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#2240768 - 03/03/14 04:47 PM Ear Training  
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hippido Offline
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My son has studied piano for almost six years (wow, how time flies), and per his teacher, his sight reading skill is relatively advanced for his age. For new pieces, he is now asked to work on them alone for a couple of weeks before his teacher would start working them with him. He, however, does not have "good" ears. He can tell types of chords (Major, minor, 7th, dominant, etc), but cannot tell keys when listening to recording music or others' play. He is also uncomfortable reciting patterns of chords.

Does his aural skill improve with age? What can he do to improve it?

Thanks in advance.

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#2240797 - 03/03/14 05:40 PM Re: Ear Training [Re: hippido]  
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Sweet06 Offline
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It needs to be separately worked on. He relies on his reading more than likely. He needs to do ear training for sure. It will only improve if he works on it.


"Doesn't practicing on the piano suck?!?!"
"The joy is in the practicing. It's like relationships. Yeah, orgasms are awesome, but you can't make love to someone who you have no relationship with!"
#2240821 - 03/03/14 06:14 PM Re: Ear Training [Re: hippido]  
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bzpiano Offline
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http://www.lovleysmusic.com/store_product.php?id=357

I use this series in my studio. I agree with Sweet06, this skill has to be separately worked on.


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#2241041 - 03/04/14 02:39 AM Re: Ear Training [Re: bzpiano]  
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musicpassion Offline
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Originally Posted by ezpiano.org
http://www.lovleysmusic.com/store_product.php?id=357

I use this series in my studio. I agree with Sweet06, this skill has to be separately worked on.

+1 I have also used this series.


Pianist and Piano Teacher
#2241269 - 03/04/14 02:11 PM Re: Ear Training [Re: hippido]  
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AZNpiano Offline
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Originally Posted by hippido
For new pieces, he is now asked to work on them alone for a couple of weeks before his teacher would start working them with him.

I know you didn't ask a question about this, but it does concern me that a teacher would allow a student (not a beginner, no less) to venture into a new piece by himself for weeks. What about incorrect rhythms and fingerings? Some of these things become habits that'd be difficult to break once established.

Originally Posted by hippido
He, however, does not have "good" ears. He can tell types of chords (Major, minor, 7th, dominant, etc), but cannot tell keys when listening to recording music or others' play. He is also uncomfortable reciting patterns of chords.

I'm not sure what you mean by "reciting patterns of chords." Do you mean their scale degrees (designated by Roman numerals like I, IV, V7, etc.)??

Unless your son has perfect pitch, he won't be able to tell you what key he's listening to. That's not a teachable skill.

Originally Posted by hippido
Does his aural skill improve with age? What can he do to improve it?

In my experience, I've worked with students (even those with perfect pitch!) whose hearing did improve with age. However, there are also tone deaf students who will never be able to hear the difference between major and minor triads. There's obviously a giant range between these extremes.

Your son's teacher should be able to recommend some listening exercises to help with intervals and triad qualities (major, minor, diminished, augmented). When he's done with those, he can work on the different kinds of seventh chords. As for hearing the scale degrees of chords, that would take years of musical training and a strong understanding of theory.


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#2242319 - 03/06/14 06:58 PM Re: Ear Training [Re: hippido]  
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hippido Offline
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hippido  Offline
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Thank you all who have responded. I'll look into the recommended series.

Quote

I know you didn't ask a question about this, but it does concern me that a teacher would allow a student (not a beginner, no less) to venture into a new piece by himself for weeks. What about incorrect rhythms and fingerings? Some of these things become habits that'd be difficult to break once established.


I did not want to give the impression that his teacher lets him go down wrong paths by allowing to practice new pieces on his own for two weeks. The point is she has enough confidence in his reading skill (fingering, rhythm) that she does not need to spend a lot of time on it. The lessons focus mainly on dynamics, phrasing, and interpretation.

Quote

I'm not sure what you mean by "reciting patterns of chords." Do you mean their scale degrees (designated by Roman numerals like I, IV, V7, etc.)??

Unless your son has perfect pitch, he won't be able to tell you what key he's listening to. That's not a teachable skill.


What I meant is that if he listens to say a song by the Beatles, he is unable to recognize the chord patterns.

It is disheartening to learn that he might never be able to tell the key of the song he's listening to.

BTW, what is the "scale degrees of chords"?


#2242331 - 03/06/14 07:24 PM Re: Ear Training [Re: hippido]  
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PianoStudent88 Offline
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hippido, determining the key of something you're listening to is not as simple as just listening and saying "that's in A major." Well, for people with perfect pitch, and some other people with certain kinds of pitch abilities it's that simple. But for most people it's more involved, but eminently doable still.

There are steps to be taken, a combination of pitch matching, aural skills, and trying versions out at the piano, which go into determining the key of a heard piece. Your son can almost certainly learn how to do these.

Some (many?) people can tell purely by listening if a piece is in a major or minor key (but not the name of the key e.g. A major etc.). This has to do with hearing certain qualities in the music, not with perfect pitch. Your son can probably develop this ability.

Has he tried to work out chord patterns of heard songs by trial and error at the piano? Everyone I have heard talk about this, talks about actually working out songs by ear through experimentation. They don't necessarily start out by being able to name chord progressions after just hearing them.


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#2242334 - 03/06/14 07:35 PM Re: Ear Training [Re: hippido]  
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Scale degrees of chords means matching up the root of a chord with the number of the note in the scale of the piece. So if a piece is in A major, then:

A is called the "first scale degree", and the A major chord is said to be built on the first scale degree. For shorthand, it may be called I.

B is called the "second scale degree", and the B minor chord (using just notes from the A major scale, hence B minor, not B major) is said to be built on the second scale degree. For shorthand, it may be called ii or IIm.

And so on for each of the seven notes of the scale.

This is convenient because much of the flavor of chord progressions has to do with which numbered note of the scale it is built on. For example, if we are in A major consider the progression of chords B minor, E major, A major. These are the chords built on the second, fifth and first scale degrees in A major. In shorthand, they might be called IIm, V, I. By comparison, if we are in C major, consider the progression of chords D minor, G major, C major. These are the chords built on the second, fifth and first scale degrees in C major. In shorthand, they are also called IIm, V, I. Notice the shorthand doesn't tell you explicitly what key you're in. But that's actually a feature, because the point is that, no matter what key you're in, the progression of chords IIm, V, I for that key has the same effect: it strongly sounds like "coming home."


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#2242337 - 03/06/14 07:39 PM Re: Ear Training [Re: hippido]  
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Oh yes: scale degrees at its simplest could be taken to mean "notes of a scale, except when we attach numbers to them we call them degrees instead of notes." There's surely a more sophisticated linguistic explanation for what's going on with saying "degrees" instead of "notes", but this definition helped make sense of it for me when I first encountered the term.


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#2242499 - 03/07/14 04:32 AM Re: Ear Training [Re: hippido]  
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AZNpiano Offline
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Originally Posted by hippido
What I meant is that if he listens to say a song by the Beatles, he is unable to recognize the chord patterns.

It is disheartening to learn that he might never be able to tell the key of the song he's listening to.

BTW, what is the "scale degrees of chords"?

Scale degrees are I, ii, iii, IV, V, vi, and vii0. In a major key, each degree has a triad that comes with a special sound and function.

Don't worry about not being able to tell what key something is in. One of my most advanced students has a well-developed relative pitch and has the ability to transpose quickly. But he will never tell you what key something is in.


Private Piano Teacher and MTAC Member
#2244269 - 03/10/14 01:30 PM Re: Ear Training [Re: hippido]  
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Hey hippido,

As others have suggested, identifying chord progressions upon hearing them is associated with "roman numeral harmony." Depending on the teacher, it may or may not be a large area of focus. The good news there is that, even if he can't currently identify simple progressions, it doesn't necessarily mean he doesn't have a good ear! It may just mean that he hasn't had emphasis in this area. In my experience, eartraining is like so many other things: it can generally be improved over time, *if* you have some sort of instruction and a plan for moving forward.

As for the instruction, since you asked- you or your son may be interested in a three-part series I wrote recently. It uses simple language and lots of examples (notated *and* audio examples) to quickly explain what the "roman numeral" system is all about, and how powerful it is. It focuses more on contemporary popular styles, but by all means, it can be applied to classical study as well. (It is, at most colleges and with many private teachers). You should especially check out Part 3- it's the fun one!

Here's the series:

Part 1: Diatonic Triads http://www.betterpiano.com/romannumerals

Part 2: Roman Numeral Chords:
http://www.betterpiano.com/archives/roman-numeral-chords

Part 3: What Do I Do With All These Roman Numerals?
http://www.betterpiano.com/archives/what-do-i-do-with-all-these-roman-numerals

Best of luck with everything!

James




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#2244330 - 03/10/14 03:04 PM Re: Ear Training [Re: hippido]  
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bzpiano Offline
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Hi James:
I like to let you know that your writing is very good, I like it. Thank you for taking time to write. I will refer my curious students to your site to explore theory at their own time at home.


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#2244369 - 03/10/14 04:23 PM Re: Ear Training [Re: JamesPlaysPiano]  
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James, I'm right with you re what you are teaching: I ii iii IV V VI vii. I would only say that this RN system breaks down, eventually, when music gets a lot more complicated, so for my students I use a slightly altered system:

I IIm IIIm IV V VI VIIdim.

I do this because it brings it immediately into line with what we do with chords. C Dm Em F G Am Bdim C.

I do this to make the whole thing more flexible, because even in pop music you are going to run into things like D to Cm (key of C minor), and then I can just explain it as II to Im. Bb to C in the key of C is then simply bVII I. And so on.

I changed because there are so many tunes that do not conform to the whole diatonic model, and we get there so fast.

Most of the musicians I've worked with admit that they think most letters, keeping a loose RN sense in the background for progressions and transposition.


Piano Teacher
#2244405 - 03/10/14 06:20 PM Re: Ear Training [Re: Gary D.]  
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First: thanks, ezpiano, for the kind words!! And I appreciate your passing on my info to whomever you think could benefit from it. FYI I have a podcast and lots of other goodies up there. smile

And Gary D.- thanks also for your comments. If I understand correctly, you're saying that you use a sort of adapted version of roman numerals that keeps everything upper-case, and then puts the qualities after the roman numerals, leaving it alone if it is major. I definitely get that! In fact, it's not too uncommon- I've not only seen it in rock circles, but also in some heavier jazz analysis, as well. The lower-case system I used obviously has its origins in classical analysis and is especially practical there. And I'd also definitely agree with you that, if you're studying rock/pop music, it won't be long before you get into things like major II chords and bVII chords!

Still- having said that, just to let you know, I went with the more traditional version in those articles for the same reason that I tend to use them with my private students: for the long-term benefits you get, once you finally have the whole "system" down. That is, I weighed the pros and cons and decided that the "awkwardness" of using the more classical approach was outweighed by the benefits that come to light, once a student "gets it." That's not to criticize anyone who uses other systems. I'm the first to admit that "II7 and III7 and bVII" rolls off the tongue much more easily than "V7/V and V7/vi and borrowed bVII," respectively! And depending on a student's overall skill-level and goals, I can see how the simpler approach could be the better call.

For those who are willing/able to dig deeper and keep moving forward, though, I tend to recommend the classical approach as a starter. Not because it has a "clean" answer for everything, but because it usually gives us a clear, if sometimes "wordy," way to acknowledge and express very specific things that I think are very important, even in the pop world. For example, I64 is a *super* big deal. It has special properties and common uses. It's not like just any inversion of the I chord, nor is it like just any other triad in second inversion. But calling it C/G (in the key of C) seems to make it a little less remarkable, more apt to blend in with other chords and inversions, and using simplified roman numerals could be problematic, because it's not standardized (I/V?). Another example: in a major key, both the major IV chord and the (borrowed) minor iv chord can be found in pop music. However, there's a distinct "upset" that comes from using a borrowed chord- as if to say, "I know that other chord is expected, but instead I'll use this one"-- that I think can be harder to appreciate if one thinks of chord qualities as being more or less interchangeable and non-standardized. Now, you didn't exactly say all that and I don't mean to put words in your mouth! But I've had to be careful about sending those kinds of messages when I've used non-classical systems.

Anyway, it's all good, and there are many ways to skin a cat. So much comes down to goals, skill-level, and so forth. In the case of those articles, I was speaking to a general audience on a site that takes on the full scope of improv-based playing from beginner to advanced, and I had this "long haul" approach in mind.

Still, it's not without its problems! Classical roman numeral analysis requires some careful thinking when it comes to naming the chords in the blues, for instance! In fact, I wrote a 5-book series on blues progressions, and I ended up using the "abbreviated" approach throughout, for the sake of clarity. (So: C7, F7, D7, and G7 become I7, IV7, II7, and V7, respectively. If you're curious, you can see here).

Going back to the subject at hand, I'd say that either approach can take a person far when it comes to developing a keener ear for harmony. Just find an approach and go for it!

James




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#2248666 - 03/18/14 11:13 PM Re: Ear Training [Re: hippido]  
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Hi hibido,
I have read all the responses and I agree with them all. I just would say don't worry about it. Ear training requires training and it's something you get better at it with time and practice . Of course if you have good ears it's easier but everybody deserves a chance, even the less fortunate . There are professional musicians who are tone deaf. It is possible, the most important thing I have found it is to feel the music. I have students who play piano as they would type something on the computer and then there are other who feel the music . With the ones without feeling I try to engage them with music they like and to make a lot of theater so they can feel it too.

Last edited by BostonTeacher; 03/18/14 11:15 PM.

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