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Ear training

Discussion in 'Ask Anthony Wellington [archive]' started by patrickp, Jul 6, 2012.

  1. patrickp


    Jul 6, 2012
    Hi Ant! first of all thank you! thank you for the passion you put in your work, your constant commitment in finding new ways to teach music.
    I've been lucky enough to attend one of your masterclasses when you came to Tech music school in London last april, and to discover your "Groove workshop" with Victor, so far the most interesting and motivating source of inspiration I've found!

    I would have many questions for you, and many things I'd like to get better at, but there is one skill that I'd really love to improve, and that happens to be the most difficult to practice effectively: ear training.

    I would really like to get to the point where i can really play what I hear straight away, rather than viceversa.

    This is what I try to do on a daily basis (or i try at least =):
    -I practice intervals singing them with my instrument
    -I do intervals reconization exercises (those you can find on internet)
    -I try to transcribe one or more melodies and progressions (I recently bought a pocket size manuscript book, so i can do it a bit everywhere)
    -I try to do a bit of sight singing

    What do you think? what are the methods you've found to be the most effective over the years? And how do you keep your ears CONSTANTLY trained?
    Is there any book you would suggest?

    Thank you very much Ant! I really hope to meet you again soon!! Come to London!! =)
  2. Ant Wellington

    Ant Wellington

    Jan 4, 2011
    Hey Patrick,

    Thanks for the very kind words. I had fun in London!

    I'm never 'NOT' working on ear training(pitch and rhythm). Every time I hear music that's not for my own personal enjoyment I analyze it. If I intentionally play for my own enjoyment I don't analyze it. But if it's elevator music or grocery store music or TV music I use it to practice ear training(pitch and rhythm).

    I try to learn complete bass parts, melodies, horn lines, solos, etc without touching an instrument. Of course a person can't start at that point but that's where the evolution leads to.

    Sounds like your on the right path. It's one of things that, for me, falls into the category of 'do everyday'. Fortunately, in this day and age, there are many tools that are perfect aids for training ones ear. My favorite websites are:


    The great thing about those websites is that they are downloadable and can live in your computer. And there are many websites for ear training. Those are some of the first and best I've found. Like phone apps, the newer ones are just copies of the older ones.

    It sounds like you are in the right path. But just know this.

    Like with anything concerning getting better as a musician and person, there is NO destination. Only the journey.

  3. patrickp


    Jul 6, 2012
    Thank you so much Anthony!! Yeah definitely is one of those things you need to do EVERY day =)

    Hope to see you soon, have fun on tour!! =)

    Much Love

  4. Ant Wellington

    Ant Wellington

    Jan 4, 2011
    Thanks Pat!

    Keep working at it!

  5. 5string_phunk

    5string_phunk Supporting Member

    Aug 8, 2011
    Nashville, TN
    This is a great question and a great answer! I have used musictheory.net before, but I will definitely add the other 2 sites in my practice rotation!

    Thanks for the info! :)
  6. WeAreAllOne


    Apr 21, 2012
    Great thread...thanks for turning me on to the new sites! Anthony, you are an inspiring dude! You are a role model for being both a true professional musician and a teacher.

    I've been working on singing through standards without the instrument, arpeggiating each chord and I'd like to share this exercise because it is powerful.

    You can do this in any number of ways. The most basic (and boring/uncreative) way would be singing basic arpeggios, i.e. 1,3,5,7 (or up into the upper extensions as called for or desired).

    But I'm convinced this is not a good thing to do, because if you practice singing or playing arpeggios from the root, you'll end up playing this at some point, and that's kind of lame and mathematical. I think it was Miles who said "if you practice scales, you'll play scales" or something along those lines, which is deeply true.

    So instead, I'll try to arpeggiate cool voicings instead, preferably rootless as soon as I have the bass note in my head. For example, if the chart calls for a C major 7, I'll sing 3 6 9 5, or perhaps 3 5 7 9 #11, or even 9, 3, 5, 7. All the while you are hearing the root as well, so you are trying to hear 2 notes at the same time in your head, but only vocalizing the extension.

    While you could sing straight eight notes, that too would be non-creative and mechanical. So I'll try to put some swinging rhythm to it. Just so that I'm making it more fun, and also to avoid programming my ear to hear mechanical stuff that would sound lame if/when it inevitably comes out. You could plug in a rhythm taken from a bebop head if you can't think of any on your own. At least this way, if you end up playing this at some point, it will be more creative than a mathematical 8th note arpeggio, and more likely to lead you into other creative ideas.

    I have a couple of Dick Hyman books, which are especially great for doing this practice with. They are Professional Chord Changes for 100 Tunes Every Musician Should Know, and All the Right Changes. He basically takes 100 standards and gives you both the original changes, and his own substitutions which are very tasteful and give you all kinds of ideas on how to embellish simple harmonies when playing through other tunes. That said, you can practice this exercise with any fake book.

    The goal is to get to a point where you can sing/arpeggiate through the tune, without looking at the music, in time, and swinging.

    You can then start incorporating the scales that the arpeggios are derived from into your lines. This is particularly useful over Altered Dominant chords, with the Altered Scale, as well as the other chords that are derived from modes of the melodic minor or diminished scale, which are typically less natural for us to hear than the chords derived from modes of the major scale.

    This is an extremely challenging exercise, that really tests how well you know your chords. After all, if you can't sing the chords, than you don't really know them. You may know the fingerings and have the ability to play them, but plugging in fingerings from a place of pitchless mental instruction is not the same as when you are playing notes that are being guided intuitively from the pitches you are hearing in your head, with ideally zero mental dialog to interrupt the sound and feeling.

    I have recently come to believe that this is the most powerful exercise any aspiring jazz musician can perform, with regards to getting you to the point where you can hear the notes in each chord, and get to a point where you can enter a flow state and play freely over chord changes without having to think about what chord you are on or have any other pitchless mental dialog to interrupt your flow state. For bassists, this would be for complete freedom in both soloing, and in creating walking (or other) basslines.

    It also has the bonus of being practical, because you are actually increasing your repertoire at the same time, which leads to gigs. Kill 2 birds with one stone.

    If you can work a tune up to where you can sing through the entire changes, then finding the notes on the bass comes easily when you can hear them, and your intuition has a way of almost magically guiding your fingers. Creating walking basslines comes easily. Mastering just one standard will create a complete shift in your playing and ability to hear chord changes and the notes within.

    Even if you have no intention of playing jazz, it's still a very worthwhile challenge to undertake, because if you can handle jazz harmonies, than handling the harmonies of pretty much most other styles is possible, if not a breeze.

    The only thing with this exercise is that it is very, very challenging, even for people who think they have a good grasp of harmonies and ear training, and it is very arduous to sit down and actually do it.

    Sorry for the FRAT post, I got carried away
  7. Samsound


    Sep 28, 2010
    Along the same lines, I "discovered" a new exercise the other day: charting songs without an instrument for reference. It was a time management thing, needed to at least start sketching out a chart while at the Dr. office. I only messed up one chord (knew it was a 5 or a 4). You'll want to read up on Nashville numbering or Roman numerals. I realized afterward what a cool challenge this was, and a time saver!
  8. Ant Wellington

    Ant Wellington

    Jan 4, 2011
    Both of the exercises that you guys mentioned are actually common with really good musicians.

    What you do without an instrument is very critical. Musicianship and being musical doesn't have anything to do with an instrument.

    We tend to think that playing music is a physical endeavor. Playing music is a aural, visual, intellectual, emotional and spiritual endeavor that's manifested physically.

    I practice those ways.

  9. mjl422


    Jul 3, 2002
    Hey Anthony,

    I'm curious what would be your "ideal" way of practicing ear-training? ie. if you have all the necessary tools and time at your disposal, what method(s) would you use to practice ear-training?
  10. Ant Wellington

    Ant Wellington

    Jan 4, 2011
    Hey 422,

    I practice ear training a lot of different ways. And like earlier, if I hear music that I didn't purposely play for enjoyment I'll use that as an opportunity to work on ear training.

    Most of the time I'll have a music reference playing. Then I'll blindly play notes on my bass and see how fast I can reference what the notes are.

    But realistically, there are too many ways I practice ear training to list in a non-lesson.


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