Last week, we learned about a very important part of ear training – matching pitch! If you missed the first part of Cameron F.‘s article last week, check it out here. Now, read on to find out about another great exercise…
We all know how important it is to train our ear now. Next I would like to go over some more advanced techniques, but nothing that you can’t handle! This idea is called “melodic dictation” in any music theory class, but for simplicity’s sake we will call it transcription. Transcriptions are written or pronounced representations of other things, so I bet you can guess what this process is going to entail: you will listen to a melody or sequence of notes and, using only your ear and knowledge of the relationships between different pitches, recreate the melody in some form. How you go about this is going to depend on your familiarity with written music, or notation. If you don’t know how to read music, don’t worry, you can still benefit from this powerful exercise, you will just have to go about it in a slightly altered manner. If you aren’t a music reader, have no fear. Find a sound system, and pick a song you like. Listen to it once or twice, and then try to sing the main melody by yourself. It will help to have an assistant here to let you know if you are close or not, and to help you find the starting pitch. Do this until you think you can remember the whole song, without any help from the recording. Then, have your assistant play a random melody on any instrument. Sing it back to them. These versions of the exercise train your memory more than your ear, but they are still beneficial. However, learning to read music is very important for musicians of all levels, so don’t overlook that. If you read music, congratulations, you are a step ahead of most other musicians around today. You can reap the most benefit from this technique. First, find some staff paper and someone to help you out. Have your partner play a melody on another instrument, after telling you the starting pitch (letter name), time signature, and tempo. Keep it simple at first, with even, quarter- or eighth-note rhythms and stepwise motion, as this can be very difficult. Listen to what is being played, and try to notate it. Your assistant should play the melody once, then let you work for a moment, before they play it again, repeating at least three times, or until you think you have finished. It may help to start with rhythmic dictation, in which you listen to your assistant play different rhythms without pitches and then notate them, using the same method described before. This way you will be more comfortable with rhythm and can focus more on which notes are being played. After you succeed a few times, make the melodies more complicated. Make the intervals larger, starting with thirds, then including fourths, and so on. Focus on sections of each melody; don’t try to notate the whole thing at once. During the first play through, mark the rhythm in hash marks, without worrying about pitch. Keep finalizing the rhythm on the second play through while adding some of the pitches. Then concentrate on filling in any blanks you have. This process can be very difficult, but it will train you to quickly recognize rhythmic patterns as well as larger intervals. You will gain knowledge of tonal centers as well, and be able to pick out notes that work in the relevant key. Eventually, this will lead you to an ability to improvise like the best, a happy byproduct of having a thoroughly trained ear. Be sure to test yourself often! These skills deteriorate if they are not used. Take advantage of any opportunity you have to practice. Musicians are always growing, no matter how proficient they become. Like this post? Don’t miss any of our tips, tricks and advice! Sign up for a free email subscription to receive our updates!
Cameron F. teaches bass guitar, singing and music theory lessons to students of all ages in Raleigh, NC. He received his Bachelor’s degree in Music Recording and Production from Appalachian State University, and he joined the TakeLessons team in February 2013. Learn more about Cameron, or search for a teacher near you! Photo by fred_v