How to Practice Ear Training Elements

1) Intervals

Goal: To be able to identify all intervals an octave and smaller by ear and to be able to sing any interval above or below a given tone.

To identify intervals by ear: find a partner and take turns quizzing each other. On any instrument, play each interval melodically (ascending or descending – vary it) then as a dyad. To focus study, limit yourself to subsets depending on the skills being tested. For instance, this chart might describe levels of difficulty for many students (from easiest to most difficult):

  • major and minor seconds
  • perfect fourths and fifths
  • intervals smaller than a tritone
  • major and minor sevenths
  • sixths and sevenths
  • anything goes

This skill can also be drilled online at http://www.musictheory.net/exercises/ear-interval

To sing intervals above or below a given tone: make a quick chart, arbitrarily choosing starting pitch, interval size, and direction, like this:

STARTING
PITCH
INTERVAL DIRECTION
E M2 UP
P4 DOWN
G m3 DOWN
etc. etc. etc.

For each row of your chart, play the starting pitch that you have chosen, then sing the pitch at the chosen interval’s distance. Confirm your answer by paying the correct tone on your instrument.

2) Triads In Root Position

Goal: To be able to identify the quality of any closed-voicing triad in root position and to be able to sing the third and fifth of a triad when given its root.

To identify triad qualities by ear: find a partner and take turns quizzing each other. On a piano, arpeggiate triads from bottom to top, then play as a block. The following guide may help:

  • Major and minor triads sound HAPPY and SAD, respectively. This is, of course, silly, but it works for most people.
  • Augmented and diminished triads are NEITHER MAJOR NOR MINOR, and so are easy to separate from those but sometimes difficult to distinguish from each other. Use interval identification skills to determine if the notes are separated by major or minor thirds, then confirm your choice by hearing the interval between the root and fifth (it will be either a tritone or an augmented fifth).
  • Another technique for distinguishing augmented and diminished triads is to compare each to the other triad with which it shares two notes. For instance, if you hear two notes that sound like a major triad is being arpeggiated before the third note disappoints you by “souring” the chord, it is an augmented triad; if you hear two notes that sound like a minor triad is being arpeggiated before the third note disappoints you by “souring” the chord, it is a diminished triad.

This skill can also be drilled online at http://www.musictheory.net/exercises/ear-chord

To sing triads above a given tone: make a quick chart like that used above for intervals, choosing starting pitches and triad qualities. Play the starting tone, sing the full triad (arpeggiate up and down: root-third-fifth-octave-fifth-third-root), then check your pitches by playing them on a piano.

3) Seventh Chords In Root Position

Goal: To be able to identify the quality of any closed-voicing seventh chord in root position and to be able to vocally arpeggiate the third, fifth and seventh of a chord when given its root.

To identify seventh chord qualities by ear: find a partner and take turns quizzing each other. On a piano, arpeggiate chords from bottom to top, then play as a block. It helps to consider that different kinds of seventh chords are based on triad “cores,” as following:

  • The augmented triad only has one common option: the augmented seventh chord (written +7) that has a minor seventh between its outer tones. It’s like a dominant seventh with raised fifth. There is also an augmented major seventh chord (written +△7) that has a major seventh between its outer tones.
  • The diminished triad is the core of the half-diminished (Ø7) and fully-diminished seventh (O7) chords. Distinguish between these by hearing the outer interval (minor or major seventh, respectively).
  • The major triad is the core of the dominant seventh (V7) and major seventh (△7) chords. Distinguish between these by hearing the outer interval (minor or major seventh, respectively), or by associating the dominant seventh as being “bluesy” and major seventh as being “jazzy” (since these are the qualities of major-mode tonic chords in those styles).
  • The minor triad is the core of the minor seventh (m7) and minor/major seventh (m△7) chords. Distinguish between these by hearing the outer interval (minor or major seventh, respectively), or by recognizing the especially “piquant” sound of the minor/major seventh.

To sing seventh chords above a given tone: make a quick chart like that used above for intervals, choosing starting pitches and seventh chords qualities. Play the starting tone, sing the full chord (arpeggiate up and down: root-third-fifth-seventh-octave-seventh-fifth-third-root), and then check your pitches by playing them on a piano.

4) Triads in inversion

Goal: To be able to identify the quality of any closed-voicing triad in any inversion and to be able to sing triads in any inversion after being given only a bass note.

To identify triad inversions by ear: find a partner and take turns quizzing each other. On a piano, arpeggiate chords from bottom to top, then play as a block. Inverted triads follow a basic interval-pattern that is independent of chord quality:

triad inversions_0001

Notice how, when a triad is inverted, the root is the top note of the fourth-interval (perfect fourth in major & minor triads, augmented fourth in a diminished triad). Since an augmented triad is made up of only major thirds (or a diminished fourth, which is enharmonically the same as a major third), it is impossible to tell if an isolated augmented triad is inverted.

When triads are inverted, it becomes slightly more difficult to ascertain chord-quality. It can be helpful to re-voice the chord in your head with the chord root as its lowest note, and imagine how it would sound if arpeggiated in root position.

To sing triads in inversion when given a bass note: calculate the interval from the note you are given to the chord root, then imagine the root of the chord. Once you have a good sense of the chord root, it should be easier to sing the full chord. For instance, if you are asked the following:

Arpeggiate a first inversion major triad above this note (G4)

1) Play this note on a piano.

01-playnote_0001

2) Since it is the third of a major chord, the chord root will be a major third below it. Imagine that pitch, then silently arpeggiate a major chord above it.
02-arpegg_0001

3) Confidently sing just the notes of the desired triad in inversion.

03-arpinversion_0001

5) Dominant Seventh Chords In Inversion

Goal: To be able to identify the quality of closed-voicing dominant seventh chords in any inversion and to be able to vocally arpeggiate such chords after being given only a bass note.

To identify V7 inversions by ear: find a partner and take turns quizzing each other. On a piano, arpeggiate chords from bottom to top, then play as a block. Inverted seventh chords follow a basic interval-pattern that is independent of chord quality:

7thinv_0001

Notice how, when a seventh chord is inverted, the root is the top note of the second-interval (a major second in V7 chords).

To sing V7 chords in inversion when given a bass note: use a similar method to that used for singing triads in inversion.

6) Singing Primary Chord Functions

Goal: To be able to vocally arpeggiate chord progressions using only primary chords I, IV and V(7) (or i, iv and V(7)). It helps to visualize the chords on a staff as you sing them, and to follow stepwise connections between “bass” notes. For example: if asked to sing the I – IV64 – V65 – I progression, sing:

arpegg_0001

Some sample progressions to practice:

6a.) I – IV64 – V6 – I and i – iv64 – V6 – i

6b.) I – IV – I6 – V64 – I and i – iv – i6 – V64 – i

6c.) I64 – V – I and i64 – V – i

6d.) V – V6 – I6 – V – I and V – V42 – i6 – V – i

6e.) IV – I6 – V64 – I and iv – i6 – V64 – i

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