Practical Approach to Ear Training

I want to give a shout out to Richard, Liz, Joshua and Tyrus for asking me about ear training and those who are learning to play by ear with the number system. I was reading a great article in one of my jazz magazines and thought I'd share some great tips with you.

Ear training can be a valuable tool to help students learn effectively. The better your ability to hear, the faster you learn -- and the slower you forget. The ability of the ear to hear is the intuitive, non-intellectual part of music, and it enhances the jazz player's ability to "hear" where the next notes are coming from. 

A few players naturally have excellent ear training -- some educators call it "perfect pitch." People who don't have this natural talent need ear training. Having a good ear means that you can hear the right note before you play it. It doesn't mean when you play a wrong note you then fumble around and find the right note through trial and error.

For people who have a good ear, music is easier for them and more natural to learn. That's not to say  they don't have to practice and work hard to achieve expertise in music. Many of us recognize that perhaps the fastest way to become a skilled musician is to play everything you know, hear and sing in 12 keys. The focus here is to hear and sing melodic shapes and intervals, in as many keys as possible.

Recognizing the shape of an arpeggiated chord eventually makes hearing harmony possible. By thinking of these shapes as chords, one starts to hear harmony as well as melody. The next step is to sing a melody and arpeggiate down, making the sound of the chord. To do this, you have to know what the melody is in relationship to the chord.

When you put away your music and try to play the song without music, do you really know it? If you can't sing the song, you don't really know it. If you don't know what the melody note is in relationship to the chord or the root motion of the harmony, then you don't know the song.

The melody and the harmony have everything to do with each other. If the piano player sees that the melody is a major 7th, he will structure the chord taking into consideration the melody. If the melody has a flat 9, he would not play a natural 9. This relationship of melody and harmony is key in learning a song.

Miles Donahue says, 

"If we were to think of jazz as a car, the engine of improvising would be the mind and ear. The wheels are the mechanical ability to play what you think and hear. The internal combustion - the art - comes from the soul and creative spirit. Most jazz players learn the genre of jazz through listening to the great players who developed this art form."
So, one must work real hard with ear training. Most of us are not pros like Stan Getz, when it comes to ear training. Stan Getz possessed the ear-training equivalent of a photographic memory. Anything he heard, he remembered and could play back. He was able to improvise at a very high level without knowledge of the  theory behind what he was hearing and playing. James Moody and Chet Baker also had such reputations.

I have 2 resources to share with you. 
Add to your music library:

PITCH Ear Training Software

Piano By Ear For Starters

Oh, and do you know someone who plays the violin? Here's a great offer for you.

The Complete Violin Package is coming soon! at Virtual Sheet Music ®

All the best,

"The beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you." B.B.King
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