So this is my first blog on my new website and I chose to write about a boring-sounding but really awesome subject, which is, as you probably gathered from the title, Ear Training. I think the reason that the idea of ear training might sound so unappealing at first is that most of the times it is taught there really isn't any emphasis on how useful and downright awesome it is to have "good ears". Awesome in that you have the ability to listen to music and "hear" everything and know exactly what's going on! Also, it really matters what kind of ear training you are being taught. Even in good colleges, the standard ear training methods (interval training, chord recognition) are sort of like isolated monkey tricks that you do for your teacher apparently just to make him happy and to get good grades to appease some vague scholastic entity that has nothing to do with your life and your gigs. I'll tell you right now, interval recognition (the ability to accurately recognize the distance [minor 3rd, perfect 5th] between two notes has little to no practical use in a gigging situation but can at most maybe make you look like a clever fellow on the occasion that you hear someone play two isolated notes and say "hey those notes are a major seventh apart! YAYYY!" To be fair, it can kind of come in handy for transcribing music. Other than that, when you're in the midst of playing music in what one would call "real time" this talent is completely useless and can even be an unnecessary hindrance to a musical performance if you choose to engage in it while actually performing. The reason why it sticks in schools and even in private lessons is BECAUSE IT IS EASY TO GRADE, and also pretty clean cut to teach. Really useful musical skills don't neatly develop within the constraints of a semester of college and aren't really neatly quantifiable and easily "graded".
But what about Perfect Pitch? Everyone has heard of this phenomenon and there's this conception that you are either born with it or you aren't, which I'm not really quite so sure about the "born with it" part, and definitely not convinced about the "aren't" part because you CAN develop it...it's just REALLY hard. And possibly not as useful as other methods.
The method that I endorse is "Perfect Relative Pitch". It's much easier to learn and much more useful. And there is a guy out there, Bruce Arnold, who has a whole system of training in perfect relative pitch that is in my own humble opinion, pretty damn legit. There are many other teachers nowadays that are catching onto this concept in different ways and the idea really has been around for a long time in vague, inchoate, or just more difficult to understand forms (I'm seeing parallels of it in figured bass methods of the baroque and early classical eras) but right now I like Bruce Arnold's method the best.
Well, I guess i should actually describe it. Sorry if I am assuming too much on behalf of the reader and use terms that are unfamiliar, I'll try not to be too geeky. First of all, just to be clear, Perfect Pitch is the ability to hear any note or group of notes, and just instantly know what those notes are (A, C#, Gb, etc.). Perfect Relative Pitch deals more with relation to a tonic or tonality...basically what key the piece is in. So bear with me for a second, and imagine you hear a cadence (short sequence of chords I, IV, V, I) in the key of C major. After hearing it if you have relatively decent ears you'll be able to hum the tonic, which would of course be C, the tonal center of C major. When you know the tonic, the root note, that everything is going to gravitate to and most likely begin and end on, and can hear it in your head or hum it, any single note you hear played after that will have a certain relation to that tonic that you can easily be trained to recognize instantly...sort of like a color. For example, if I'm in C...I hear a note randomly played that sounds a certain way against the tonality of the C that I just know that it's an Eb...you need a little bit of theory training to do this but not much, and actually the cool thing is that doing this method of ear training helps you build your music theory chops in a much more natural and useful way. The reason theory is important is because if I heard the same relation but the tonic was in Bb instead of C then I'd have to know that the note played was Db instead of Eb, but the relation was the same. If you're following me you might say "Hey this sounds a LOT like interval training what's the big deal or difference?" If you're not following me don't worry it is a bit strange to grasp the concept because it's more about how you are thinking than the end results of your thought, because you have to be thinking a certain way when you're performing as opposed to just sitting around theorizing at your leisure. When you're performing there's no time for reflection or second guessing so the way you are thinking or theorizing is crucial.
What I recommend though, since there's no way for me to adequately just sum the method up in one blog, is to give it a shot. Either mess around with it on your own or comment here with questions and I'll clarify, or check out Bruce Arnold's site. He's very friendly and answers emails pretty diligently. If you buy any one of his book/cd's he DEMANDS that you email him with your progress and experience so that he can tell you how to better go about it, because the way you go about it is what is crucial, no cheating or tricks like counting up the scale are allowed. When you get the first CD basically what you get is a book to brush up on the bare fundamentals of theory, a description of what you're going to hear on the CD and a rough description of how to approach it, and when you put the CD in you just hear a cadence in C, followed by a random note (out of all 12 notes that exist in music in ANY octave) and you're supposed to just guess what it is...not try to count your way up the scale or sing "Here Come's the Bride" to recognize the Perfect Fourth in the beginning of the melody...just guess...over and over, and eventually you just come to recognize the notes, almost like colors or faces, as they are in relation to C. The reason it's not like interval training is because distance ceases to be an issue, and it's more about color. Here is the link to the first book in Bruce Arnold's ear training method...his site has all sorts of other incredible stuff to like probably the best comprehensive approach to rhythm I've seen as well: