the trouble with melody triggers

Comments and questions about AP Avenue.
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the trouble with melody triggers

Postby tonejam » Thu Aug 13, 2009 9:56 am

As I've mentioned before, I've finished APB, and now I'm up to the third note in APA, so I've heard the melody triggers, or melody notes, a LOT.
I like to practice singing arpeggios while jogging, and since I have achieved some level of AP, I'm aware that I tend to sing these in C, whether they be Cmajor, Cminor, C seventh, or whatever. It's only today that I asked myself the question, WHY?
Some would say its the natural place to start. Musicians think that since the key of C has no sharps or flats, its a natural starting place. But I believe its because APB and APA both start off with a C note. Furthermore, the melody trigger for C places that note in a tonic note context, just as I do when I'm jogging. The melody trigger for G places that note in a dominant context as it would be in key of C.
I was wondering why the E note also has a dominant sound to my ears, and thought I was hearing some sort of inherent quality (chroma?), until I realised that in the context of its melody trigger, it IS the dominant note. No wonder I occasionally mistake the E and G!
Anyone with a developed sense of relative pitch will listen to a melody trigger and automatically place the relevant note in its context within the key of that melody trigger. Thus the C note now always has a "homebase" sound to me, the G has a dominant sound and the E unfortunately ALSO has a dominant sound.
I figure I have 2 options at this point. Firstly,I can work out my own melody triggers, placing each note in its correct context relative to the C note. Or, I can try and unlearn all the melody triggers and just try to "hear" the note as an unrelated sound. The first option would be easier, but leans towards relative, rather than absolute pitch.
The second option would be hard at the best of times, but is made harder by having already learned all those pesky melody triggers.
Opinions would be welcome, folks.
regards, Bill Payne (tonejam).

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Postby aruffo » Thu Aug 13, 2009 1:58 pm

I was thinking about this just yesterday, in fact.

In studying up on voice recognition, I discovered that it's a fact of the literature that identification failure has little to do with recognizing a sound. A person can know a voice-- recognize it perfectly well, and know for certain that they've heard it before-- and yet still not be able to identify it. This is because the associations they have with that particular person (name, occupation, place where they met, etc) are weak or incomplete.

And I suspect most of us have had that experience where you're trying to remember something, and you think of one thing you're sure is wrong, but then you keep coming back to that one wrong thing because it's the only thing you can remember.

The goal of APB/APA is to place a tone into as many contexts as possible to achieve differentiation. A next step would be to place the tone into as many contexts as possible to achieve integration.

The model for how to do this is plainly present in language training. Sesame Street teaches letters, and Electric Company letter-blends (ing, ch, ly), through differentiation. They assume that a child has been learning to speak, and their efforts are to help a child segment and decode the sounds they're already hearing.

What follows is to read (or write) stories that actually use those sounds in meaningful context-- not with the goal of memorizing anything, but to be able to understand what those sounds do, linguistically, when they appear.

So I would think that, if someone has achieved some level of absolute perception and pitch recognition, the best thing they could do for themselves would be to inundate themselves (listening, playing, and composing) with songs based on and around each pitch. A child learning the letter P, for example, might be encouraged to write something like Peter Percival Patterson. In the process, they don't simply learn the sound of a note-- they learn its purpose.


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Postby tonejam » Sat Aug 15, 2009 3:43 am

What concerns me, Chris, is that while using APB or APA, I may hear a certain note in many different contexts, my brain references that sound in the SAME context (the melody trigger), because that's what the programs (inadvertently) teach it to do.
Thus, I may hear an Fmajor chord, and the C note still sounds like "homebase" (tonic), NOT the F, because right from the start, the C melody trigger has taught me to hear that way. To my mind, the only way to rectify this is to do away with melody triggers, and to have the note itself as the only reference.
Whether anyone would be able to get through either of the programs if this were the case, is a good question.
Bill Payne (tonejam).

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Postby aruffo » Sat Aug 15, 2009 2:35 pm

I wonder what you think I'm suggesting..? I have said for years that melody "triggers" are unreliable and insufficient. The only reason melodies are included in APA is to provide a consistent comparison. They're not meant to be "triggers".

I'll try repeating (in summary) what I've just said... APB/APA trains you to extract pitch chroma from various contexts. The next step is to learn how to insert that pitch chroma into various contexts and use it musically.

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Postby tonejam » Sat Aug 15, 2009 9:40 pm

I've had a good think about this, and I've replaced (in my head) all the "melody triggers" with new ones that keep me referenced to the key of C. I've already noticed that it's easier to get through a session of APA using this method (although I'm only up to C G and E level).
I know this is "cheating" in a sense, because it will naturally employ my relative pitch skills, but if I'm to use AP musically, as you say, then that process will automatically involve those skills. The two can never really be separated, even if they seem to be opposites.
My aural arpeggio exercises are already benefiting from this. If you're interested, I'll keep you posted as to where this strategy leads.
cheers, Bill Payne (tonejam).

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Postby aruffo » Tue Aug 18, 2009 3:33 am

Sounds very interesting... let us know what happens..!

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Postby Sleeper » Thu Aug 20, 2009 7:58 am

Because APA uses melodies, it might sound like it's the melody trigger method, but it really isn't.

I think Chris has mentioned several times on the site that there are two ways of looking at absolute pitch:

1) If you hear a C, you know it's a C -- and not a D, not a C#, etc.

2) If you hear C in any context, you know it for a C.

I think the jargon is that #1 is perceptual discrimination while #2 is categorical discrimination.

Anyway, melody triggers approach issue 1 while APA approaches issue 2.

When you use the melody trigger approach, you immediately try to "name notes", and try to distinguish C's and D's (or whatever notes the particular method starts you with).

With APA, you just try to hear C.

Your experience makes it sound like maybe it'd be a good idea to start with melody triggers first, then move on to APA. If you can already -- kind of -- hear a C for a C, an F for an F, etc., that might make it less likely to only be able to associate C with a "relative function" (a "root" or whatever).

This is also reflected in Chris's post.

The model for how to do this is plainly present in language training. Sesame Street teaches letters, and Electric Company letter-blends (ing, ch, ly), through differentiation. They assume that a child has been learning to speak, and their efforts are to help a child segment and decode the sounds they're already hearing.

With the melody trigger method, you're beginning to learn notes.

Imagine if you learned English one letter combination at a time. If you started with "sl" -- slide, slit, slam -- instead of really getting "sl", you might think, "that's the sound that starts words". If you knew a few other letter combinations, you'd be less likely to make that mistake.

The problem with the melody trigger method is that the melodies have to trigger. This means when two notes are played together in harmony, the melody for both notes probably won't trigger (for one thing, the triggers for, say, C and F probably wouldn't sound right in harmony together). And if two notes are played sequentially as in a melody, there's no time for the first melody to trigger before the second note is played.

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Postby tonejam » Fri Aug 21, 2009 6:58 am

Thanks Sleeper, for your thoughtful input.
I've completed APB, making regular "external" reference to the melody triggers as I did so.
I'm working my way through APA, allowing myself only mental reference to melody triggers, and using triggers that reference the notes to key of C.
I then intend to repeat APA, avoiding (as much as possible) any conscious use of triggers, trying to hear the note as a stand alone entity.
If you have any further thoughts, I would certainly welcome them.
regards, Bill Payne (tonejam).

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Postby Magick » Sat Feb 04, 2012 11:47 pm

Hi, my idea has been that I want to use melody triggers that are each in the key of the note. For E, I am going to use a melody trigger that is in the key of E entirely, etc. When I get to chromatic tones, it might be a little bit more challenging, I will probably use different melody triggers for those altogether.

The other thing I wanted to say was to encourage you to continue, however. Because I figure that it could be like memorizing the notes on the guitar. First, you start with the key of C. Once you KNOW the key of C, then learning the other keys is 10 times easier.

I think that if you drill the key of C into your mind long enough focusing on chroma, there will come a point where the feeling of relationship will eventually yield to a powerful perceptual understanding of each note fully and deeply realized. Also, you should head to the forum over at prolobe, those guys have some crazy good exercises and routines you can use to really get your ear to be amazing, just in general.

Cultivate a vertical understanding of the notes of the C scale and, as much as possible, differentiate each note from one another as unique and possessing unique chroma. Then, eventually, you will hear all these notes in real music, and keys like G major or D minor will come to you easily. You could then delve into chromatic notes in the order of sharps and flats :)

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More melody triggers

Postby gonimor » Mon May 14, 2012 6:45 pm

Maybe you should practice with 11 melody triggers for each note, one for each relative function a note might have in relationship to the tonic:

So for C always as the first note you'd have to have melodies beginning with C as a m2,M2,m3,M3,P4,TT,P5,m6,M6,m7 and M7.

If possible finish the melody with C again because I seem to remember a study where they say that it's easier to differentiate between height and croma in the last note

That way you cover all the relative possibilities and you became used to differentiate between the harmonic function and the croma of the note

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Postby Stefan » Mon May 21, 2012 8:52 pm

I do not see melody triggers really helping much in real music situations, just my opinion here but I would say it better to focus on your memory of the tone while playing APA and then turn on some music and try to hear the tones you were working on in pieces of music.

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Postby gonimor » Tue May 22, 2012 5:44 am

Yes, I think that would be a good approach. Is interesting that you can do APA kind of training with any music. Just have your reference note, listen to music and try to identify the tone. And probably, the more different the music, timbres, etc... the better. That, to me, reminds me of the 3rd phase Aruffo talks about in terms of teaching absolute pitch - The integration of pith knowledge into music. Of course the second phase, the categoric listening isnt's delt with as yet. nonetheless, it seems a good exercise after you work on croma differentiation

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Re: the trouble with melody triggers

Postby WildcatShred » Tue Jan 12, 2016 5:22 pm


I'm afraid tone jam might be right. I think my ear is being "triggered" by the melody to put my head in the key, whether intentionally or not. Thus, I am then listening for the "tonic" within the eggs, rather than the chroma, regardless of the fact that the eggs are not in any established key themselves. It doesn't matter, because my head IS in the key established by the trigger. It just happens. I can't help it.

This does teach a useful skill....pulling apart the smatterings of notes with one's ear. This could be useful in picking out the tonic and extrapolating what the other notes are, to a person with an ear that is well-cultured in relative pitch and a mind with some theory knowledge.

Now that I'm talking about this, I think the correct idea of multiple "contexts" might definitionally need to be different keys. I.E. "C" is the tonic chroma in Cmajor but it is the fifth in Fmajor. The trick would be to recognize "c" as "c" apart from its function within the different keys.

I realize the game is designed (and I think it does this successfully) to isolate chroma. The issue is that my mind hears "chroma as tonic" based on the trigger, rather than "chroma as chroma."


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Re: the trouble with melody triggers

Postby Space » Fri Feb 05, 2016 1:55 am

Man, I've written a TON about this and it seems nobody ever really gets it. Good to see people talking about it again.

The thing is, in spite of the many different chordal and melodic contexts one hears a target pitch in with APA and APB, one STILL manages to begin hearing the target pitch as either the tonic (due to constantly maintaining and focusing on the pitch in one's mind) or maybe as WildcatShred illustrated, as the scale degree in which the target pitch functions in the melody word (which often becomes a "trigger" while working with the game, for better or worse).

In order for AP to become musically functional (not just a parlor trick), one must be able to identify pitches regardless of tonal context. APA for the most part only presents the pitches in all manner of TEXTURAL contexts. The tonal function of the target pitch remains the same. All it would take to throw that tonal anchor off balance would be more melodies with strong leading tones toward all manner of different tonalities and cadences with 2 or more chords where the target pitch is present in at least one of them. This would be something that happens in the later avenues, btw. I think it would be too much to introduce early on.

For example, if you've become accustomed to hearing C as the tonic because of the famous Mozart melody word, but at some advanced avenue, APA began throwing in cadences, (like I-V7-I in F where C is the 5th) it would throw things off a bit. It would introduce a new challenge that pushed you even further. Throw in more complex jazz-type cadences, where extensions are added to the tones, and the C could appear in all kinds of keys, throwing you off all over the place!

This is still just an idea. I need to sit down and maybe workout some of these and test myself with them (though I have no coding skills, I'd have to record a bunch to audio and just listen). Then, maybe if my personal experience is convincing, Chris might consider expanding APA to include something like that in a future version.

Though, another possibility is, like someone else pointed out, using multiple melody triggers for each pitch. That might help as well.


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