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Ear training, sight singing, and composition for the adult beginner?


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I've decided, after four years and change of violin and about twenty more of clarinet, guitar, and sundry other instruments, that I relly need to develop stronger general musicianship skills than I have now, if only so that I can get down the more interesting parts of the soundtrack that plays constantly in my head.

My question is, what are some good ways to develop skills in ear training, sight singing, and composition as an adult? I can't really afford private lessons and don't really have access to music classes right now; is there any sort of computer software aimed at those skills? Books? Other resources?

Many, many thanks for whatever help you can lend me.


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This may be totally off the mark, but someone was giving me some drills for sight reading and they really help with ear training and sight singing as well.

With a new (totally unfamilar) piece of music,

first tap out the rhythm until you can count it out up to speed with no mistakes,

Second, sing the rhythm with la's or do's on one note.

third, sing the rhythm saying the name of the notes but on one note (a single tone)

last sing or play the notes to the rhythm slowly then up to speed.

The key is to start as slow as you have to, to get it right then speed up until you are up to speed. By the time you get to actually play/sing the notes you will know the piece, and its time to move on to something else.

Here is another exercise really good for ear training and intonation.

Again start with an unfamiliar piece of sheet music. Play the first note, stop wait a minimum of 30 seconds then play the second note, wait 30 seconds then play the third note, wait 30 seconds then play the forth note, etc. If you play any note out of tune, then go back to the note before it, play that in tune, wait 30 seconds, then play the next note.

One rule, only play double notes once.

That one is tough but the longer you can wait (up to 3 minutes) before play the next note the better. It sort of teaches you to anticipate where you have to put your finger and how you must pull or push the bow to play a perfect note. It also makes you anticipate the intonation.

Last ear training tip, listen to recordings, a lot. Get the music in your head, really learn it in your head. Then play it, one note at a time until you get it. The first time is really tough. The second is hard but every new piece gets easier and easier. Hope this helps..

by the way start with simple stuff...

[This message has been edited by sil (edited 08-23-2000).]

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Some people think in lines, not chords. If you are one of those, draw a scale in C Maj, then sing intervals like stepping stones, stopping on one and checking w the piano, then going to another. Rhythm is pretty well covered (sort of) in other threads. Composition? I think you may mean taking musical dictation. Try writing a familiar melody in the key of C, then check yourself to see if you were correct. Start as simply as "London Bridge" and see how far you can go. Then, think up a SIMPLE melody and see if you can write it down in a form that satisfies you. After you have C Maj, try D Maj, and see how you need to alter the notes to replicate the intervals you heard in C... hope this isn't too simplistic... it's hard to tell from your post where you are.....

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Thanks for the replies. Let me tell you where I'm at: I've played guitar for about 23 years and am pretty good at recognizing chords and chord types, as well as most of the idiomatic chordal motifs in jazz, rock, and country. I can usually work out chord progressions away from the guitar unless they're really hairy. Pitch recognition is another matter: if I hear a note, I can't really determine what it is unless I have an instrument in my hands. Conversely, if I'm looking at a piece of sheet music, I'm flummoxed until and unless I have an instrument in my hands.

I have two real goals here: I want to be able to look at a piece of sheet music and know what it sounds like before I try to play it, and I want to be able to write out melodies without having to work them out on an instrument first.

Hope this clarifies things somewhat. Your suggestions have all been good. Many thanks.


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I have found that transcription software is a big help in learning these types of things. I'm a fairly wretched reader, but in the process of trying to get tunes down, better familiarity with the written form of different rhythmic patterns seems to develop.

I use a fairly simple (and inexpensive) program called Noteworthy Composer, which is usable for relatively simple tunes without a drastic learning curve. For these purposes, the neat thing is that you can play back a section (the program generates the notes you just wrote down, in the rhythm you used) immediately afterwards to check small sections as you go along.

You'll not be surprised to hear that their website is www.noteworthy.com.

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