Improve Your Hearing and Your Musicianship

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Article by: Jenny J Nam | Creator

VQS Advice Blog | Cover Image by Johannes Plenio

The key to creating a strong foundation in music is educating yourself.

This is essential. As a music educator for over 15 years, I’ve been asked many questions by my students, peers, and just in general people who are curious about music. Here on VisionQuest Sound (aka VQS), I’d like to share some of my advice I’ve learned as a teacher. Welcome to Jenny’s lecture! 🙂

This time, I’ll talk about why you need ear training, and I’ll also give you basic tools on how you can improve everyday, from whatever level you are at now. Today, here’s our top 5 tips to improve your musicianship with ear training.

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1. Having a Good Sense of Hearing

This is the top priority for a music professional. If you are blind, you can’t see what things look like. The same logic goes for music. No matter whether you want to be a player, songwriter, composer, arranger, or music educator, your EARS should be expertly trained.

Historically, from a long time ago, even before Bach was born, people knew how to take advantage of ears in many ways, from hunting animals to creating beautiful harmony in the choir: vitally relying on “EARS” to define the right sound for music This is related to language learning, too.

When you were an infant, you heard a variety of sounds around you. By listening, as time went by, you were able to learn and speak, slowly, little by little. You became able to distinguish different kinds of sounds and identify them.

When it comes to developing your ears in music, Yes, it will take TIME — more than you think. It requires you to have endurance. Please keep that in mind. This article is not a commercial ad on Youtube, but I’m providing you with a traditional method in several formal steps.

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2. Find the Bass Note

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Finding out the bass notes is the first step. It’s like a finding the root of a big tree. You must know where the bottom is. It doesn’t matter what genre of music: classical, pop, or modern experimental music, etc. — there is usually a “root note” at the bass line. Harmony is always based on the root, body (3rd) and top (5th and/or 7th).

How do we find the bass note? For starters, click the “bass boost” button on your music player. Count the beat with your finger tips or your foot. This will train your ears to separate the bass notes from the rest of the music. With patience and practice, you will be able to recognize rhythm and complete structure in the bass line.

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3. Write on Manuscript Paper

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Wait, I know. This may seem old fashioned. Writing down is essential to be able to learn and recognize the notes you’ve heard properly. Don’t be pretentious. AND please, don’t be lazy. Many of us today are no longer used to grabbing a pencil and writing things down on the paper due to technology.

No paper? Use your iPad, tablet or computer. You must have a tool to notate down what you’ve listened to. When you use sheet music paper (manuscript), always write down the bar lines first. Then write down the bass notes that you’ve just heard from your music. FYI: 4 measures on the clef is the basic default.

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4. Find the Chord Tones

Always use a tuned instrument (i.e. piano, guitar). Now, it’s time to determine the body — the chords. Identifying 3rd and 7th notes is the key point because they tell you the chord colors (major, minor, diminished, augmented, etc.) Sometimes it’s easy to find major or minor. But other times it may be unclear.

What happens when you get stuck trying to figure out a certain chord? Take a break and listen to it 2-3 hours later, or the next day. Or, leave that measure alone and skip it. Take down other chords first. After then, with a piano or guitar, discover on the instrument without listening. Playing the previous chords or/after the missing chords is also very helpful in giving you a better understanding of what the right tone for that missing chord is.

5. Sing Along to Understand the Intervals

Listening and speaking work hand in hand. When you can really listen, you can speak it into existence. It’s the same rule as learning a language. When you listen, the top line (main melody) is ideally the focus area to sing along with. Top lines include many clues to the whole harmony structure.

What if you don’t sing? Totally fine, this is not a vocal training class 🙂 This is for you to improve your musicianship and heighten your sense of hearing in general. In your practice time, experiment with playing the single main melody on a  guitar or piano to help guide you through the song.  This simple exercise will help you understand the relationship of intervals and the layout of  the bass and the top line.


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Article by: Jenny J Nam

VQS ADVICE blog | Mindset tools for creators

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