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  1. #1

    Functional vs intervallic ear training

    I trained my ears over the years to identify intervals both ascending and descending, chord qualities etc. to an OK level. When I transcribe a line without an instrument, I find it quite unnatural and inefficient to go interval by interval though. It's also not very immediate to identify the exact type of the altered note in altered chords (#5, b9 etc.)
    I'm thinking doing more functional ear training from now on. What are your thoughts on the differences between functional vs intervallic ear training.
    Here are some articles about functional (or contextual) ear training. I'm also using a functional ear training app.
    Articles

  2. #2
    I didn't read the article. I will say however functional is WAY more important and useful. I used identifying intervals on my music school audition and never used it for anything again. Functional harmony is like set up the key and play a note, then you know if it's do re mi fa sol whatever. You can deal with melodies this way, intervals for melodies sounds like a nightmare
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    I probably use the same app. Even my daughter likes to "play" it. I am embarrassed that I can't seem to progress much in it, but I have found it very useful in improving my ears.

  4. #4
    Earpeggio had a good exercise called "basic melodic dictation." I'd enjoy a more advanced version
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    I've been using this, but there are obviously others:

    Functional Ear Trainer on the App Store

  6. #6
    that app looks perfect
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  7. #7
    I have tried both kinds. But for a while I've been using intervallic approach.. app. Just for curiosity. It's in my page in the signature as "intervalsLive". The idea is simple enough, intervals are simple enough. Yet it took ages to get it "automatic" and I feel it still aint quite there yet. I guess it's one of those things that has to be trained to 105% skill level before it's usable. It does make some difference, can notice that. Yet, functional ear training is always more important imo.

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by rlrhett View Post
    I probably use the same app. Even my daughter likes to "play" it. I am embarrassed that I can't seem to progress much in it, but I have found it very useful in improving my ears.
    I think the secret to that app is the ability to design your own custom levels. For example, first level can be only root and the third MULTIPLE octaves. Cadence playing once every 5 questions. Second level third and fifth, multi octaves, cadence once every 10 questions etc.
    I already know the intervals reasonably well so I try not to think about the interval but identify the "color" of the note in relation to the tonic major chord in the cadence. The challenge is to instantly recognize the function without thinking intervals. The app is a game changer for that. I'm so much more productive at work now

  9. #9
    I don't see any kind of mutual exclusivity between intervallic and functional ear training. I find they are forests and trees, and I can honestly say both have real practical use for me. As a really practical aspect of my own music, there exists a strong element that derives lexicon from atonal music. I've worked with Modus Novus and continue to. It gives me a strong basis for phrasing that is not tonally based and that, in turn, gives me a real expansive contrast to and with tonal diatonicism.
    I don't see the value of limiting one's ear "literacy" especially since intervallic ear training can give a huge amount of awareness and control over consonance, dissonance, tension and release while functional ear training gives one control over navigating within diatonicsm. Working "outside" made me a better "inside" player.
    David

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by TruthHertz View Post
    I don't see any kind of mutual exclusivity between intervallic and functional ear training. I find they are forests and trees, and I can honestly say both have real practical use for me. As a really practical aspect of my own music, there exists a strong element that derives lexicon from atonal music. I've worked with Modus Novus and continue to. It gives me a strong basis for phrasing that is not tonally based and that, in turn, gives me a real expansive contrast to and with tonal diatonicism.
    I don't see the value of limiting one's ear "literacy" especially since intervallic ear training can give a huge amount of awareness and control over consonance, dissonance, tension and release while functional ear training gives one control over navigating within diatonicsm. Working "outside" made me a better "inside" player.
    David
    Hey David,

    I was wondering how you work with Modus Novus?

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by TruthHertz View Post
    I don't see any kind of mutual exclusivity between intervallic and functional ear training. I find they are forests and trees, and I can honestly say both have real practical use for me. As a really practical aspect of my own music, there exists a strong element that derives lexicon from atonal music. I've worked with Modus Novus and continue to. It gives me a strong basis for phrasing that is not tonally based and that, in turn, gives me a real expansive contrast to and with tonal diatonicism.
    I don't see the value of limiting one's ear "literacy" especially since intervallic ear training can give a huge amount of awareness and control over consonance, dissonance, tension and release while functional ear training gives one control over navigating within diatonicsm. Working "outside" made me a better "inside" player.
    David
    I agree that both intervallic and functional approaches are useful in different contexts. However most music is tonal and I find that functional approach is more natural when dealing with tonal music. Say, I can transcribe music WITH my instrument fairly well. But in order to transcribe without the instrument I have to think about the intervals which is what I learned and that's a very strange experience. Same applies to sight singing. I am thinking about music as a sequence of intervals when I do it. So unnatural.
    Same applies to hearing melody in the context of a chord. I want to be able to identify chord tones and extensions instantly as different colors in the context of the chord (notes in both melody and harmony) not as intervals from the chord root.
    Also chords themselves are functional. We don't just hear the major 7 chord quality in major harmony when we hear a major chord but we also hear either restfulness (I chord) or a sense of motion (IV chord).

    PS. I'm using the word transcribe a bit loosely. Both as playing a recording by ear and as writing down in music notation.
    Last edited by Tal_175; 11-22-2018 at 02:48 PM.

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by Tal_175 View Post
    I agree that both intervallic and functional approaches are useful in different contexts. However most music is tonal and I find that functional approach is more natural when dealing with tonal music..
    Don't want to derail the thread too much. I get your point Tal_175, most music is tonal. For me, the improvisational continuum extends to the edge of tonality and as music moved to a point where the music redefined what you could do with a tonal piece, the language of options grew too.
    Shorter wrote tunes that gave the soloist a lot of room for harmonic freedom, Coltrane's movement into modal vamp wasn't a reduction of the possibilities but an expansion. Ornette's music when played by people who get it, moves beyond the traditional roles of harmony/scale choice and into a place where the movement implied by the harmony and melody can't be constrained by one choice. And that was the origins of that branch of jazz.
    Now a days, players like Chris Potter, Josh Redmond, Marc Ribot, Joe Morris, Bill Frisell and many others are composing their solos with an equal ear to the contextual harmonic roles and the liberties available through an intervallic sensibility in their lines.
    Not right or wrong, just one set of rules used by a camp that does things a little differently.

    Quote Originally Posted by Toddep View Post
    Hey David,

    I was wondering how you work with Modus Novus?
    Much of what I do is solo, duo and small group oriented, and much of that is relying on linearity that isn't harmonic or planned ahead of time. In other words, for a lack of a more articulate label, free improvisation.
    In my groups, I may focus on the sound of a certain interval, say a fourth, and explore the different sides of that interval, sequential, between and involving diatonic tones, stacked, with different rhythms and connected by controlled use of other intervals.
    With modus, you realize that tonality can be created briefly through certain intervallic combinations, but the sense of that stability can also be erased completely by the juxtaposition of different notes. This is useful for a large vocabulary of "inside" and "outside" passages. It's MUCH bigger than using a half step side slip once in a while.
    I'll use the individual pieces in Modus as "standards" that are played intact and then improvised upon. Once you understand the deeper treasures within these two line examples, they start to infuse the lines you use.
    I'll start to look at a line, maybe a tonal 2 bar passage, or maybe a dominant series of II V's as an "area" that can be seen as a lead up to a strong convergence with tonality through a tonal resolution. The "area" can be played melodically and atonally at the same time (melody and atonality are not mutually exclusive) and when the solo converges with the given turnaround, voila, you're back.

    For this type of playing though, a more expansive way of phrasing, linearity and soloing is necessary. The attention given to shaping a line is almost a moment to moment process with an eye to larger shape. To this end, knowing the impact of a major 6th vs a minor 9th, the use of a diatonic run to connect intervallic statements is essential. Modus is the practical and melodic bible of atonality for me. The tiny 1-2 bar examples that begin each chapter are great as motific seeds. The larger pieces are great solfege exercises (do NOT use traditional do re me syllables though) and for sight reading... well it'll take you to a whole different level.

    Does this make any sense?

    David

  13. #13
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    Depends what you need to innit.

    I mean, going towards tonal music - if you are on a bop and standards kick, I find most of that stuff suits a functional, key centric approach like trad solfege. Even the harmony is kind of contextual. Standards harmony tends to be somewhat formulaic, so you learn the tropes. Bop isn't too much of a step out from that.

    Given to be a pro jazz player you need a healthy repertoire of a few hundred standards, setting aside the need to learn the language, that type of thing develops naturally.

    I don't actually think the functional solfege style approach gets enough press. I had no idea how powerful it could be until I realised my wife was equally able to play Joy Spring in any key purely by ear, on the piano, just hearing me play it on the guitar a few times.

    Most modern jazz methodology builds up from the chords. When transcribing, for instance, Allan Holdsworth tunes, the functional key centric approach is not hugely helpful, a different suite of skills are required - intervallic hearing, chord qualities, chord/scales etc. There are fewer tropes in modern jazz, so you have to hear each chord in relation to the others, for instance.

    Unsurprisingly I'm much weaker at the latter - but - It's not something that comes up a whole lot in my line of work. But I am still curious to explore that type of hearing, especially as that type of music ends up being a bit of an exercise in mathematics when ever I am (rarely) called to play it.

    Another thing I don't hear talked about TOO much is Aural memory. The ability to retain music and listen back. Certain individuals have been very good at this - Mozart of course, but also apparently Glenn Campbell and Chet Baker. It's interesting to me that I can sing every guitar phrase on Dire Straits records, for instance, which I listen to when a child, before I played the guitar, and actually never tried to play any of those solos. I retain a surprisingly large amount of Return of the Brecker Brothers too, bizarrely. Some stuff goes in at a deep level.

    In contrast the stuff I work hard at memorising, never goes in lol! So I'm slowly moving towards a more relaxed approach to learning rep - letting it go in naturally, and then putting it on the guitar neck (which is always the easy bit.)

    Listening is an art. It's good to spend a healthy amount of time on it.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by TruthHertz View Post


    Much of what I do is solo, duo and small group oriented, and much of that is relying on linearity that isn't harmonic or planned ahead of time. In other words, for a lack of a more articulate label, free improvisation.
    In my groups, I may focus on the sound of a certain interval, say a fourth, and explore the different sides of that interval, sequential, between and involving diatonic tones, stacked, with different rhythms and connected by controlled use of other intervals.
    With modus, you realize that tonality can be created briefly through certain intervallic combinations, but the sense of that stability can also be erased completely by the juxtaposition of different notes. This is useful for a large vocabulary of "inside" and "outside" passages. It's MUCH bigger than using a half step side slip once in a while.
    I'll use the individual pieces in Modus as "standards" that are played intact and then improvised upon. Once you understand the deeper treasures within these two line examples, they start to infuse the lines you use.
    I'll start to look at a line, maybe a tonal 2 bar passage, or maybe a dominant series of II V's as an "area" that can be seen as a lead up to a strong convergence with tonality through a tonal resolution. The "area" can be played melodically and atonally at the same time (melody and atonality are not mutually exclusive) and when the solo converges with the given turnaround, voila, you're back.

    For this type of playing though, a more expansive way of phrasing, linearity and soloing is necessary. The attention given to shaping a line is almost a moment to moment process with an eye to larger shape. To this end, knowing the impact of a major 6th vs a minor 9th, the use of a diatonic run to connect intervallic statements is essential. Modus is the practical and melodic bible of atonality for me. The tiny 1-2 bar examples that begin each chapter are great as motific seeds. The larger pieces are great solfege exercises (do NOT use traditional do re me syllables though) and for sight reading... well it'll take you to a whole different level.

    Does this make any sense?

    David
    It does...

    I have a copy of Modus and this post is timely for me as I’m looking for different devices for outside playing... Very interesting.....

    I’ve used Pat Martino’s displaced octave things in this way

    Oh... my “solfege” is 1 2 3.. etc

    Thanks!

  15. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by Toddep View Post
    Oh... my “solfege” is 1 2 3.. etc

    Thanks!
    When you work with Modus, especially if you want to learn to hear intervals atonally, put the number system aside. In atonal music, the interval is more important than one tonal centre. In fact, making the tonic irrelevant is the purpose of interval based ear training and atonal linearity.
    When you're improvising in real time, there's no time to superimpose a diatonic context if you're really thinking atonally, you're not guiding your line with diatonic (numerical) guideposts, you're actually creating each moment with intervallic tension or controlling angularity through note choice. At some point, you can come back to the harmony of the piece, reassume your numerical framework and you're back "inside".
    Kinda cool, eh?
    David

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by TruthHertz View Post
    When you work with Modus, especially if you want to learn to hear intervals atonally, put the number system aside. In atonal music, the interval is more important than one tonal centre. In fact, making the tonic irrelevant is the purpose of interval based ear training and atonal linearity.
    When you're improvising in real time, there's no time to superimpose a diatonic context if you're really thinking atonally, you're not guiding your line with diatonic (numerical) guideposts, you're actually creating each moment with intervallic tension or controlling angularity through note choice. At some point, you can come back to the harmony of the piece, reassume your numerical framework and you're back "inside".
    Kinda cool, eh?
    David
    Sounds cool... is there any recorded examples where I can hear this?

  17. #17
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    Ear training is very idiomatic... with all my (over-)'intellecutialized' approach.. I have always been very intuitive in learning music and arts... like I trusted more my 'nose' (ears) instinctively... and whenever I tried to elaborate some method, at the end it turnd out that listening to music and playing the real music formed the musical enviroment where necessary skills developed intuitively much faster...

    When I teach classical harmony today to beginner I do not even touch major scale or intervals per se... I begin with T-D-T, T-S-D-T voicings and add to it cadention 6/4, and later I6 and V6 chords...
    I make play it almost exclusivel by ear (that is I play on piano and ask to earch and repeat)...
    Later I make accent on intervals involved - 5th, 4th, 6th, 3rd at the beginning
    So it is strongly functional!

    But when I began to get interest in jazz I remeber I I tried to pick up a solo in My Romance (Benny Carter?) and I easily picked harmony and harmonic intervals and could run scalar passages of course but I could not figure out what makes it different (beyond rythmic things)... later I got that for jazz chromatic intonation is more important and meaningful than for classical... in classical dsometimes it is kust do not make so much difference - sort of little embelishment to your taste - but in jazz some small chromatic move in a fast run sometimes make all the difference.

    But t be honest for basics I would still teach it functionally first... cause it is really strong basis and it opens the classical world which is vast. Evene if he does not make a classical fan he will be able to hear the logics of complex symphonic music.
    And if the person has good sensitive ear and open mind it would be a problem to adopt to another sysytem (like modern, or early pre-functional)- to abstract intervals from functions if needed...

  18. Lately I had the idea of playing simple tunes while singing along, humming scale degrees. Not just beebappadoobidoo but.. example - "I like to move it" |: 6 6 6 6 3 1 1 7 2 7 3 :|
    For some strange reason I cannot recall anyone ever suggesting this exercise. Been in music schools 4+4+4+6 years... lurking around here and there in workshops and everything

    Anyway, tried this a few months back, felt that it might be a good way to get to know the diatonic system better. Being the "other end" of the functional ear training that was discussed in this thread, that's why I posted it here. Haven't got too advanced in it yet.

    I've used that Functional Ear Training app also. Good stuff. Academical, not tied to "real music" but gets very close and seems helpful for sure. Perfect for toilet-practice.

  19. #19
    Quote Originally Posted by emanresu View Post
    Lately I had the idea of playing simple tunes while singing along, humming scale degrees. Not just beebappadoobidoo but.. example - "I like to move it" |: 6 6 6 6 3 1 1 7 2 7 3 :|
    For some strange reason I cannot recall anyone ever suggesting this exercise. Been in music schools 4+4+4+6 years... lurking around here and there in workshops and everything
    Isn't this just Solfege? I mean with numbers instead of traditional names. I do like the moveable do solfege approach. Although numbers are more intuitive they are not as nice to sing and accidentals pose problems.
    Traditional way to deal with accidentals (I'm sure many of you know this):
    Solfege sharps (pronounced Dee - Ree etc)
    Di Ri Fi Si Li
    Solfage flats (Pronounced Tay - Lay etc. Exception is Rah, since Ray would too close to the natural Re)
    Te Le Se Me Ra

    There are some exercises here:
    Chromatic solfege syllables and sequentials – Open Music Theory

  20. All the solfege lessons here used notes, not degrees.

    edit: by "here" I meant in my neck of the woods.

  21. Quote Originally Posted by Tal_175 View Post
    Although numbers are more intuitive they are not as nice to sing and accidentals pose problems.
    Since I already think in numbers, adding another layer with another system seems backwards. Or rather, I'm too old for this

    Numbers ain't too bad to sing at all.

  22. #22
    Quote Originally Posted by emanresu View Post
    Since I already think in numbers, adding another layer with another system seems backwards. Or rather, I'm too old for this

    Numbers ain't too bad to sing at all.
    Yeah, numbers work too. They can be a little bit of a mouthful when singing triplets with sharps and flats but certainly possible.
    I think in terms of numbers also. Solfege names just become associated with numbers in my head. When I say Fa I'm automatically thinking 4 etc.
    Perfect solfege would have a different syllable for each rhythmic value and accent/articulation type per each note

  23. #23
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    My wife does numbers, I do both I think, but now I don't really sing the note the names or any of that stuff, I just think of the sound - "that's a 4" etc.

    Aimee Nolte did an interesting vid when she said that she always felt solfege was a waste of time, because she just visualised a piano keyboard.

    The important thing that makes it 'functional ear training' is that the notes are understood from a central tonic pitch, not related to the next note.

    There's not necessarily any reason why solfege has to be sung syllables....

    Although TBF that's a system that's been used for a LOOOONG time, prob many thousands of years.... I understand India has it's own version of this system, for instance? The ancient Greeks had one too if I understand correctly.

  24. #24
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    There's not necessarily any reason why solfege has to be sung syllables....
    I think in many other languages the notes have the same names as in solfege... so it makes no difference.
    Using letter for notes is English thing.

    But in mdern music it is getting more and more anglicized because it is connected with American music.

    By the way.. it is interesting about intervals too.
    Whn in jazz context I tend to think in English - like 9b (I think of it as 'flat nine' wihout translation)
    And in classical context I think of b9 as 'minor nona' and in russian..

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    Functional vs intervallic ear training

    Not moveable do solfege though? Isn’t Re always D in English?

  26. #26
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    Quote Originally Posted by christianm77 View Post
    Not moveable do solfege though? Isn’t Re always D in English?
    I do not know about English... I think not.


    In Russian the note names are do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-si... and it is used both as names and as solfege syllables.

    usually it is not moveable (but can be if the student does not have an absolute pitch)...

    So when you sing in A -major you start like la-si-do- ... sharps and flats are meant but not sung usually.

    Originally it was moveable - I think I gave a link to EarlyMusicSource where they describe moveable hexachord system.. I think it is really good actually for those purposes and the music they played those days.

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    Yeah I cannot get my head around hexachords

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    Both? But I'm not sure if I totally understand the question.

    hmm... Some of the best relative pitchers that I know (I thought they had perfect pitch) usually relate everything they hear to a single note (and that note can change). These people can sight sing atonal modern chamber (jazz?) music. It's quite incredible actually.

    For unlocking chords it's a good idea to know what intervals sound like. It seems like relating what you hear to a tonal centre gets you farther for lines based stuff. Also, you eventually just know the sound of the major scale (and other popular tonalities) and what lines sound within that (or jazz language etc).

    The one limiting thing with isolated intervals is that you that isolated intervals are rooted on one degree. For example 1-6 sounds different than 3-8(1) even though they're both major 6ths.

    just some random thoughts...

  29. #29
    Quote Originally Posted by bediles View Post
    Both? But I'm not sure if I totally understand the question.
    I don't really understand the question either... Don't we hear ALL the intervals? I mean all at the same time?
    Including the chords' roots, tones, extensions, and alterations to the chords' roots and the progressions' keys?
    "Bent my ear to hear the tune and closed my eyes to see."

  30. Quote Originally Posted by bediles View Post
    The one limiting thing with isolated intervals is that you that isolated intervals are rooted on one degree. For example 1-6 sounds different than 3-8(1) even though they're both major 6ths.
    In my experience, the key thing is to make a skill "automatic". If we want to play a solo "live", play a tune by ear "live" - on the spot, then those skills must be automatic, in the bones. That's the most limiting thing imo. That we don't have it good enough very often.

    We can ponder a bit and get it right by trial&error method, ponder and get it down in a few secs.. but the end goal of doing it 100% right (thats what jazz impro & tunes need) with instant execution is for the crazy good brains or for the crazy practitioners..

    The isolated interval recognition&execution will help a ton but only when its 100% right, 100% instant. I bet it's possible to achieve but before having this, tieing them to certain scale degrees is the way to go.

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