Ear-Training for Beginners
Ear-training is perpetual guilt thing with teachers:
I feel that you should spend precious lesson time on skills your students
can put to use immediately in their assignments. Ear-training is actually one of those
things, but probably not in the fashion you and I learned it in college. Even the earliest
beginners can begin ear-training, and it doesn't have to be a separate part of the lesson if
you don't want to do it that way. Use "mistakes" in songs and stumbling places in new
pieces as opportunities to talk about ear-training.
- "I know I should be doing this."
- "I just can't find lesson time for this."
- "I hated ear-training in college and I hate to inflict it on my students."
- "What should I be teaching?"
Here's what I teach (and in order of presentation).
I feel these are the basics every student should know. If you want to get into the other
intervals, do so, but my guess
is that by this point your students will have other needs, primarily
keyboard harmony and music theory.
- Is the second note above or below the first one? (Use large distances such as 2
octaves at first; then narrow it down--this will take several weeks or even months to get to
a second. Don't sweat it if it takes a long time. You're not under any deadline, are you?)
- Is the second note far away or close to the first one? (This is sort of corollary to the
previous item and one you should teach concurrently as a way to discover the answer to
- Is this an octave or not an octave? (Start with melodic octaves; then go to harmonic.)
- Is this a dissonance or not? (Knowing this helps them decide whether
they've played a wrong note or not.) Which hand has the
dissonance? (This helps them pinpoint which hand might be wrong.)
Where is the resolution? (Is it the very next note or later? Several dissonances in a
row? This also gives you the opportunity to do a little analysis: why would the composer
- Is this a major or minor triad? (Start with harmonic, then arpeggiated.)
- Is this an empty triad (open fifth) or not?
- Is this pattern a I-V-I? (By this, I mean a melodic pattern. Start with the descending
I-V-I pattern because it's heard more often even though ascending makes better
immediate sense as to why it's named one-five-one. I often tell the student's that
the I-V-I pattern sings "it's the end!")
- Is this pattern a V-I cadence? (Similarly, this pattern sings, "the end!").
- Do other cadences as you see fit. (Most kids get a honk out of V-vi cadence:
copyright 1996, Martha Beth Lewis, Ph.D.
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