How to Master the Tonic

Learning to recognise the tonic is one of the most important steps to master if you want to train your ears and play confidently by ear.

So read on to find out the 3 smaller steps that we break the process of learning to recognise the tonic down into.

1. Internalise (memorise) the sound of the tonic

When you see your friend you can recognise their face because you remember what they look like, right?

Learning to recognise any sound in music is exactly the same. You need to memorise each one so you can recognise them when you hear them.

So this is the first step – focus on memorising the sound of the tonic. You can do this with repeated exposure to it. Here at Ear Training HQ we use internalisation exercises for this.

2. Practice identifying the tonic when it is clearly outlined to solidify the sound in your memory

Once you start to memorise the sound of the tonic you’re making great progress. But if it takes you a few seconds to recognise the tonic (which is how it will be at first) it won’t be fast enough to use when you’re playing. The music will have moved on by the time you know which note is the tonic.

So the second step is to solidify your memory of the tonic. This speeds up your recognition. Our favourite exercises for this purpose are recognition exercises.

3. Practice identifying the tonic in as many musical contexts as possible

The tonic can sound a little bit different in different contexts. It often depends on what’s happening in the melody and chord progression of the music you hear it in.

So once you’re developing speed and confidence with the tonic it’s time to get away from dedicated ear training exercises and start training your ears with actual music.

Try to find the tonic in music when you’re listening. If you can’t, work it out and sing it. This will turn any music into an ear training exercise.

Once you reach the point where you can work out the tonic in even some of the music you listen to or play you’re almost there! Simply try to work out the tonic regularly when listening it’s only a matter of time before the tonic will pop out at you in any music.

And that’s when you’ll know you’ve really mastered it 🙂


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