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Are These Good Ear Training Exercises?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Matthew_84, Apr 4, 2018.

  1. I have always had a pretty bad ear and to try and remedy that, I've recorded some ear training exercises using PC software to sequence a piano as per the exercises below. I do this for a minimum of 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week, but I usually end up doing it for more than 30 minutes a day.

    The exercises are as follows:

    1) The lowest note I can sing (which is the G on the 3rd fret of the E string) gets played, and I sing along to it, and then a higher note of the interval I want to learn (such as a Major 2nd) plays, and I sing that. This pattern occurs 4 consecutive times. Every time I sing along with it with either "La, La", or "Do, Rei", or "1, 2". After this pattern ends, it then starts on the higher note (A in this example), and goes back down to the G, and repeats 3 more times. After this is done, there is a slight pause, and the pattern resumes but a semitone higher. I keep signing along until the highest note that is played is at the highest point I can currently comfortably sing without screeching my voice (which is the G on the 12th fret of the G string, or two octaves above the low G I can sing).

    2) Then I do the same thing with another interval, usually the next note in the specific scale. Right now I'm only focusing on the natural major scale, so the interval is a Major 3rd. For this I would sing "La, La", or "Do, Mi" or "1, 3".

    3) Then it's a pattern of both intervals: the lowest note plays, then the first interval, lowest note plays again, and then the second interval plays. I try to sing a long to all of these, in-tune, and this pattern occurs 4 times before a slight pause and moving up a semitone.

    4) This exercises is basically a test. I have folder with a bunch of files. All recordings are the same. There is a cadence/chord progression played (I-IV-V-I), and then the root of the scale is played, followed by one of the intervals I'm learning at that time. For each interval there are 13 recordings, it starts on a C, then a C#, then a D, etc, etc etc, and up to and including the octave higher C. I listen to these (after I feel I can sing the first 3 exercises accurately) and try to guess if the recording is interval A or interval B. If I got 90% right, then I'll move on to another group of intervals...

    For what it's worth, the groups for the natural major scale are (1) M2 & M3; (2) P4 & P5; (3) M2, M3, P4 & P5; (4) M6, M7 & Octave; (5) M2, M3, P4, P5, M6, M7 & Octave.

    My reason for asking about this with all of you, is that I've been doing this for about 3 weeks now and I'm still on the first group (M2 & M3) and I struggle to guess it right 60% of the time. Now I'm 34 and my ear has always been bad, so I expect this to take a long time, and I'm okay with that... I just want to make sure this is a good and effective bunch of exercises to do.

    If anyone thinks I could alter the exercises to make them better, I'd really appreciate the insight. Thanks!
  2. lz4005


    Oct 22, 2013
    Are you also playing these notes on your bass during these exercises?
    Singing the notes is good, but if you aren't also playing then you aren't going to be improving your ear for bass.

    It helps to calibrate your ear to your instrument first. I would start by singing the names of each note as you play them to warm up.
  3. Thanks for your review and post.

    I am currently not doing them with my bass; I am singing along to my recordings as I drive. Unfortunately, I only seem to be able to play bass for an average of 30-60 minutes on a weekday, and I'd rather focus that time on learning on a new song or composing my own song, or something.

    Do you think continuing to do these exercises in my car as well as at least spending 5 minutes a day doing them on my bass would be okay?
  4. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    In my experience/opinion, you'll progress much faster at ear training if you incorporate the following 3 activities into your ear-training practice regimen:
    1. Reading
    2. Transcribing
    3. Playing bass
    You mention you're currently working on distinguishing 2nds from 3rds. You know what kind of music has a lot of 2nds and 3rds? Simple diatonic melodies, like nursery rhymes or children songs. I'd suggest you transcribe simple tunes like "Three Blind Mice," "Coming 'Round the Mountain," or "Frère Jacques," highlight all of the 2nds in one color and 3rds in another color, and then check your accuracy against published sheet music.
    admh1972, Nashrakh, HolmeBass and 2 others like this.
  5. I’ll work on the latter exercise you mentioned, but can you please elaborate on Reading and Playing Bass?

    When I read, I’m trying to think of what notes that is and the rhythm. I guess I should try imagining the sound of the note as well?

    Also, with playing bass, should I be singing along to it as well?
  6. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    Reading: Here are some reading exercises that are also good ear training: Sight-sing a book of popular songs. Buy a songbook of your favorite band's greatest hits, listen to the recording, play along on bass (and/or sing the vocals). Go to church, read from the hymnal, sing along with the congregation. Listen to a recording of a famous classical symphony, follow along in the score, watch the musical ideas jump back and forth between the strings, woodwinds, brass, etc.

    Playing the bass: Here are some playing exercises that are also good ear training (so long as you use listening as your primary skill, as opposed to shortcuts like watching the guitarist's fingers): Learn songs by ear. Rehearse new songs with your band. Jam along with the radio or a random playlist. Go to an open mic or blues jam. Play a song you know well, in an unfamiliar key. Choose a song that you know by heart, but have never learned to play on bass (like "Happy Birthday" or "Sweet Caroline") and figure out how to play it on bass, entirely from memory.
    admh1972 and Matthew_84 like this.
  7. Your exercises are very systematic, but that isn’t necessarily the best way to learn intervals. Start with the easy ones: octave, unison, perfect 5th and 4th. Then 2nds, 3rds, 6ths, and 7ths. Then the hard ones, like Tritones.

    Also, intervals should be mastered before progressions, since you’ll have to dissect the progressions intervalicly to interpret them.

    And, I hate to ask a stupid question, but does your software have a method of determining if you are singing intervals correctly? If not, how can you know if you can reproduce them?
    squidtastic and Matthew_84 like this.
  8. Thanks for asking this question.

    You bring up a very good point. No, when I am singing along to the intervals I am not checking to make sure I am signing in-tune. I am simply singing along and trying to adjust the pitch to make it sound like I’m singing it in-tune.... To me.... A person with a terrible ear.
    Last edited: Apr 4, 2018
  9. Also, sorry for any confusion, my reference about chord progressions isn’t to learn the sound of chords, it’s to ingrain the sound of that key in my mind, to help reset my mind to hear the interval clearly and not confuse it with notes from the previous recording.
  10. Thanks @Mushroo. I’ll try to work on those as well.
  11. MixBass


    Feb 23, 2006
    L.A. Harbor
    Co-founder. GrabAxe
    I applaud your diligence and effort!
    The first thing that comes to mind is: a good teacher can save so much time. For ear training the teacher wouldn't need to be a bass teacher obviously.
    That said, I'm a big fan of the use of "incipits" which translates basically to the first interval of a melody in this context.
    Can you sing " happy birthday "?
    The beginning interval is M2.
    " smoke on the water " riff =m3
    " here comes the bride" = P4
    These are a few of the ones I use.
    I think it's important to choose your starting note completely random so you don't get a tone center stuck in your head. The interval is what's important. A M3 is a M3 wherever it is hi or low!
    Also your ear may or may not be great, don't let it discourage you which it sounds like you aren't. I had a roommate once who couldn't reproduce pitch at all and yet he was a beautiful bass player!
    HolmeBass and Matthew_84 like this.
  12. As a bit of nitpick, I doubt your lowest note is the G on the E string. That's a note lower than most of the best bass singers in the world have in their range. Similarly, the G on the 12th fret of the G string is in the middle of the average male range, which means you're likely singing an octave above the note you're playing. I would recommend playing and singing in perfect unison, as it will be much easier to match pitch. This means starting on the open G of your G string.
  13. White Beard

    White Beard

    Feb 12, 2013
    This one is really simple and no one has mentioned it yet. Tune your bass without a tuner. Play an A on the keyboard, or pick a song that you know is in an open string key and get that first open string tuned up really good, and then tune the rest of your bass to that.

    I'm always amazed at how many cats can't tune to a piano with one simple A.
  14. In that case, I strongly urge you to check in with someone you know to have an advanced ear, to verify you are hearing intervals correctly by accurately reproducing them vocally. Instruct your helper to verify you can (1) match pitch, (2) determine if the second of two tones is higher, lower, or the same as the first, (3) identify intervals ascending and descending, and (4) correctly sing any interval ascending or descending after given only the first pitch.

    Based on what you’ve said about where you are at, you may not be at a level to do all 4 yet. But until you have independent verification, you don’t really know if are mastering these skills.

    * if you aren’t sure who has an advanced ear, find a singer who can do harmony by ear.
    Matthew_84 likes this.
  15. Bass Momma

    Bass Momma

    Dec 25, 2017
    Have you seen the Tenuto app for ear training? Not ideal for the car ride... but there’s always the odd five minutes in the bathroom
    Matthew_84 likes this.
  16. BassChuck

    BassChuck Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 15, 2005
    If your ultimate goal is to hear a series of notes and then play them on the bass, why not learn by doing just that. Surely you know lots of melodies from children's songs, pop tunes, church hymns, TV ads etc. Think of the melody, and then sing it, find your first note on the bass and then play it.
    This is the way you'll be using your skill. Identifying intervals is something that rarely comes up in conversation and is of minor use in real life music. Unless you're trying to learn ear training so you can sight sing written melodies (a good skill to have if you are a commercial vocalist) or you intend to compose symphonies while stranded on a desert island, connecting aural skills to to playing of your instrument is the most efficient way.
    Many sight reading methods are set up to sell books. Classroom teaching is often singing or written, all good, but gear to the style of the class (many students) and the convenience of the teacher who really wouldn't want a room full of kids all with different instruments.
    Everyone has a different inborn ability to hear pitches. Some people are more attracted to rhythm, others tone quality, some pitch, and still other pitch relationship. So depending on where you are in all that it might take you longer than others. Don't worry, it's a process, not an event and a lifelong one at that.
    Matthew_84 likes this.
  17. Bassesh


    Jan 16, 2018
    Did you try writing exercises? It's easier to validate yourself, and from my personal experience, it helps a lot (unless your goal is a singing career).
    Also IMHO, you should aim for a variety of exercises. So every time you exercise, pick up 2-3 "topics" (out of intervals, triads, scales, modes, rhythm, and melody) and for each do a reading and writing exercise.
    Having a "theme" for each session might help as well. You can practice A minor scale, intervals within A minor and a melody in A minor.

    Solfège books are great for practicing melodies.
    Matthew_84 likes this.
  18. Joe Nerve

    Joe Nerve Supporting Member

    Oct 7, 2000
    New York City
    Endorsing artist: Musicman basses
    Sorry, I didn't read your entire post cuz I'm in a bit of a hurry, but wanted to offer this since you say you're limited to time with a bass in hand.

    I've been playing guitar and bass for many decades and only in the past year found something that really developed my ear. I never really had a problem learning tunes by ear, but doing this has enabled me to learn songs without a bass in hand.

    Take some simple tunes that you don't know - along the lines of Blitzkrieg Bop (if you don't know it). Don't touch your bass and just listen to it over and over. Try to imagine the notes while you're listening. Then pick up your bass and see how accurate you were. It doesn't matter if you were completely off, it's part of the training. Keep doing this over and over with simple, and then more complicated songs. After a while, as with anything else, it starts to get a lot easier. I'm able now to take a lot of tunes my band decides to do and learn them while driving. That wasn't possible for me 2 years ago.

    What I like about doing this also is that it's fun. It's a challenge, and as you get better at it ya feel like yer "WINNING!" Doesn't feel like work, or studying.

    Good luck!
    Matthew_84, admh1972 and Bass Momma like this.
  19. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Augusta GA
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    My first thought is that you are trying to to do too much at once. If you don't have a solid foundation in identifying and singing interval relationships, that just makes hearing and identifying triads harder, which makes hearing 4 part chords harder, which makes hearing chords with tensions harder. If you don't lay down a solid foundation at the start of construction, your building is going to fall down.

    My second thought is - it's not "guessing".

    I've posted the methodology I worked on with my teacher several times. It works pretty good.
    bass nitro and Matthew_84 like this.
  20. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    Matthew_84 likes this.
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    Primary TB Assistant

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