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Psychology of music: Cognition · Ability · Training · Emotion

Ear training or aural skills is a process by which musicians learn to identify intervals, chords, rhythms, and other basic elements of music. Singing plays an important part in ear training, since one must be able hear music in one's head and match pitch before it is possible to sing it reliably. One does not need absolute pitch to succeed at ear training; one goal of ear training is the development of relative pitch.

Ear training may also require differentiation of timbres. Some instruments allow for the same pitch to be generated with multiple timbres. Music which employs function through timbre as well as pitch requires ear training that addresses both aspects.

Functional pitch recognition Edit

Functional pitch recognition is an important skill for all musicians listening to and performing tonal music. Functional pitch recognition involves identifying the function or role of a single pitch in the context of an established tonic. Once the tonic has been established, each subsequent pitch may then be recognized in isolation with no need for reference to accompanying pitches.

For example, once the tonic G has been established, listeners may recognize that the pitch D plays the role of the dominant in the key of G. No reference to any other pitch is required to establish this fact.

Many musicians use functional pitch recognition in order to identify, understand, and appreciate the roles and meanings of pitches within a key. To this end, scale-degree numbers or movable-do solmization (do, re, mi, etc.) can be quite helpful. Using such systems, pitches with identical functions (the key note or tonic, for example) are associated with identical labels (1 or do, for example).

Note that functional pitch recognition should not be confused with the fixed-do solfege symbols, do, re, mi, etc. Functional pitch recognition emphasizes the role of a pitch with respect to the tonic. In contrast, fixed-do solfege symbols are simply labels for absolute pitches (do=C, re=D, etc., in any key). In the fixed-do system the solfege symbols clearly do not describe the role of pitches relative to the tonic. In the moveable do system, there happens to be a correspondence between the solfege symbol and a pitch's role. However there is no requirement that musicians associate the solfege symbols with the scale degrees. In fact, musicians may utilize the moveable-do system to label pitches while mentally tracking intervals to determine the sequence of solfege symbols.

Functional pitch recognition has several strengths. Since a large body of music is tonal the listener will commonly be assured that a tonic will be established therefore the technique is widely applicable. Since reference pitches are not required, music may be broken up by complex and difficult to analyze pitch clusters (example: percussion sequence) and pitch analysis may resume immediately once an easier to identify pitch is played (example: trumpet solo) - no need to keep of the last note of the previous line or solo nor any need to keep track of a series of intervals going back all the way to the start of a piece. Since the function of pitch classes is a key element the problem of compound intervals with interval recognition is not an issue - whether the notes in a melody are played within a single octave or range over eight octaves is irrelevant.

Functional pitch recognition has some weaknesses. Music with no tonic or ambiguous tonality does not lend itself well to this type of analysis. Example: what are the function of first four pitches of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony when considered in isolation? Mediant, tonic, supertonic, subtonic? When dealing with key changes, the student must know how to account for pitch recognition after the key changes: retain the original tonic or change the frame of reference to the new tonic.

Interval recognition Edit

Interval recognition is also a useful skill for musicians: in order to determine the notes in a melody, a musician must have some ability to recognize intervals. Some music teachers teach their students relative pitch by having them associate each possible interval with the first two notes of a popular song. Here are some examples for each interval, measured in half-steps (aka semi-tones) from zero (unison) to 12 (one complete octave), along with the name of each interval:

In addition, there are various systems (including solfege, sargam, and numerical sight-singing) that assign specific syllables to different notes of the scale. Among other things, this makes it easier to hear how intervals sound in different contexts, such as starting on different notes of the same scale.

The essential goal for the advanced student of music is to gain a sense of each tone's place in the scale and its function in the key, learning to hear its position, tendency, and relationship to the other pitches with the "mind's ear." Solfege systems and mnemonic melodies are tools used to help realize this goal.

Chord recognition Edit

Complementary to recognizing the melody of a song is hearing the harmonic structures that support it. Musicians often practice hearing different types of chords and their inversions out of context, just to hear the characteristic sound of the chord. They also learn chord progressions to hear how chords relate to each other in the context of a piece of music.

Rhythm recognition Edit

One way musicians practice rhythms is by breaking them up into smaller, more easily identifiable sub-patterns. For example, one might start by learning the sound of all the combinations of four eighth notes and eighth rests, and then proceed to string different four-note patterns together.

Another way to practice rhythms is by muscle memory: basically teaching the rhythm to different muscles in the body. One may start by tapping a rhythm with the hands and feet individually, or singing a rhythm on a syllable (e.g "ta"). Later stages may combine keeping time with the hand, foot, or voice and simultaneously tapping out the rhythm, and beating out multiple overlapping rhythms.

Keeping accurate time is a crucial part of rhythmic training. For this task, a metronome is a valuable tool.

Timbre recognition Edit

Each type of musical instrument has a characteristic sound quality that is largely independent of pitch or loudness. Some instruments have more than one timbre, e.g. the sound of a plucked violin is different from the sound of a bowed violin. Some instruments employ multiple manual or embouchure techniques to achieve the same pitch through a variety of timbres. If these timbres are essential to the melody or function, as in shakuhachi music, then pitch training alone will not be enough to fully recognize the music. Learning to identify and differentiate various timbres is an important musical skill that can be acquired and improved by training.

Transcription Edit

Music teachers often recommend transcribing recorded music as a way to practice all of the above, including recognizing rhythm, melody and harmony.

See alsoEdit

Further readingEdit

  • Aural Skills Acquisition : The Development of Listening, Reading, and Performing Skills in College-Level Musicians by Gary S. Karpinski, ISBN 978-0-19-511785-1
  • Essential Ear Training for the Contemporary Musician by Steve Prosser, ISBN 0-634-00640-1
  • Ear Training for Twentieth-Century Music by Michael L. Friedmann, ISBN 0-300-04536-0

Ear training softwareEdit

  • GNU Solfege free ear training software, contains exercises to train chords, intervals, scales, rhythms and harmonic progressions.
  • iwasdoingallright Free online ear training tools that include exercises for intervals, chords, random melodies, jazz improvisation, and playing simple songs by ear.
  • Tete clean looking open source software implemented in Java. Identify intervals, chords, and scales.

External linksEdit

it:Orecchio musicale
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