So I've been focusing my ear training more on being able to transcribe music rather than taking online tests of intervallic identification. Those little tests help but the advice I've been seeing here about ear training points suggests it is much better to tackle actual music.

Now I have a few questions and want to know how to get the best training out of each song I learn by ear and melodic dictation.

How exactly would you go about learning songs by ear with your instrument? Is it to pick a few notes you think they are and noodle around until you're damn sure it's correct? I do this a lot but I'm worried all it will amount to is nothing but noodling and confusion to my ear as I go about wrong notes until the correct one appears.

When practicing away from your instruments, does this suggest the way to go about it is to sing the parts to yourself? I'd think this would be where the notes literally get stuck in your head but when I do this I always hold a tuner up to my mouth to identify the notes I'm singing. I guess it helps pitch control in my voice as an aspiring vocalist too, but I digress.

Or do you think these methods are really going to prove a crutch in the future - that I'm not really training my ear...and my inner voice, at that - and is practicing away from your instrument really what it means? Do I need to forsake everything and simply get paper and pencil and right down what I hear before I actually use an instrument? How can I really identify these notes simply based on intervals?

We're all alright!
Well the way I do it is to pick out what notes I can by ear, but then use them in context. Figure out what key the song is in, what scale it's working with, what chords fit in the key. Then you know have a good outline of where everything should be. However, in the end there are no rules, so you have to realize that the song could go out of these "borders" at any time. But having the outline definitely helps.
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You need to focus on identifying scale degrees after a key has been established in your ear.

What you have discovered from interval training, is that focusing on intervals WILL lead you into a brick wall.

Try this;

Play a I, IV, V cadence in a key of your choice, then play the tonic (first scale degree) of that key. For example - key of C: play C major chord, F major chord, G major chord then play the note C.

Pick another key and do the same. For example - key of F: play F major chord, Bb major chord, C major chord, followed by the note F.

Notice how the tonic always sounds the same in context of the key?

Now play the cadence again followed by the third scale degree of that key. Choose another key and repeat.

Notice how the third scale degree always sounds the same in context of the key?

This is the basis for functional pitch recognition, listening for scale degrees once a key has been established in your ear. Every scale degree sounds distinct and they're very easy to discern after a short while.

It's that simple, no knowledge of intervals required.
Last edited by bubbamc119 at Aug 19, 2011,
Do a google search for "solfege", "movable do solfege", and "la-minor solfege". These are tried and true techniques that enforce functional pitch recognition and will improve your ear very quickly. Transcribing in real time is totally possible once practiced with this system.
Like Nirvana said its great knowing the key of the song along with having knowledge of the chords and scales fitting it. However that falls into more of a theory section and you seem to be looking for more of an ear training method. You shouldn't just be trying to guess random notes hoping that they will be correct. Think of it as a multiple choice math test. Guessing the answer will not help you gain any knowledge whatsoever but knowing theory/keys can help you eliminate some notes.

Think of your technical ability on the guitar as a tool being used to express the sounds that you hear in your head. When I first started learning how to train my ear I would whistle a note and then try to find that note on the guitar. It might take a few tries but eventually youll find it. Start with simple lines and then move on to more complex melodies.

Knowing scales is also extremely beneficial to figuring out solos or songs. Once you develop an ear for a scale you will immediately be able to recognize it in a song. This way instead of guessing random notes you will automatically know the patterns in which the notes originate from.

Same goes for chords. Once your able to identify the way a chord sounds youll immediately be able to recognize it in a song and instead of just guessing random notes you'll use the shape of the chord. For example diminished chords sound dark and dissonant while major chords sound bright and consconant. The more you train your ear to these sounds the easier it gets.

The way that I trained my ear to intervals is by first learning all the notes of the C major scale. Envision how the note sounds first in your head and then play it. Go from C to D to E to F all the way until you've reached the octave. When you can clearly predict how the next note in the Major Scale will sound in every key its time to move on. This time practice inside intervals of 2. For example in the key of C you would go from C to E, D to F, E to G, and so on. Once youve mastered intervals of 2 move on to intervals of 3 and you get the idea. The most important part of this excercise is to try to predict the way the next note will sound before playing it. Once you can identify intervals itll be easier to figure out pretty much anything. Im sure there are other methods of doing this but personally this is how I achieved my best results.

Basically its just a matter of being able to identify what technique the guitarist is using and what notes/scales/chords they're playing. Sweep Picking, Alternate Picking, Tapping, Legato, Harmonics Major Scales, Harmonic Minor Scales, Blues Scales, Pentatonic Scales, Major Chords, Minor Chords, Seventh Chords, Diminished Chords. Intervals. Every single note and technique has its own identity or sound to it so to speak. Its only a matter of being able to get to know them better.

Also I would like to throw in another note. Some people like to slow songs down using programs on the computer to help them figure out certain passages. Although this isn't a bad thing at first, its something that you want to try your best to stay away from and if you are going to slow a part down then I suggest you at least try to figure it out at 100% speed first. The reason I say this is because you don't want to rely on a computer in order to figure out a song. So if someone suggests for you to slow down a song to figure it out just remember. Not to long ago computers didn't exist. Use its advantages wisely.

Anyhow I wish you best of luck in your goal to develop your ear and I hope I was able to answer some of your questions.

Last edited by dannydawiz at Aug 19, 2011,
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that's not true. knowing intervals is important and most great musicians can hear intervals and they had to train for that.
Quote by knobtwiddler
that's not true. knowing intervals is important and most great musicians can hear intervals and they had to train for that.

Correct: it's most likely best as an introduction to ear-training or a warm-up for transcription. What doesn't work is training it exclusively.
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Quote by knobtwiddler
that's not true. knowing intervals is important and most great musicians can hear intervals and they had to train for that.

I don't agree.

Functional pitch recognition is the only proven way to train your ear. Interval recognition training gets in the way of that.

See Bruce Arnolds books.
Quote by soviet_ska
Correct: it's most likely best as an introduction to ear-training or a warm-up for transcription. What doesn't work is training it exclusively.

This is my sense.

I've been working hard on my ear, but when I was getting started, even basic transcription was extremely frustrating.

So instead I did a bunch of interval work for a couple of months, getting up to where I can recognize pretty much all of the chromatic intervals (minor 7ths descending still confuse my ear, but that's it at this point). And then going back to transcribing exercises, I won't say it was automatic, but it got a heck of a lot easier.

So I don't buy the "interval recognition gets in the way" line - but my experience is consistent with the claim that being good at interval recognition doesn't instantly translate to high accuracy transcription.

My ear was so bad that I had to start small (eg, originally interval recognition where the only choices were 3, 5, and 8 - gradually adding other notes). But it's getting better.

I wouldn't mind if it wasn't quite so much work, though.
^It really isn't much work at all, that is after you've trained yourself

As for why interval training gets in the way, Bruce Arnold says it best;

One of the most counterproductive assignments relative pitch ear training courses assign is to "learn all your intervals."

A teacher sits down at a piano and starts playing different intervals and asks the class to identify which interval is being played. You may ask "What's so bad about that? All music is made up of different combinations of intervals so this should help me to identify pitch, right?"

Let's look closer. Let's say you have mastered this assignment; and any interval someone plays, you know what it is instantly. All right, great! Now you are on the band stand and the piano player is jamming along on a C major chord over and over, and the bass player is playing a C note over and over. Most students with a little theory or practical experience know that playing a C chord over and over means the piece is in the key of C. Now your guitar player plays two notes which happen to be an E and a G. You instantly say "that's a minor 3rd that I hear". "all right" says the guitar player "well play it then" but now the real question has to be answered: what minor 3rd is it? If we examine the 12 pitches used in western music we find that there are 12 possible minor 3rd intervals that we could choose from. For example C to Eb, C# to E, D to F - all of these are minor 3rd intervals, and there are 12 possible minor 3rd intervals in all.

How do you know which one it is?

The answer is you don't because you have only learned what a minor 3rd sounds like and not what the two pitches E and G sound like in the key. So something is missing here. You need to know more than what an interval sounds like; you need to know what the notes sound like in a key.

So, back to our example: if you knew what the 3rd and 5th degree of a key sounded like, you would have known which two notes the guitarist played. What the interval was between the two notes is of little importance when trying to identify pitch.
The important thing to realize from this example is that all 12 pitches have a unique sound against a key and this unique sound can be memorized.

Lets go back to our teacher again and explore another problem that comes from teaching intervals. The teacher tells the student that it may help them to memorisze intervals if they relate the intervals to songs they know. So the teacher suggests common melodies that they can use to help memorize these intervals, things like: a 4th is 'Here comes the bride', a 6th is 'My Bonnie lies over the Ocean'. So the student thinks "Wow this is great, now anytime I hear a 6th all I have to do is sing the first two notes of 'My Bonnie lies over the Ocean' and I'll know what notes are being played."

Once again let's look into this and explore two drawbacks of using common melodies to identify intervals:
1. The first two notes of 'My bonnie Lies over the Ocean' do comprise an interval of a 6th, but the 5th of the key up to the 3rd in the key is also a 6th
Let's listen to this and see what happens when we play our "Bonnie 6th"

We're back on the bandstand playing a C chord vamp. The guitar player is playing the C chord with the bass playing a C, and the sax player plays a G (the fifth scale degree of the key) and then moves up to an # (the 3rd scale degree of the key) and you think "That's a sixth because I can hear that it is the beginning of 'My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean'." Great! Now the sax player plays an Ab (the flat 6th scale degree of the key) and then moves up and plays an F (the 4th scale degree of the key). This is a sixth interval too, but can you easily hear 'My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean' in this sound?


this is because the first two notes of 'My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean' are the 5th up to the 3rd of the key, not the flat 6th to the 4th.
So once again the important thing is to learn what each note sounds like in a key, not what the distance is between notes.

2. Let's say you're one of those students who has faithfully learned all your intervals and have developed the ability to grab a sound from any context and place an interval name on that sound by applying our memorized song to this interval.

All right - let's go back to our bandstand again and see how well it works as the band is jamming along.

Again the guitar player is playing the C chord with the bass playing a C and the sax player plays a G (the 5th scale degree of the key) and then moves up to an E (the 3rd scale degree of the key) the first thing that happens is you say to yourself "What is that sound I'm hearing," next you take that sound (the G up to E) and run it through your mental rolodex of 11 basic intervals and the corresponding melodies that you have learned to identify these intervals. You come up with the correct answer and - Oops! The band is 2 bars past this point now and it's too late to use this information because it took you too long to calculate it.
Music moves by in time and the only relative pitch ear training that will help you is one that allows you the quickest identification of notes, i.e. functional pitch recognition
Last edited by bubbamc119 at Aug 21, 2011,
The best way to learn functional pitch recognition is by applying movable-do/la-minor solfege. Transcribing pitches and playing by ear will become effortless, I guarantee it.
Last edited by bubbamc119 at Aug 21, 2011,