21 Mar

Back to Basics: Ear Training

This week’s article is on: Back to Basics Ear Training
by: MusicStaff.com Teacher Lounge Editor, Deborah Jeter

The best time for students to learn ear training is at a young age.
Why is ear training so important? It develops greater musicality and confidence. Ear training helps students become better sight readers.
Ear Training is essential, it’s a basic and is a fundamental requirement for becoming a proficient singer.

Working with the preschooler or younger child (beginner)

Tone Matching Games: (Vocal)

Matching a pitch that is sung by the teacher.

There are many ways to practice matching pitches. Very often, the younger child is shy when singing alone in front of their teacher. You’ll get faster results if you use a hand puppet. A puppet is less threatening and creates a friendly atmosphere. Basically, the falling minor third is the best interval to begin with for a beginning singer. If the child is having a hard time matching the pitches given at first, then in order to let the child hear what “matching is”, it helps to change your voice to match the child’s pitch. Then as the child begins to hear the matched pitches more easily, it is simpler to lead the child to sing higher and lower notes.

Play the echo game. Say to the child, “Match these sounds”.
Teacher sings: So – Mi, So – Mi.
The student responds:
Teacher sings another melodic pattern and so on.

Now let’s talk about involving body motions.
Ask the child to show you how one would play a drum.
The child responds with the appropriate motion.
You say, “That’s right! When you are playing a drum, you can see what your hands are doing, you can feel the drumsticks and the vibrations as you play the drum, right? Well then, what does our voice look like when we use it to make music?”

The child, most likely, won’t know how to respond.
You say, “Our voice is an instrument too, even though it’s hidden on the inside and we can’t see how it works. I’ve got a game we can play that will help us to understand how our pitches move on the staff, when we sing. I call this game, the detective game. Do you know what a detective is?”

Use this time to explain that it is someone who solves mysteries. “Every time I sing SO, you touch your head, and when I sing MI, touch your shoulders.”

The younger students will enjoy this way of having a motion to represent what the voice is doing.

Working with the Experienced Singer

Training students to focus on pitches and intervals:

One of the best ways that I have found to help students focus on pitches and intervals is to use mental imagery. This particular exercise involves proper placement within the mouth and head. For the brighter vowels, I ask the student to approach the note as though they are about to take a bite out of an apple. It also helps to have the student raise their eyebrows. Some students may feel “funny” or strange, when doing this. It is important to point out that anything we do with our facial muscles or anything that involves manipulation inside out mouths, feels exaggerated.

Note:  Ask the student how it feels to them when they have a sensitive taste bud on their tongue that feels enlarged. Have they ever had a small chip on their tooth that when felt with their tongue, feels like a cavern? In actuality, as you view the tooth or taste bud in the mirror, you see that it is indeed, quite small and not the size that it felt to your tongue. This illustration is generally helpful in getting the student to open up and realize that even though the facial expression may FEEL exaggerated, to the audience, it will look normal and pleasant.For the darker vowels, the student should drop the jaw slightly and visualize the shape of the sound before attempting to sing. Talk about these sound shapes and practice them. These techniques have worked in the past for me, in getting good results for maintaining the correct pitch.

A good way to evaluate how well your student hears pitches is to use a game called, “Match Maker” or “Make that Match!”

Make 12 melodic cards that have either one or two measures of a melodic phrase on each card. Give the cards to your student. Sing or play one of the cards. Have your student choose the correct card that matches what you played.

Working with the Inexperienced Adult

The older students, could possibly prove to be the most challenging, as far as developing a trained ear. The reason I say this is because they could have developed some bad habits or attitudes in which to overcome.The thing that I have done that seems to work, at least most of the time, is to start with the simple basics of posture, breath control and then use the echoing technique. Once the singer is comfortable with the basics, then more challenging exercises can be used.

Here is an exercise that could come in handy.

Play the pitch you are wanting the student to match. Tell him to think the pitch first. Then, play the pitch an octave lower and then an octave higher. Ask the student to sing the initial pitch that was played. Memorization and repetition are key elements, along with mental imagery, that should have your students singing with more confidence in no time.

I’ll share more on posture, breath control and placement in the next article. In the meantime, let me hear from you.

Here are some complimentary links that you might find helpful for your ear training lessons.

Theta Music Trainer
Interval Song Chart Generator
Ear Training Web Site

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