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Ear Training and Aural Skills Exercises

Ear training exercises help to develop a musicians aural skills and musicianship. For more on these terms, be sure to read the page Ear Training, Aural Skills and Musicianship. Through aural skills development, musicians are able to fully comprehend the music theory of the sounds that they hear. A well trained ear is able to write down music that is played, and can ‘hear’ written music without having to play it out loud.

The lessons found under the lessons tab above offer a comprehensive curriculum for learning music fundamentals and theory, including the ear training necessary to grasp these concepts in the sound itself, not just in written form. Singers who study these lessons will be able to not only sight read (sight sing) music accurately, but will also understand the full texture of the music and their contribution to it. While the targeted audience is choral singers and music theory students, these lessons can serve anyone hoping to develop their musicianship. Embedded in the lessons are the following ear training exercises and aural skills exercises. You can also work on them outside of the lessons, and control the settings to match your needs and ability. To do this, click on the exercises tab above, or click on the title of any of the exercises below.

Scale Degree Ear Training

Scale Degree Ear Training develops a musician’s ability to know each note’s place relative to other notes in the scale employed. The tendency tones of a scale are the primary anchors for feeling scale degree function. These tendency tones have ‘pull’, especially when accompanied by specific underlying harmony (usually dominant resolving to tonic harmony). In such a context, the strongest pulling tendency tones of the major scale are at the half steps, with the 4th scale degree tends to resolve down by half-step to the 3rd scale degree, and the 7th tends to resolve up by half step to the tonic.

Scale Degree Ear Training is the cornerstone exercise of SonicFit. Read more about our pedagogy on our pedagogy page.

Musicians often use a mnemonic system to remember scale degrees of a scale. At SonicFit, we encourage using movable DO solfege. In this system, the first note of the scale is always DO, the second note RE, etc. Please see the lessons for full information on this.

When doing this exercise, you should be singing everything! Start by singing the scale on solfege. Next, sing prominent tendency tone resolutions, such as FA-MI, or TI-DO. Then sing the example played on a neutral syllable- like TA. Hold the first note and sing up the scale to find the first note. You might also try to hold the first note, then sing down the scale until you feel you've arrived at DO. Repeat this same action for the last note. Before you put in the answer, sing your choice on solfege and see if it feels right. After it is graded, sing the correct answer on solfege.

If you are taking a lot of time to answer the questions, you need to change the settings. Click on the settings button at the top, and select fewer notes. If these are easy for you, select more notes, add chromaticism and change keys. See the lessons for information on chromaticism.

Settings allow the user to adjust the material to match their skill level and pedagogical preferences. Settings include:

• select individual notes in the scale
• define the range and tessitura
• set mnemonic system- solfege (fixed or movable), numbers, letters
• set mode (major or minor, with la or do based minor both available
• set the instrument sounds played

Intervals and Chords Ear Training

recognizing and identifying intervals, triads, seventh chords and extended tertian harmonies used in jazz.

Interval and chord ear training is a set of exercises to develop the ability to identify the quantity and quality of intervals or the quality and inversion of chords. The settings of these exercises allow a user to isolate specific parameters of the exercise to assist in the development of this skill. For a curriculum to guide and pace your development of these skills, see the interval and chord lessons in the SonicFit lessons.

The ability to identify intervals and chords by ear is considered a fundamental skill of most ear training and aural skills pedagogies. SonicFit agrees that this is an essential skill of the trained musician, however, we depart from other pedagogies regarding when and how to develop this skills. Recognizing intervals by ear and properly identifying them by both quantity and quality requires a significant understanding of music theory. While a student may memorize the names of intervals by how they sound, they won't really understand what the quantity and quality terms really mean until after they reach that part of the theory curriculum.

In contrast, students need no background in theory whatsoever to begin scale degree ear training exercises. For that reason, SonicFit considers scale degree recognition to be a rudimentary skill, and interval and chord recognition to be an extended skill build upon the former combined with an understanding of theory.

After developing fundamental skills of scale degree recognition and the theory behind intervals and chords, a student may then embark on the aural study of intervals and chords. A full curriculum for this study is found in the SonicFit lessons, which will fully explain the appropriate settings to use for each step of this study. Those settings include:

• set melodic, harmonic, or harmonic followed by melodic presentation of pitches
• isolate ascending or descending melodic presentation of pitches
• set the lowest or highest note to the same pitch every time
• in interval drill, set pitches to those in major or minor scale
   - or pick the specific intervals drilled
• in triad drill, select which quality and inversions are presented
• enforce theoretical understanding by requiring note input
• set the instrument sounds played

Melodic Fragments Ear Training

melodic ear training of fragments that are 3 to 5 notes
pitch content categories include both tonal and atonal material

The melodic fragments ear training exercise works towards better aural comprehension of melodic material that is not in a previously established diatonic framework. This is an advanced exercise that integrates previous ear training and theory including scale degree ear training, interval ear training,and a theoretical understanding of the intervalic construction of scales. For some melodic fragments, the pitches presented could fit in a diatonic framework, albeit one that has not been established by previous material. For these fragments, students trained in scale degree ear training should try to hear the solfege that fits the notes, then determine what pitches would correspond to those scale degrees given the first pitch. An aural understanding of intervals from interval ear training might be used as a check to verify accuracy of the pitches selected. These fragments are in the categories called "diatonic 3" and "diatonic 5". Notes in these fragments will be adjecent notes from a major scale, though not necessarily played in order.

Other melodic fragments cannot possibly fit into a major scale. For these, students will draw on skills identifying intervals as well as extablishing a close chromatic framework. Exercises vital to success with these sets are interval ear training and close chromatic framework. The content setting for these fragments include "close chromatic", "nested 3rds", and "nested 6ths".

Finally, the remaining sets include larger intervals, relying heavily on students who have significant aural proficiency with larger intervals and chords. Students should practice interval and chord ear training and consult the curriculum to develop these skills in the lessons prior to taking on these levels of melodic fragments.

Close Chromatic Framework Ear Training

Just as Scale Degree Ear Training develops aural comprehension of the diatonic framework, this exercise trains musicians in a chromatic framework. Interval recognition is an important part of this framework, however it is more than just identifying individual intervals. The framework is formed by the network of intervals known simultaneously and in cross-reference to each other. You know what A to C is because we also know A to C# and A to B, and you know what each pitch's place is relative to the others.

While interval recognition is in important reference and verification, to goal is to begin hearing the framework- each note having its place and knowing its place because you also know the place of every other note in consideration. To obtain this skill, pitch memory is perhaps a more fundamental tool than interval recognition. Imagine that each note is being played by a hand bell, and then recall which hand bell made each sound as you identify each tone presented. To develop this skill, it is essential that you being with a small set of pitches- here we begin with all the chromatic notes contained within a perfect fourth.

You might find it easiest to being by imposing the melodic minor scale, degrees 5-8 on these notes. The lowest note could be thought of as the 5th scale degree, and the top note the 8th. The middle notes on the right in blue are the raised 6th and 7th scale degrees, and the notes on the left in red are the lowered 6th and 7th scale degrees. Practice singing the top of the melodic scale up and then back down: "MI FI SI LA, SOL FA MI" (for LA based Minor*) between every example drilled to help keep you locked into the framework. Recognizing and singing the patterns for the top of the harmonic minor scale, natural minor scale and dorian scale can also help you lock into the framework. Eventually, however, you should train to just hear the framework of the notes presented, and not think of them as part of a scale.

After mastering the set of notes contained within a perfect fourth, expand your set of pitches by adding a chromatic pitch both above and below. You can use minor scales as a crutch to gain proficiency with the larger set of pitches. In adding pitches beyond this, SonicFit recommends the following: return to a set of pitches a perfect fourth apart, and as the same set of pitches displaced up the octave above the first. Learn to quickly shift octaves while maintaining the chromatic framework of these 6 notes. Only after improving proficiency with a displaced octave should you attempt chromatic frameworks larger than a perfect fifth. Settings for all of these options will be forthcoming.

 

* if using DO based minor, these would be SOL LA TI DO, TE LE SOL

Scale Identification Ear Training

This exercise plays a scale and the user identifies the scale played. The settings allow the user to limit which scales may be played, as well as select instrument sound to be played and save scores. Before attempting this exercise, students should of course have learned the intervalic content of scales presented in the theory sequence, as well as gained proficiency in hearing steps (melodic fragments, with setting of diatonic 3) and hearing triads (interval and chord ear training with settings to triads isolating root position melodic ascending). Scales included are:

Major and Minor

• Major
• harmonic minor
• melodic minor
• natural minor

Modes

• Ionian (Maj)
• Dorian
• Phrygian
• Lydian
• Mixolydian
• Aeolian (min)
• Locrian

Synthetic Scales

• chromatic
• whole tone
• octatonic (h.w)
• diminished (w.h)
• blues
• Dorian with #4
• Mixolydian with #4

Beat Division: Rhythmic Ear Training

This exercise plays two beats of rhythmic patterns presented melodically, that is, with pitch content to make it more memorable and resemble melodic fragments. The rhythmic patterns use quarter, eighth, and sixteenth division of the beat.

The user writes their answers on a piece of paper, (which is easier than entering buttons!) For levels 1-3, the user should write "1 e & a 2 e & a 1" representing the sixteenth note division of each beat. While listening to the fragment, the user should put a slash through each division in which a new note begins. From these slashes, the user should determine how best to beam these beats. There are certain conventions for beaming discussed in the SonicFit theory lessons, but it may be just as helpful to see the correct answers and learn how each patter is beamed. Hit the "show answer" button to see where slashes were accurately placed and the corresponding notation.

This exercise can be done long before learning about beaming. Developing the skill of slashing on the division can and should begin well before learning the proper way to notate the result. This will develop skills that will be very beneficial when taking the next steps.

Levels 4-6 are in compound duple meter in which the user should write "1 e a 2 e a 1", representing the eight division on 68 time signature. For levels 5 and 6, the user may mark between the eighths to represent sixteenth divisions.

Bassline and Chords, Harmonic Ear Training

This exercise plays a short harmonic progression with the bass line slightly louder than the upper voices. On staff paper, users should write out the solfege of the bass line under a staff first, then write the corresponding notes on the staff. You might add the solfege for the top voice above the staff next. Finally, determine the possible choices for chords given the two notes that you already have and your understanding of chord progression what would be most expected, and write the best choice. After clicking "show answer" listen again to hear the correct answer.

This exercise should be done very quickly. If you have trouble doing it in one or two listenings, then you should go to scale degree ear training, and set the instrument to cello or piano bass and practice listening to low instruments and immediately recognizing the scale degrees played. You will also need a strong understanding of the theory of chord progressions found in the lessons.

Sing Back Practice

This exercise plays a short melodic passage so that the user can practice singing it back. This exercise is often used in choir auditions to test how well singers remember pitches. Such auditions also test the singer's familiarity with different types of melodic material, particularly those found in levels 3-6 described below. Practicing this material can increase your familiarty with it; however, to truly master this materal, you should also develop the skills found in melodic fragments, interval and chord ear training and close chromatic framework. The content in level 1 and 2 is primarily conjunct motion using diatonic notes. Level 3 introduces more leaps, and particularly consecutive leaps outlining triadic material. Level 4 includes leaps that do not outline a triad, focusing largely on quartal and quintal material, and level 5 and 6 include highly chromatic and atonal material, in which the notes could not possibly exist in a key without adding accidentals.

Honor Choir auditions typically test levels 2-5.

Melodic Dictation

This is a ear training exercise common in most aural skills pedagogies. The computer plays a melody and the user writes it down. However, SonicFit encourages the following steps for melodic dictation.

1. Write the counts for every measure before hearing it the first time.
2. Draw a slash on any count (or between counts) corresponding to the start of a new note while listening for the first time or two.
3. Next, write the solfege above any slash. To move quickly, you can just write the first letter unless it is chromatically altered.
4. When done, transcribe the shorthand of slashes and solfege into standard musical notation.

Forms for these dictations can be printed under "forms" button, and will show the number of measures and an appropriate width for the measure. Levels 4, 5 and 8 contain excerpts from literature.

 

Music Theory: Fundamentals

Knowing how to read music notation is the first step of music theory. The lessons found under the lessons tab above offer a comprehensive curriculum for learning music fundamentals and music theory. Embedded in the lessons are the following music theory exercises. You can also work on them outside of the lessons, and control the settings to match your needs and ability. To do this, click on the exercises tab above, or by clicking on the title of any of the exercises below.

Line Note and Space Note Identification

The first step to learning how to read music notation (notational literacy) is recognizing if a note is on a line or a space of the staff. Line notes have a line going through the center of the note head, while space notes do not. Space notes have at least one line adjacent to the note head above it, below it, or two lines both above and below. Lines and spaces of a staff are numbered from bottom to top. This exercises drills identification of notes as line or space and the line or space number. To learn more about line and space notes, see the lesson video line and space notes.

This exercises requires the user to identify if a note is a line or space note as well as the line or space number.

Scale Degree Notation Identification

A foundational skill in the ability to read music is the ability to identify the scale degrees of the notes on a staff. Full implementation of this skill requires significant background in theory, especially a working understanding of key signatures. However, a student can and should begin developing this skill at a more rudimentary level in which the first scale degree is identified for them. By drilling this exercise (and, for that matter, applying the same process to real music with the guidance of a teacher for identifying DO and determining if the material is simple enough) students develop speed at identifing the other notes relative to the tonic (first scale degree).

When approached with the beginning settings, this exercise can and should be started before learning key signature, clef, or even letter names; you do not need any theory beyond line and space notes to get started. Speed and proficiency at this exercise take time, so starting it early gives students a jump start on the training and impresses on them the importance of this skill. This will also give students a sense of familiarity and cumulative development when they return to the exercise with more difficult settings after learning the appropriate theory. The beginning (and default) setting for this exercise is having the first note be the tonic and identified as such. Other settings are available for students with the appropriate background in theory.

This exercise returns several times during the lessons curriculum. Several other exercises reinforce concepts and skills of this exercise. For example, the interval quantity identification exercise (and lessons leading to it) helps students quickly identify intervals. Seeing these intervals and building a mapping of the scale degrees that would correspond for each interval develops speed and proficiency in sight reading music. In application, a student learns to quickly identify the interval of a perfect 4th, and also learns that if the bottom note is DO, the top will be FA; if the bottom is RE, the top will be SOL etc. More guidance for developing speed on Scale Degree Identification is provided within the lessons. Working through the entire first two units of the lessons will greatly increase understanding, speed, and proficiency of sight reading music.

The default mnemonic system for this exercise, and all exercises at SonicFit, is movable DO with LA based minor. In the settings, you can change the mnemonic system to letters or numbers or fixed DO. You can also adjust the following:

• Change the difficulty so that SOL is always first, no set note is first, or even include chromatic notes
• Fix the key or have key change
   - select how often the key changes
• set to major or minor
• select clef
• select a time limit per problem

When working through scale degree notation, you should sing everything. You should play the scale and sing with it. You should sing along as you enter the solfege using the buttons, and then click the "play sound" button to check for your accuracy.

Note Name (Letter Name) Identification

Letter name identification of notes is the primary way in which musicians communicate pitch information with each other. Letter names are determined by which clef is used and where notes and the clef are placed on the staff. For information on this, please view the letter names lesson.

Settings for this exercise allow you to do the following:

• select the clef used
• include ledger lines
• select a time limit per problem
• include a key signature, requiring accidental information on letter names (2017)

Key Signature Identification

Key signatures provide many pieces of information for reading music. The key signature lists the accidentals to be placed on the notes, information that has direct application for instrumentals who then adjust fingerings corresponding to the chromatically adjusted notes. More helpful for singers is that key signatures can be used to determine the tonic for the music to follow. As long as a singer knows the tonic, then can read all diatonic music, that is, music without accidentals on the notes. A more thorough understanding of keys and key signatures is required for reading chromatic music, that is, music with accidentals on the notes. To learn more about key signatures, begin with the lesson key signatures I and proceed through the next several chapters.

Shortcuts to determine the key from the key signature

Using movable DO solfege, we can determine the major key of a key signature by finding DO. DO names the major key. If DO is A, then the key is A major. Be sure to include any accidental that is on the note when you identify the key. If DO is B and there is a flat on B in the key signature, then the key is Bb major.

Sharps: For a key signature containing sharp, the last sharp is always TI, so the next note up is always DO.

Flats: For a key signature containing flats, the last flat is always FA and the second to last flat is always DO.

Settings for this exercise allow you to do the following:

• select the clef used
• select the number of sharps and flats possible in the presented key signatures
• select a time limit per problem
• minor keys (LA) in 2017

Staff or Letter Names to Keyboard Practice

This exercise presents notes on a staff and the user selects the corresponding key on the keyboard. Settings allow user to select staff (treble, bass, or grand staff) or letter names instead of the staff. This exercise does not yet have accidentals or key signatures.

Interval Notation Exercises

This exercise presents two notes on a staff and asks the user to identify the interval between them. To learn about intervals, please see the interval lessons beginning with intervals I. Understanding and increasing speed at identifying interval quantity complements proficiency with the scale degree notation exercise. Understanding and gaining proficiency with interval quality is an advanced skill to be developed after thoroughly understanding keys and scales.

Settings for this exercise allow you to do the following:

• select the clef used
• include ledger lines
• select a time limit per problem
• include interval quality