Why am I struggling to hear scale degrees?

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This topic contains 31 replies, has 4 voices, and was last updated by Profile photo of blanche_minim-2 blanche_minim-2 1 year ago.

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  • #19242
    Profile photo of blanche_minim-2
    blanche_minim-2
    Participant

    I did some relative pitch training and most of them are on intervals. I later learned that if I want to play by ear I have to learn to identify scale degrees or solfege. When I started to learn to scale degrees, it was brand new to me. Even a simple do-re-mi melody, I cant identify it. I dont consider myself tone deaf, my interval recognition is just flawless, but the scale degrees is all brand new. Anyone has answer to what is wrong?

    Additional Notes:
    I wish I didn`t waste time learning intervals.

    #19243
    Profile photo of blanche_minim-2
    blanche_minim-2
    Participant

    What I forgot to mention is that I am already using Improvisor and Teoria Melodic Dictation to help me with my problem with melody. I`m kind of like a normal laymen listener to music. I listen to a melody and have no idea what it is. I would have to noodle around my instrument to figure it out. The wonderful thing about me is that I get the first note of the melody on the exact pitch, instead of noodling around the C Major Scale. What I want is that I can just listen to music and figure it out logically right away, without an instrument. A response will be great.

    #19245

    Hi Jason,

    Don’t get too discouraged! Your work learning intervals was certainly not wasted.

    It is true that solfege (or another scale degree system) is a great way to directly play music by ear or transcribe. Our Pitch & Harmony series can help you with that.

    However it’s not the only way! You certainly can use intervals to play by ear – in fact our Step and a Half app helps you to do exactly this. There are also some tips here and here for connecting intervals with “real” music.

    Perhaps more importantly though, interval work develops your core sense of relative pitch, which is essential for the scale-degree approaches too. This means that you’ll be able to take advantage of your internal sense of pitch distances to help you learn that approach more quickly.

    Both approaches have their advantages, and although solfege is perhaps more quickly rewarding, learning both approaches will make you a more versatile and capable musician in the end.

    My main piece of advice for working on your melody training would be to take it in small chunks. Just like learning intervals, if you try to do everything at once it will be frustrating and hard to make progress. Choose a small subset of scale degrees (e.g. do re mi) and practice melodies which just use these. You should find that your interval work makes it easy to recognise these three notes relative to the root note of the key. Then you can extend, for example to the pentatonic scale (do re mi so la) and work your way to more complex melodies.

    Does that help?

    I did some relative pitch training and most of them are on intervals. I later learned that if I want to play by ear I have to learn to identify scale degrees or solfege. When I started to learn to scale degrees, it was brand new to me. Even a simple do-re-mi melody, I cant identify it. I dont consider myself tone deaf, my interval recognition is just flawless, but the scale degrees is all brand new. Anyone has answer to what is wrong?

    Additional Notes:
    I wish I didn`t waste time learning intervals.

    #19247
    Profile photo of blanche_minim-2
    blanche_minim-2
    Participant

    Thank you for telling me that I’m suppose to learn solfege by small chunks. Yes, I find it hard to progress because I’m using all the scale degrees and even the chromatic solfege. Fortunately, the programs I’m using can be configured to play a small subset of scale degrees. I’ll try that right now.

    My observation is that if you try hearing a simple song such as baa baa black sheep and analyze that using intervals, it’s a bit lofty. Whereas using scale degrees, it’s faster to identify. However, I haven’t checked your article yet on intervals, so I’ll check that out as well.

    #19248

    Great! I think you’ll find it a lot easier to start from a restricted set of scale degrees and build from there.

    It’s true that there are some “mental gymnastics” required to transcribe a melody using intervals compared with scale degrees – but that’s what gives intervals their power too. You can use them to e.g. transcribe atonal melodies or pick apart harmonies and chords more easily than using scale degrees. The most popular solfege-based approaches (e.g. Kodaly) still teach you to listen for intervals too because hearing the relationships between any pair of notes can be very helpful, rather than just being able to hear the relationship between every note and the root of the scale.

    Good luck, and please keep us posted on your progress.

    #19346
    Profile photo of blanche_minim-2
    blanche_minim-2
    Participant

    Hi Chris,
    Do you think I should add another scale degree? I’m not really sure. I can’t recognize the scale degrees very well, but I am guessing it right. I’m good at evaluating myself and I feel that there is a lot of uncertainty than stability when I am practicing. The problem is that I feel that I will be stuck with just 3 scale degrees for a long time…An idea just came to my mind while typing…How about I just deal with two scale degrees and master it. I have a hard time recognizing three scale degrees. I am hesitating. I want to know what’s your advice to alleviate the problem.

    Additional Notes:
    There is already a fixed tempo for level 1 in my software. I can’t adjust the speed. I can, but it will only go faster.

    #19352

    Hi @blanche_minim,

    If you’re struggling with 3 degrees, I wouldn’t add another just yet.

    With a scale degree approach, you should be anchoring your hearing on the root note of the key. This means that if you are struggling with identifying the 3 degrees, you probably haven’t sufficiently ingrained your key centre before trying. If your training program is changing key each time, this is even more important.

    Before you try listening to a string of notes you should be listening to the key scale or chord, and I would recommend also singing or humming the root note. Once you’ve established that as the “home” note, it should at least be easy to identify that note wherever it occurs in the sequence. Then you should be able to listen for the second and third degrees based on how far they are from that home.

    The other thing to look out for is that you should be keeping it in a single octave for now. If your program is jumping across octaves it will be much harder to identify the notes. You should be literally just hearing the same three notes in different orderings.

    So I would recommend:
    – Keep it in one octave
    – Make sure you get your key center clear before starting
    – Possibly also keep it in one key (e.g. C major) to begin with

    If you do these things and are still having difficulty with 3 degrees, you can strip it down to just 2 – at which point it becomes a simple “same or different” exercise which you should find easy enough, and you can build from there.

    #19356
    Profile photo of blanche_minim-2
    blanche_minim-2
    Participant

    Hi Chris,
    Yes, someone gave me advice to stay in one key. I stick with the key of C Major. I’m guessing it right, but I’m uncertain at the same time. It’s not like interval identification where I’m really sure without hesitating. I heard about key centers before. I first read about it in a guitar book, but I did not know the importance of it. My software program doesn’t play a key center. I’ll take your advice of singing the root note. The problem with me is that I get thrown off by the first note and it takes me a while to digest the rest of the information.

    I have trouble with singing pitches. Not because I don’t want to sing, but it has something to do with what I call “aural – recall”. After I hum a note, I don’t quite remember the tone. So if I’m in the key of C Major, I recognize the C tone but I can’t sing it accurately.

    Hopefully singing the root note will just take time. Who knows I might get Perfect Pitch out of it.

    #19358
    Profile photo of blanche_minim-2
    blanche_minim-2
    Participant

    What I meant is that I play a tone on the piano; I can hum it accurately, but when it comes to singing by myself, without an aid of an instrument, I don’t think I’m singing it accurately.

    #19359

    Great, I think starting each time by listening to the scale or root chord should really help you with this.

    There are a couple of things which can make singing a target note hard like you mention:

    1. Vocal control is quite separate to ear training. You need a good sense of pitch to sing notes accurately, but even then you can have difficulty keeping your vocal pitch steady and on target. More information about singing and pitch.
    2. It’s hard to sing one note while hearing another. If you’re trying to sing the root note while the music continues, this can be quite challenging. Your ear will naturally tune into the other notes it hears and your voice will tend to follow and get confused. Practising audiation or singing in a choir can both help with this.
    #19366
    Profile photo of blanche_minim-2
    blanche_minim-2
    Participant

    Hi Chris,
    I took the tone deaf test at tonedeaftest.com and I got a 100%. I am not tone deaf according to the test. So scale degrees and hearing notes absolutely are another level of hearing. I once heard my professor mention of musicians with advanced ears. So is the proficiency of someone with a good ear comes at different levels of mastery?

    #19386

    Hi @blanche_minim,

    Yes, that’s right. Tone deafness is a fundamental inability to distinguish pitches. Once you’ve established that you don’t fall into that category (and few, if any, musicians would), there is still a huge spectrum of ear skills from there to “advanced ears”. People will naturally start out at different points on this spectrum, and ear training allows you to improve your musical listening skills and move yourself towards the advanced end.

    We’ve written more about what it means to have a “good ear” in our FAQs section.

    Hi Chris,
    So is the proficiency of someone with a good ear comes at different levels of mastery?

    #19405
    Profile photo of blanche_minim-2
    blanche_minim-2
    Participant

    Hi Chris,
    I have good news for you! I woke up early today at 5am Eastern Time and I was experimenting with the knobs of my software program. It turns out that I can change the tempo and play the root note before the melody is being played. I have good results.
    The scale degrees sounds more clear especially the first tone. Before, I was actually listening to a four – note melody that is 120 bpm. I’m just baffled with the speed that fast. When I lowered the tempo to 40 bpm, it made all the difference.

    If you have any suggestions with this slight improvement especially the tempo changes and the root note being played, just respond back. What systematic approach will I do to adjust the speed?

    #19445
    Profile photo of blanche_minim-2
    blanche_minim-2
    Participant

    Hi Chris,
    Does merely using a software program helps to identify scale degrees or melody? Or should I use other methods such as singing to help me develop identifying scale degrees and melody?

    #19446

    Hi @blanche_minim,

    I’m really glad to hear you’re making good progress. Taking it at a slower speed sounds wise, and having that root note play first will really help. 120BPM is pretty quick for a beginner!

    I would consider speed very much a secondary consideration for this training. Focus first on building up the range of scale degrees you can recognise reliably. Then work on your musical memory by extending the length of melody you are practising with. These two things will help you most when it comes to applying your skills to real musical tasks like improvisation or transcription.

    I suggest you adjust the speed along the way to suit your comfort level. If you can so easily recognise each note that you are impatient for the next one, then increase the speed a notch. If you feel like you could recognise the notes if they just didn’t move so quickly, take it back down a notch. But prioritise increasing the range of degrees and the length of melody first.

    To answer your other question: using a software program is a good approach. Singing certainly helps with ear training, but the key isn’t in adding another technique like singing, but rather in applying what you’re learning in your actual musical life. You should be looking for opportunities to try using these skills elsewhere, e.g. to improvise simple melodies on your instrument or gradually work out songs by ear.

    I hope that helps! Keep up the good work :)

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