I Got 99 Problems…

…and all of them are pitches.

Okay, so there might not be 99, and they might be organized into intervals, but ear training is difficult and makes me rage quit like no other thing in the entire world.

For those unfamiliar with music-speak, some translation is in order here:

Pitch-a single note

Interval-the distance between two notes, can be identified when both notes are played simultaneously or consecutively

Ear training-the process of learning to identify various musical elements by ear

Which means that today’s failure has to do with one of my weaknesses as a musician: when push comes to shove, I have difficulty identifying specific musical details without looking at a piece of music.

Recently (as in, this morning), I downloaded a mostly free app called “Complete Ear Trainer,” which was created and developed by Stephane Dupont and designed by Nicolas Chevailler. I have discovered one section (so far) that is locked until you purchase the entire app, which I plan to do if it turns out to be an effective tool for ear training.

Ear training has always been frustrating for me.  Typically, musicians formally encounter it in college during music theory courses. Now, do not misunderstand me here, I love music theory. I majored in music composition and theory is the foundation of becoming an effective composer. However, ear training is the one aspect that I have never had enough practice with in order to fully master.  Every day for the first two years of my college experience at 7:30 or 8:00 in the morning, I would be in class with some teacher who played intervals, chords, and melodies with impish delight and expected the class to be able to write them down with only a single reference pitch or a musical key to guide us. As if that were not punishment (erm, education) enough, we also had weekly assignments where evidence that we had practiced on the ear training software we’d purchased at the beginning of the semester was required.

Thankfully, the weekly assignments were completion OR 30 minutes of effort (the program tracked how many minutes you had worked on each activity) and graded as pass/fail.  I say thankfully because almost 100% of the time, I did not complete the level.  I remember one assignment where I had worked on identifying the same chords in this level every week for almost half of the semester. I decided I simply had to progress beyond it before the end of the semester, and so began to dedicate hours each week to working on identifying 7 of 12 chords, the minimum pass requirement, correctly.  After several weeks, I finally passed the level and was so happy that when I e-mailed the assignment in that week, it was a celebration of success and not a required activity.

With all that said, ear training is still difficult for me.  The question becomes, if it is so difficult, why do you do it?

The answer is that ear training builds a musician’s skill of relative pitch.  This means that I can see a piece of music and accurately recreate its sound in my head without playing a note.  This allows me to anticipate how my own instrument should sound when playing solos, how the other players should sound when playing in an ensemble, and how I need to adjust my sound in order to be playing in tune with myself and/or other players.

Put more simply, improving ear training skills allows a musician to become a more reliable performer and make pretty sounds.

That is why I decided to try out the “Complete Ear Trainer.” So far, it is as awful as the ear training I went through several years ago, and I am loving it!  I completely fail at this thing.  I have rage quit on it 4 or 5 times today.  The reason is that it is divided into multiple sections, but the one I am focusing on is the section that has specific ear training drills, which is divided into four levels and each level has multiple chapters.  Before you can progress anywhere in the level (or the related areas in other levels), you have to get three stars in all chapters.  I have been working all day to distinguish between the intervals of perfect octaves, perfect 5ths, and perfect 4ths.  The only thing you need to know about those is that they are the most basic of the intervals and I should remember their distinct qualities, but I don’t.

To give you an even clearer idea of how much I am failing at this endeavor, I have completed 5% of Level 1.

However, even though I am finding this to be a challenge, I am thrilled to be pursuing it.  In fact, I am going to be so easily excited by any progress that there will probably be weekly updates on how far I have progressed in this app!

ONE DAY I WILL CONQUER IT! And then I will continue to practice everyday, because I know how easily and quickly those skills can fade. BUT ONE DAY IT WILL BE PRACTICE FOR POLISH AND NOT FOR SKILL ACQUIREMENT!!!

Also, as of yet I do not have many regular visitors to this site (if any at all), which means I do not know my still-in-formation regular audience.  That being said, if there is ever a musical term I use and do not happen to define, feel free to leave a question in the comments if you want a definition and I will define it there as well as go back and add it somewhere in the post.

I can be better at failing if other people help me!

Until tomorrow, happy failing!

2 thoughts on “I Got 99 Problems…

  1. I think the tool that helped me the most with ear training with intervals was remembering them by what songs they make you think of. You’ve probably done this, but take a perfect 4th: Here Comes the Bride. A m2 is the Jaws theme and so on. Theres a ton, but that helped me a LOT. With chords it was just a matter of using them in compositions, playing them on keys/guitar/whatever just to hear them more. Anyway, ear training can be tough! Glad you’re planning to stick to it!


    • Thanks for the advice! Yes, I have tried that method of remembering intervals, but I can get it to only sort of work for my brain. The main reason ear training is so difficult at times for me is that I have synesthesia, and see colors for all sorts of things. Musical and non-musical sounds have their own shape, color, and texture. When it comes to ear training, I have to filter out which colors, shapes, and textures are relevant as I get that information for things like key, pitch, and timbre. The context can also have associations, so a P4 in Here Comes the Bride might look different from the P4 that is being played with separately or simultaneously sounded pitches in the low range of the piano. What I have found with this app is that it forces me to hear the intervals so. many. times. that I am starting to realize that while I do not associate a particular color with intervals, they do have their own distinct shapes. This is good, as it is helping me to focus on a narrow band of information instead of being overwhelmed by ALL THE COLORS WOW. MUCH SHAPE. MANY TEXTURE. I will definitely try your suggestions on the chords, though. It’s been a few years since I’ve even touched ear training, but now that I have a systematic way of approaching it, I am going until I get these things learned!

      That is probably a lengthier response than you anticipated (if you anticipated one at all), but there it is. Thanks again!

      Liked by 1 person

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