Tools of the Trade

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Tools of the Trade

Post by zacxpacx » Sat Nov 10, 2012 11:34 pm

Hey All.

In this post, I will try to outline some general ear training tactics. There is only so much you can do with a tone, and only so many ways you can present tones to a listener. I want to make this list as comprehensive as possible, so it can become a reference and, hopefully, inspire some creativity. I’ve jotted down all the possible ear training tasks and variations of a tone that I could think of. Most of them have been used in ear training programs before, which is slightly unsettling. If this list is as comprehensive as I think it is and most of the methods on here have been tried and tried again, why has no one succeeded in teaching perfect pitch to adults? It’s a worrisome thought, but I do have somewhat of an answer…

Though none of these techniques are ground-breakingly new, the task of perceptual learning relies on their implementation. In other words, every technique has been tried to some extent, but there are multiple ways you can combine tasks and structure an ear training program with the techniques. For example, APA is a unique implementation of comparison, repetition, and variations in everything but pitch. The “secret” to perfect pitch lies in how we structure a training program with various techniques. That’s what I’d like to think at least…

If any forum members have anything to add to the list, please make a post and I will edit my own list.

Ear Training Techniques

Memorization is part of any ear training course, and it takes place naturally in our minds even if memorization isn’t a focus of a task. Memorizing a tone is holding the sound you hear in your mind. Basic tasks such as comparison or matching all rely on a listener’s ability to remember, at least for a short period of time, the sounds they hear. Memorization becomes more of a focus in traditional note-naming methods, in which piano tones are repeated and the listener is supposed to commit each note to memory. When memory is the sole purpose of a task, repetition usually solidifies the mental representation of tones.

Repetition is a self-explanatory technique, but there is something to be said about how it is used. Repetition is useful for helping a listener remember what he or she is hearing. It is also useful for making a listener more adept at a particular ear training task (ex. every time you play interval loader, the beginning levels get easier). What repetition has been used for and isn’t meant for is to teach a listener some “new” way of listening to a tone. Repetition won’t reveal hidden qualities of a tone; it will simply reinforce the qualities a listener already hears.

-Note Naming
Note-naming is a technique that has been tried extensively in the past and has failed repeatedly to develop true perfect pitch. Naming entails listening to a tone and assigning it a pitch label (at least for us relative listeners). Inherently, this task isn’t perfect pitch. Perfect pitch is the reflexive recognition of a tone. Consciously comparing a note to a memorized pitch is not perfect pitch. Nonetheless, note naming may become useful in the future if implemented correctly. For example, increasing recognition to name-label time once perfect pitch has been established.

Comparison is the search for similarities between tones. As per perceptual differentiation, a listener presented with two different tones will automatically extract what is similar between the two. There are probably other ways to implement comparison, but I think this is the most powerful. Given all the complexity of sound, comparison is a great way to zero in on one particular quality or characteristic of a tone. For our purposes, the most important quality is pitch chroma. APA already accomplishes differentiating chroma, but we need to implement chroma differentiation in a way that produces categorical perception.

I was initially hesitant to adding contrasting to this list because of how similar it is to comparison. When a listener is presented with two tones, they automatically pick out similar qualities. At the same time, they recognize that everything else is different. Ultimately, I decided to add this technique as its own because I think finding similarities and finding differences are to processes which can be presented in their own unique ways. APA gives a listener a “target” pitch and has them sort through multiple sounds looking for their “target”. This is a process different from giving a listener a “target” and asking them to sort through multiple sounds looking for all that don’t contain the “target”, if only because of expectations. Anyways, finding similarities vs. differences is something I need to work on more clearly defining.

Production of what you hear has always been an important part of relative ear training. Being able to sing a desired interval is the crux of impromptu harmonizing. In the development of perfect pitch, however, I think singing should take more of a back seat for a time. The reason is this. A relative listener can be taught to harmonically recognize all intervals, in and apart from actual music. With appropriate training, a relative listener can learn to transcribe an entire piece. This same listener who has been taught to recognize any interval won’t be as proficient at impromptu harmonizing as a listener who has received production/singing training. So while singing is an important part of learning to musically implement what you learn from ear training, the listener has to first recognize the sounds they plan on producing. We first need to figure out how to get someone to recognize the 12 musical pitches. Singing will be a technique for reinforcing and learning to implement that ability.

Matching is a special form of comparison. While comparison involves one “target” tone and sorting through multiple other sounds, matching involves multiple “targets” which must be paired with their corresponding sounds. It’s a similar task to those elementary school vocab exercises in which there are two columns, one of words, another of their definitions, and the student has to draw lines between the appropriate pairs. In a matching exercise, the listener has to know which qualities they are meant to match, or the two groups of sounds can only have one possible connection with each other.

Association is a very versatile technique. The most well-known example regarding perfect pitch is melody association. Melody association involves listening to multiple songs that each start on a different note of the chromatic scale. Once the songs have been internalized, they are used by the listener to match and name pitches they hear. Chris has written on the issue with this method. Basically, the mental process does not match that of a person with true perfect pitch. Melody association merely allows a listener to feign the appearance of perfect pitch by reproducing the external abilities of perfect pitch. Just as melody association for intervals only teaches a listener a new name for the beginning interval of a piece, not recognition of the actual interval, melody association for pitches gives listeners a non-absolute association between a name and the beginning pitch of a melody. They aren’t actually recognizing pitches. Another way association is implemented is with graphemes (ex. Chordhopper). There are many ways association can be used.

Variations in Tones

Pitch is fairly straight forward. We can control the frequency of the fundamental tone, changing the pitch

Timbre is a very broad and encompassing term, pertaining to everything other than the fundamental pitch. I’ve taken the liberty to split it up into three basic categories that can be manipulated on a computer.

Height, rather what we perceive as “height”, used to be considered a quality dependent upon the fundamental frequency. Relatively recently, height perception has been shown to depend on timbre. It is possible to play a pitch at any height, not just every octave jump.

-harmonic overtones
The harmonic overtones are those that blend in with the fundamental pitch and do not create an interval sensation. They are the same pitches that sound when a key is pressed on a piano. For example, pressing C creates E and G overtones. Overtones can be more or less heavily weighted in a tone. The complete absence of harmonic overtones leaves only the sine wave of the fundamental pitch.

-instrument sound
These complex sounds are the ones that convey to the listener what instrument a tone is being played on. Because instrumental sounds convey meaning to a listener and can be used a relative quality to name and identify tones, it is important to vary instrument sounds when trying to perceptually differentiate chroma.

We can always present any number of tones, either as a chord or as a melody.

-Chord Structure
Chord structure refers to the intervals used to construct a chord. A root major chord would be a major third and a fifth, for example. The more notes we add to a chord, the more possibilities we have to change intervals in the chord. In this category I’m also clumping intervals. I just consider different intervals to chord structures of two notes.

Melody is the organization of specific tones in time. Melody combines everything we can control about tones and creates music. Because they can incorporate different timbres, chords, and tempos, I view melodies as the pinnacle challenge of all ear training. I consider relative listening truly “mastered” when someone can hear all the different intervals as they are played in a piece, within moving lines and chords. If perfect pitch is attainable, which I hope it is, then I will considered learned perfect pitch to be proficient once all the pitches in a melody can be heard. This is something I’ve only witnessed those who grew up with the ability or developed it at a young age be able to do. I’ve never witnessed anyone who taught themselves “perfect pitch” name all the notes in a melody as it played.

How rapidly we introduce new tones.

How long we expose the listener to a given tone.
Last edited by zacxpacx on Sun Nov 11, 2012 12:55 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Tools of the Trade

Post by TS » Sun Nov 11, 2012 12:20 pm

I think there is some confusion in terminology in your list. Some of the things you call "tasks" are not tasks, but are for example strategies one would use when performing a task.

A task would be: "You hear a tone and then you have to click one of 12 buttons to indicate which pitch class the tone you heard belongs to". A task is something you have to do. You could try to associate melodies to tones and use the strategy of associaton to perform the task. You could also try to remember the tones you heard before (strategy of memorisation) and then compare them with the current tone (comparison/contrasting/matching).

Someone in charge of assigning the tasks could assign the same task many times over, and that would be repetition.

For many tasks you can't really control what strategy the person doing the task will use. Someone will use association and someone else will use comparison for the same task. One goal would then be to design tasks that will force or strongly favor the utilisation of some specific strategies.

Here's my list of ear training tasks:

Burge course tone meditation:
- listen to a single tone and try to hear some special quality in it, Burge course verification round:
- play single tones to a subject, subject then has to enter the pitch class of the tone
- play more than one tone simultaneously (a chord or a tone cluster) to subject, subject has to enter the pitch classes of the tones

ETC interval loader
- play a harmonic interval where the lower tone is always the same, subject has to identify the type of interval (minor third, perfect fourth, etc.)
- play a harmonic interval where the lower tone is randomly transposed, subject has to identify the type of interval

ETC interval loader, Functional Ear Trainer from
- play a chord progression that establishes a key and a single tone, subject has to identify the scale degree of the tone in relation to the established key

ETC chordhopper
- play a chord from a major key, subject has to identify the chord

ETC absolute pitch avenue
- give the subject six sounds that he can listen freely and compare to each other, and one target sound; subject has to identify which six sounds contain the same picth that is the first pitch in the target sound
- play a single tone to subject, subject has to connect a melody with the tone; correspondence of melodies and tones has been established beforehand

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Post by zacxpacx » Sun Nov 11, 2012 12:58 pm

You're right. I wrote tasks for lack of a better word. I've changed it to techniques now, since techniques are something a listener or the training program can employ.

Now that we have a pretty comprehensive list down, how the hell do we combine different tasks and techniques with a specific variation in tones to induce categorical perception?

There might be an intermediary step between chroma differentiation and categorical perception as well. I'm waiting for a reply from Chris though. I want his thoughts on the topic before I post anything here.

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