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Ear Training Part 4:  Resolving more complex ear abilities to simpler ones.

April 19, 2017

All ear training skills, from the simplest to the most complicated, from skills that the youngest child will have success, to skills expected of a fourth-year student at a music conservatory.

Regardless of the difficulty of the type of question, and the type of answer with which to respond to the question, all ear training abilities ultimately boil down to three, very simple types of questions:

1) which is higher in pitch of two notes?
2) which is longer in duration of two notes?
3) how many sounds just occurred, one after the other?

The principle is that of a prism, which separates white light into its component colors.  Each ear training ability can be put through a prism to resolve it into component simpler abilities.  When the ability is quite complicated, then after putting it through the prism once, the separate components that result, if each of them is put again through a prism, will resolve into even simpler component abilities.   This procedure can repeated as many times as necessary, until you end up with abilities of the utmost simplicity.  And these three are the ones listed above.

An important thing about the simplicity versus the complexity of an ear training question.   Here is a typical ‘simplest’ question posed to a first year college student in the first ear training class.  The question seems very simple as it is presented.  For example, “what chord did you just hear?”.  But this chord is already in a highly complex form in terms of component/ simpler ear training abilities.  A first pass through the prism will resolve the question about the chord into these types of component questions: 1) how many notes in the chord, 2) what is the quality / type of the chord, 3) is the chord in root position or in an inversion, 4) can your ear single out each individual note in the chord, 5) What is the interval between two of those notes, 6) starting with the lowest note in the chord and proceeding to the highest, specify whether that note is the ‘root note’, the ‘third’, the ‘fifth’, or the ‘seventh’ of the chord.

And there are others components as well.  Each an ear training ability in its own.  It is prudent to work on each ability by itself for a while before trying to put them through a second prism so that they converge back together.

If you trace back the simpler abilities to even simpler abilities, after a number of rounds of doing this, you will end up with the simplest abilities – the three mentioned above.

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