Ear Training


I’ve recently been talking to some students about ear training. It’s honestly refreshing to me! Probably because it gives me the opportunity to work on an area of the voice that I don’t deal with as often as I used to. Many people come to us wanting to work on the mix and high notes and I absolutely love that, but I used to teach more ear training than anything 8 or 10 years ago. (Yes, I am that old 😉 In college and for about 4-5 years after that, I was the vocal director of several church choirs/worship teams. I basically was teaching parts to the soprano, alto, and tenor singers of the teams. This meant I spent hours upon hours upon hours just critically LISTENING to music. I’ve said in previous blogs how important it is to listen actively, not passively to music…this is another good reason why. 

Most of the time we just sing along with a melody line of a song passively. Doing laundry (wow, I do so much more laundry with a husband), driving to work, surfing the web (that sounds very 1998 of me)… But when was the last time you sang along with the BGV’s or harmony parts to a song? Or just straight up made one up yourself and thought, “hey self, that was pretty dang awesome.” My husband asked me once after we had gotten married, moved from the land of subways (NYC) to the land of Suburbans (Nashville), if I ever just sang along with the melody. I think I was annoying him in the car singing to the radio. I thought for a second, and said…I don’t think I’ve done much of that since the 6th grade. That’s where it all started for me. I sang in the middle school choir and was a soprano. I hated it. The altos got all the cool parts and I guess I wanted to be cool, so I became an alto. I have never looked back. I love harmonies and my ear naturally pulls in that direction. 

It’s possible that I’m naturally good that this, but I never would have been given jobs doing it (literally paying gigs) if I didn’t start the practice of focused listening. It was a huge part of my ear training. I became a snob about auto tuning of my own voice in the studio shortly after. Not bragging about my snobdom, but this was why… The more I became aware of harmonies, the better I got at predicting them. When a tough song came along that obscured an obvious tenor line…I paid attention to the chord underneath the vocals and tested out notes that made sense to the structure and didn’t clash. When I tuned my voice to the accompaniment I was tuning to a stable pitch, like a piano. When there was a clash of sound (waves in frequency, unlovable dissonance) I either changed notes, or got on pitch to fix it. This made my ear incredibly sensitive to pitch. I knew I could fix pitch problems because I had trained myself to hear them.

The best way to learn is to teach. Learn a harmony to your favorite new song, find a friend who is a beginner singer and teach them the part. The more confident you are, the better you get. 

There may be people out there who are more pragmatic learners. That’s great too. While the above exercise will help, try this– play a note, any note on a piano. Match the pitch first, and then find a different note that compliments the one you are still playing, and you have probably found a harmony. Then, practice a scale exercise like a 1-3-5-3-1 tonic scale, for instance, C-E-G-E-C. With your hand, play the movement low to high to low, with your voice sing high to low to high. It looks like this…

Piano plays: C-E-G-E-C

Voice sings: G-E-C-E-G

You hear different notes that fit together. It is fantastic pitch training. Notes are frequencies. When they don’t match, you hear waves in a tone, especially if you have a sine wave sound setting on your keyboard to use. It’s pure tone with no overtones like a piano has. If you still struggle to match the notes on a piano to begin with get a singer friend to help you. Girls, get a girl voice. Guys, get a guy voice. It’s easier to match the overtones of a human voice than a piano. Simply put they are different instruments. Your ear will tune better to another singer. 

I hope this helps. Be patient with your progress. Anyone can improve this because you are not “tone deaf” unless you are actually hearing impaired. If you can hear it, you can sing it. Get to work!

To book a lesson with Shelby Rollins, email [email protected] or call 615-866-1099. To learn more about Shelby Rollins visit this page: http://www.brettmanningstudios.com/coaches/shelby-rollins