I Was Standing, I Was Listening, for That Southern
Whistle to Blow: Ear Training for Musicians
by Mark Heinemann
Copyright 2003 Mark Heinemann. All rights reserved.
A continuation of Part
1 of article.
In this issue, I wanted to share more thoughts and
exercises with you, both traditional and non-traditional to help
you train your ears.
Most standard Blues are written in a 12 bar format.
Try putting on a Blues recording and count the 12 measures. Get
a sense of the form and structure of the song. The twelfth measure
will be the turnaround.
Listen to a piece of music several times, and with
each listening focus on hearing only one instrument. For example,
first listen for the guitar, then the bass, after that the drums
and so on. In every style of music, each instrument plays a role
and this exercise of separating out specific instruments helps give
you a sense of the role that each instrument plays in a Blues band
it also helps you to distinguish the parts from the whole
and what goes into creating a great ensemble.
Listen to music you are unfamiliar with, especially
ethnic music from other cultures. Your ears will get stretched by
listening to music it is unfamiliar with or doesnt have preexisting
ideas about. I recommend going to the music section at the library,
close your eyes and just pick out whatever your hands touch. Even
if you dont like the music, it will expand your awareness
of whats out there.
When you listen to music you will discover that certain
music has a specific role that it is designed to do. What is the
effect it has on you? Recently I discovered that it helps me do
computer work if I have Mozart on at a low volume. Somehow having
Mozart on in the background helps stimulate the creative process
for my writing. Other music can have very different effects. Some
music is good to exercise to, others for being still and listening
to get you into a more meditative state. Other songs pump you up
for dancing. Some music can lift your spirits; other kinds of music
can make you ill.
Whats most important is to study the effects
that different music has on your body.
One aspiration I hope these exercises provide you with is a chance
to develop more sensitivity as a musician -- so you are able to
hear, play and feel music with more depth and perceptiveness. You
want to be present, responsive and in the moment in any musical
situation. This could be in a solo format, where you are actually
hearing what you are playing. A real common thing for musicians
to do is to play a lot of music but not really hear it because they
are too caught up in the demands of producing the music. The hands
and arms have to actually make the music come forth from their instrument.
This can become a single focus so that hearing and feeling what
is being produced can become overshadowed.
Successful collaboration with other musicians is dependent
on being a good listener. One rule of thumb when youre playing
with other people is that you should be able to hear yourself as
well as the person across the room. Knowing how much to play and
when cannot be underscored enough.
Music is an event, a story that happens in time and
space and sound against the backdrop of silence. If we are constantly
playing then there is no relationship to silence. Silence is the
canvas that we paint our Blues pictures on.
One of the most famous pieces by John Cage, a revolutionary
American composer was entitled 4:32. In this piece, a musician dressed
in a tuxedo sits down at the piano, lifts the lid for the piano
and then sits there without playing a note for four minutes and
thirty-two seconds. People thought this was marvelous, how wonderful
to be tuned into silence again. Silence was only one part of Cages
intention; he also wanted to turn people onto the ambient noise
that filled the environment in and around the auditorium.
Silence and ambient sound go hand in hand and sadly
because the world is moving at such a fast pace, there is a lot
of noise that our ears have had to develop protection mechanisms
to block out. Try sitting or standing in one place for a minute
and hear as deeply as possible all the sounds that are in the environment.
The clock ticking, water dripping, our breathing, the sound of the
wind in the trees, the fan on the computer. These sounds make up
our sonic background. Learning to hear these sounds again can make
our music making experience fuller.
There is a lot of music in my life, but I have had
to begin weighing when I listen to it and when I need quiet. Otherwise,
every day can become a constant barrage of music. I noticed I was
automatically moving to put on tunes and what I was hearing wasnt
always helping me live my life more fully or help me do whatever
work I was involved in.
An important place to work on ear training is through
taking walks in nature.
Close your eyes and listen to the birds. If you have ever heard
one you will know how deceptive their call is and how hard it is
to find the location it is coming from. Open your eyes and try to
find it. Listen to the sounds of water in a stream, notice the effect
it has when you change positions with your body, the angle of your
head, try lying on the ground and then crouch half way, finally
stand up all the way. What is the difference in what you are hearing?
In nature sounds combine in many ways to produce its
own brand of music; a wonderful blend of natural sounds. Can you
hear all the elements that are being offered, individually and collectively?
The comings and goings; how one sound can become more present and
then fade while another becomes more prominent. Just like peripheral
vision, you can engage peripheral hearing and try to hear everything
that is in front, back and to the side of you. When I do this, I
close my eyes and try to hear as fully as possible everything that
is out there. I call this deep listening and I can really feel its
effect after a couple of hours in nature when I go back home. My
experience is that I am much more sensitive and in touch with every
sound that I come in contact with.
Because music is a medium that is dependent on hearing,
working with ear training is an essential part to the music making
process. There are many possibilities and ways to go about doing
it. I want to encourage you to experiment and discover what works
for you. My wish is that through working with ear training it will
help you to hear, feel, produce and experience music with a lot
more fullness. If you have any questions or thoughts you would like
to share, please write to me firstname.lastname@example.org.
© Copyright 2003 Mark Heinemann. All rights reserved.