it’s all one note!

Relative pitch, like perfect pitch, is an ASPECT of OUR OWN

It’s not something OUTSIDE of ourselves.

Eg. 1

If we have a C and a G….play it!

Together they form a certain relationship with one another
And this is called a…? Perfect 5th.
It has a certain sound to it

It’s different to the sound that I get if I play a C and a B…

A different sound right…?

Really, these sounds are all in our own mind

In a sense, they are a bit of an illusion because they don’t REALLY
exist anywhere but in our own minds and own own individual

C is minding its own business…and the G is sitting here minding its

own business…
And neither one of those notes REALLY knows what the other one is
But our MIND puts them together, and produces THIS sound!
Play this… I I I in 5ths then I II II ….I V IV etc…
Now do the other relationship with the C to the B …play…
It.s a different relationship and certainly a different sound.

RELATIVE PITCH is really about how our OWN mind works and
how it interprets the sounds that it hears.

Ear training is universal…

Doesn’t matter if its ROCK,. CLASSICAL, JAZZ, HIP HOP,

Whatever STYLE we play or whatever INSTRUMENT we play…

…name some… doesn’t make any difference.

Ear Training is the one topic wher ALL musicians can get together
because whether we’re playing ROCK,. CLASSICAL, JAZZ, HIP


All the same tones.

A JAZZ player will put together certain chords a little differently…

C7#9, than a classical player …C triad…BUT, they’re all the same

tones and we’re all dealing with HOW THE EAR INTERPRETS these

We all must have the ability…our EARS must have the ability to
UNLOCK the sound that it hears.

By UNLOCK we mean that if we have three tones…

Your ear has to have the ability to get INSIDE each one of those
Most people only hear the top note… play C+…E G# C

Can you sing it?

Ok…now sing the middle note…

This is a sort of test to try to see if your ear is OPEN enough to be
able to UNLOCK the SOUND of that chord
To get inside of it and hear all of the tones…
Now sing the bottom tone…
This is what is meant be UNLOCKING the chord. Hear not just the
top note,

Play 1st degrees of scale in 3rd and 5ths…

Must be able to hear BOTH lines!

When you can do this, the ear can really HEAR what its listening to!

Two people can listen to the same piece of music , the same song, the
same symphony, but they will hear it completely differently!

One person may hear it very deeply…their ears UNLOCK all the
chords and they UNDERSTAND what’s going on.
Everything is in FOCUS!

The other ear may still ENJOY the music, but if it doesn’t penetrate
deeply into the music, then its APPRECIATION is more LIMITED!

If your are a performer, you can only perform as well as your ear can

If you are a classical musician, playing a fugue, you have to be able to

get INSIDE the music and discern and bring out the multiple
voices that are contained inside it!

If you are a composer…ROCK, CLASSICAL, JAZZ…..

Your ear can only think up and compose what it can comprehend.

It’s the same when we are listening…

We can only ENJOY as much as the ear can hear!

If you go to an art gallery and look at all the pieces of art

It could be art of any type…modern, classical, abstract…
Anybody off the street can go in and enjoy that art…beautiful
colours, lovely portrait etc…a superficial level

But if you yourself are an artist, or if you study art, you can
understand the different BRUSH STROKES, TEXTURES,

If you know and UNDERSTAND all these things, then you can
appreciate the art even better.

Greater knowledge will give a DEEPER APPRECIATION and also a

greater SKILL in art…it produces more SKILL!

Its EXACTLY the same in MUSIC!

When you have broader musical awareness,

It will produce more SKILL when we are actually playing or

Music is a HEARING ART and EVERYTHING in music is


Lesson 2

There’s two kinds of musicians…

The kind that recognises the value of ear training and they go after it
and they IMPROVE their ear and as a result
improve everything they’re doing

and there’s also the kind that really don’t understand the need to
improve one’s own self!

Sometimes, there are people that are more intellectual…they take a

more intellectual approach.
They may for example, go out and buy a lot of equipment…maybe a
cool synthesizer, or an EWI…or advanced software, more mixers etc
etc etc…
All kinds of things that you can use to improve the state of the art of
music. THIS IS VERY GOOD! All these gizmos will certainly help in
what we can achieve in music BUT…

No matter what material possessions we own as musicians,

they will never make up for what we ARE as Musicians!

Our own awareness is going to be limiting factor!

If the awareness is narrow then the music that we put out,

No matter what equipment we have,
Will not be as good.
But if the awareness is broad, the ear hears very deeply,
Then it increases our musical potential!

The ear has MANY levels of awareness…it’s not just one level!

Perfect pitch or absolute pitch, deals with ‘colour’

We have twelve tones…PLAY THEM…in the chromatic scale.
Chromatic means colour, and ‘perfect pitch’ means becoming
sensitive to the colours of the pitches

When you can hear these colours clearly…play C#...

You’ll know that’s a C# right away.

Relative pitch is different.

Relative pitch is the awareness

Of the space between notes…intervals…the distances between notes.
How one note relates to another
Relative means relate.

It’s sort of an illusion tho’

There is no real space between notes…it just sounds like there is!

Relative pitch is a developing of the awareness

Of the distances between notes

Relative also means it is changing level of awareness.

When we’re playing music, the intervals – the distances – change!

Always changing! That’s how music gets its FLOW…

from constant change

Be aware that the intervals may change, but the ‘colours’, the
chromatic scale…do not!



For intervals, …PLAY SOME>>>>

we have to FOCUS on what that distance is and then…
we learn to LABEL that distance. A FOCUS of AWARENESS!

If you are listening to music and you don’t have relative pitch,
You hear all these chords…PLAY>>> …going on everywhere…
But you don’t REALLY know what’s going on.
It’s like a blurred effect of what’s really going on.

Relative pitch is a focusing so that we can hear very clearly

What is going on in music.

Command over musical pitches comes when we master their


When you master the sound of the relationships, the intervals,

We gain musical awareness and another set of musical

When have gained command over relative pitch, things like

Playing by ear and improvisational skills jump light years ahead!
Taking music off records – transcription – or you have music inside
your own heads and you want to put it down on paper…
These skills are vastly accelerated because your ear has already done
the work for you… you don’t have to guess by trial and error

You have a constant head start over anyone who has to play them
first in order to find out their sounds.
If you wanna play by ear, you already know what the intervals and
notes sound like.

Singing becomes more precise when you can ‘compute’ any pitch or
any interval from memory, at any time.


Lesson 3
Reiiterate summary above

Relative pitch enhances your level of musicianship…

command over intervals

This means that if we have a space, like this…

Play Eb – C

You have to be able to know that this is called a major 6th

And in addition, if I tell you that this is an Eb, then you have to be
able to tell me, that this top one is … … is a C

Its part intellectual and part perceptual

Relative pitch is more intellectual for this reason…

it has to do with the mind and musicianship

Perfect pitch is different…it has more to do with heart

When you can hear the colours of the tones its not an intellectual

It can be problem if you try to intellectualise or analyse that

experience of absolute pitch and colour and then they can’t hear it !

You have to get rid of the intellect for perfect pitch

P P is a feeling of the heart… feeling subtle sound qualities
That is the level of the artist

Relative pitch , we use the intellect , the mind and musicality

PP and RP are both important because…

Q: What’s the difference between noise and music?
A: Music has heartfelt intelligence

If you just play anything… Play random crap!

This is noise! Its not music…

But if there is some kind of pattern to it…play something…

Then there is heartfelt intelligence!

There’s intelligence to it but it also affects the heart

When these things are together the ear hears at its most powerful!

Lesson 4

Relative pitch is the focus of the picture

If you don’t have relative pitch and you have perfect pitch
It’s like having a TV set but it’s not in focus!
You can see the colours but the picture isn’t clear!

With RP you’re listening to the music and all those chords and
melodies and how they relate is clear

It makes sense to the ear!

We can have two different notes…let’s say a C and an E

Together they make a certain sound…a major third
They have certain colours to them
With absolute pitch, the C has one colour , the E another colour
Now we’ll change them by placing one above the other
E on bottom and C on top…
Same notes but now the sound has changed
First way…major third…
Second way…augmented 5th…

Same Colours as far as PP is concerned but…

They are different sounds as far as RP is concerned

This is why RP is always necessary

PP will never make up for not having RP

Magic trick!!!

If we have a musical scale….C major to the 7th…

If you just stop there…what happens…?
What does your ear wanna do…?

RP tells you that it somehow wants to resolve to the octave

If you stay on the maj 7th it doesn’t sound like it’s quite resolved…
…unless you’re a jazz musician!
If you’re a jazz musician you’ll probably enjoy keeping it there to
create tension and expectancy…

…BUT…there’s still something that makes it want to go up to the

next note

Now check this out… Cb Bb G# A# B

Ab mi Eb mi E F# B

We just played a few chords and yet at the end,

did the B sound like it wants to move anywhere…? NO!
It’s right at home where it is…play the B…

But before…it wanted to move! Why is this…?

It ALL has to do with RP!

If you put that B with certain tones , it gives it energy and dynamic…
If you put the B with other tones, it makes it stable!