Welcome to the third post in our series on relative pitch. So far we’ve compared relative pitch and perfect pitch, and we’ve talked about the reasons why interval ear training doesn’t work. In this post I’ll tell you about the system that you can use instead that will get you results quickly and easily.

It’s called tonality based ear training.

Usually, a piece of music has a single, central note. This note acts like the home base for the piece. It is often played at the start, at the end, and many times in between. This note is called the tonic. It is also sometimes called the key centre. When we say a piece of music is in the key of C, we know that C is the tonic/key centre.

The tonic has a unique sound. It feels stable, and at rest. In the clip below, the first and last note is the tonic. Can you hear the stability of it? Can you hear how the music wants to rest on it?

The tonic is the secret to easy and effective ear training. I call this approach a tonality based approach to music.

Here's how it works:

1. Learn to recognise the tonic

That stable sound that the tonic has is unique and recognisable. You can learn to identify the tonic in any piece of music quite easily with a little bit of focused ear training.

2. Learn to recognise any other note using the interval that separates it from the tonic

This is the big one. With a tonality based approach to ear training we can recognise any note using the interval that separates it from the tonic.

There's an extra bonus with tonality based ear training as well as well. If your head is spinning with all this talk of intervals you're in luck! Now that you understand the basic idea of intervals we can simplify things. We can make it clear and easy. With a tonality based approach to ear training we can practically forget about intervals. This is because we can simply give each note a label that's based on the interval that separates it from the tonic.

What do I mean by this? How about I give you a well known example. It's called solfege. Did you ever sing do, re, mi when you were a youngster? Or do you remember it from The Sound of Music? This is actually an example of a tonality based system for ear training. Each syllable labels a note from the major scale, based on its relationship to the tonic. “Do” is the tonic itself, “re” is the second note in the scale, “mi” is the third note, and so on.

As long as you know the notes of the major scale you don't need to know much about the intervals themselves. This makes it easy to think quickly so you can keep up when music is moving quickly.

The even better news is that at Ear Training HQ we use an even simpler system. We replace those syllables (that can take a long time to memorise) and replace them with numbers. In the next post in the series I'll explain exactly how these numbers work.

Understanding this system is the first and biggest step you'll make in your question to develop relative pitch and play music by ear. In the next post I'll explain everything you need to know.

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