On jazz, singing, and ear training.

greenspun.com : LUSENET : To Hear Ourselves As Others Hear Us : One Thread

I am starting to explore work with the tape recorder. I'm mostly playing jazz saxophone right now (though I also play classical piano), so there are interesting issues about not having a score to work from. However, the biggest issue right now is a different one. I'm pretty sure that the most important thing for me to be doing is working on my aural skills. My finger dexterity far outstrips my aural acuity. As an improviser, I need to internalize the harmonic and melodic elements that my fingers have been trained to produce -- but it's not clear what is an efficient way to work on this. (I guess you'd agree that classical musicians need to do the same thing -- it's just not as obvious, when you're playing from a score.) The book mentions the idea of singing as a fundamental part of learning a piece -- and this is surely right. But in a sense this assumes the aural training is in place to do so. In short, I'm wondering if you could clarify how you view the recording work in relation to other kinds of ear training? Thanks!

-- Phil Mitchell (phil@ifnotnow.com), February 22, 1999


Very interesting post & interesting question. Of course you are right that training the ear is primary.

I see recording as an enhancement to other kinds of ear training. It's also a way of making sure that you really have the other kinds solidly learned, because it can give you objective feedback. It certainly does not substitute for all the traditional skills -- if you were a pianist, you'd want to be doing 'keyboard harmony,' and I suggest that you do the sax equivalent.

For more on this, read my article "Keys To Success"; it's about music training generally, not just piano lessons. The full text is at http://www.cco.caltech.edu/~boyk/keys.htm , and that page also has a link back to a list of my publications.

Good luck!

-- James Boyk (boyk@caltech.edu), February 23, 1999.

James, your article is great -- though not as specific as I'd like. (I just wish I'd come across it about 20 years ago! When I was in college, at an Ivy League school with a very respected music department, I had the chance to play for a distinguised piano professor. I knew that I really needed help, and asked him what I could do to turn myself into a musician. He was nonplussed by the question.)

In the article, you state that basic musicianship is a skill set that anyone can acquire. I think this is actually a controversial statement, and I wonder if it is a working theory/idealistic belief, or something that you feel is well-supported by solid evidence? (I'm not saying I disagree; just that I'd like to know what evidence you have...)

(BTW, please feel free to let me know if my posts are straying too far from the purpose of this bulletin board.)

-- Phil Mitchell (phil@ifnotnow.com), February 24, 1999.

Glad you like article. There's nothing controversial or doubtful about the 'collection of skills' idea. This is simply what anyone learns in traditional music schools. Sight-singing, melodic dictation, harmonic dictation, keyboard harmony, etc. etc. -- all of these are just skills that anyone can learn. Go to any fine music school and you'll find everyone sloggin through them.

Of course some people are better at them than others; but anyone can learn to do them competently. In this country such schools are perhaps thinner on the ground than elsewhere, but certainly we have plenty: Longy School, where I studied piano, used to have a two-year sight-singing course where the final exam was something lickety-split fast, two pages long, changing clef every bar! Juilliard, of course, Eastman, Curtis I'm sure, Indiana used to have a killer ear-training course for music majors; probably they still do. And so on. No, not every random place has them; but yes, they are Just Skills, not magic.

Good luck!

-- James Boyk (boyk@cco.caltech.edu), February 25, 1999.

I'm not sure that what happens in professional music schools constitutes strong evidence for the idea that _anyone_ can master the elements of music competency. The student body is already a highly selected sample. Furthermore, I have a fair amount of anecdotal evidence suggesting that even at conservatories, not everyone "gets it". (I'm inclined to attribute that to bad teaching or personal blocks, rather than simple "lack of ability" -- but as a researcher I have to keep an open mind.)

Also, in your article you state that work with a tape recorder towards objectivity is the "meeting ground of music training and psychoanalysis". Do you mean that literally -- in the sense that the process is transformative on a psychodynamic level? This is another topic I'm profoundly interested in, and I'd love to hear more if you have more thoughts on that.

BTW, I wanted to mention that your followup, "What I learned..." was really very funny. I did appreciate the extraordinary amount of work you put into your article, not to mention the "effortless mastery and lucid overview"...

-- Phil Mitchell (phil@ifnotnow.com), March 01, 1999.

It's time to find a *good* basic musicianship class -- one that emphasizes ear-training -- and Take The Class!

Talking Interferes With The Process!


-- James Boyk (boyk@cco.caltech.edu), March 01, 1999.

Being a latecomer to (formal) music education, and largely self-taught (although I presently have a teacher), I find this topic a source of limitless fascination. I was denied access to music as a youth, and later discovered it as an adult, and have been in the unenviable (but instructive) position of an outsider (pedagogically speaking), continually struggling to gain access to the musical world, and to "catch up," so to speak.

Whether "anyone" can learn the necessary skills at any given time is a question that has occupied my mind continually since I began. Obviously I'm always searching for information that would encourage me to believe that the answer is positive (which has lead me here). We tend to romanticize the objects of our desire, so I've also learned that it is necessary to objectify the issue to a degree sufficient to keep from crashing too hard into reality and ultimately becoming discouraged.

I was very much entertained by the anecdote in James' book about the guy who attacked the Dm Chaconne, note-by-note, completely from scratch, with a book on how to read musical notation, because he was describing precisely how I myself began to read.

After nearly 10 years of study (often interupted by the intrusions of an adult life and adult responsibilities), my mature conclusion is that indeed these skills can be taught to anyone with average intelligence, but that success is dependent on essentially two things:

1. a willing mind and a creative need for musical self-expression 2. a certain period of full musical immersion (until said skills are established) within a social support group that is cogniscant of the requirements of the musical process and culturally friendly toward it.

I have also learned (sadly) that one must lower one's expectations if musical study is a "part-time" endeavor. I cast quite an envious eye on descriptions of some of the intense sight-singing and ear training programs offered by the better music colleges, because I have concluded that to become a proficient and musical performer, and to feel comfortable and at ease performing, it is precisely this kind of full immersion that is required. At least for a certain amount of time during one's musical development.

Much has already been written about this, especially as it pertains to the similarities between music and the social and cultural immersion that makes language learning possible for a child, so I won't keep wearing down the same path, but I think that one observation that isn't made often enough is that musical education (and access to it) is in such a sad state. Looking in from the outside, as I do, I'm able to observe just how insular (and becoming more so!) the musical world has become. I'm interested in classical performance principally, but it also seems true of Jazz as well (although Jazz at least is not so stultifyingly frozen).

In our culture, as it now stands, learning to be a musician outside of the usual academic channels is a near impossibility as I see it, because the social and cultural support system that is vital to sucess is simply not there. Of course I will never give up, but I am not particularly encouraged. I have observed a very insular musical world, with musical academics performing largely for other musical academics, with a generally ignorant public lured into the fold occassionally to witness the results (when there is adequate promotional effort).

Of course, this isn't anyone's fault in particular, and least of all the professional musicians and teachers I've personally met, who always seem very accomodating, and pleased when someone is at least willing to try. I attribute the lack of musical society more to the seemingly irreversible encroaching of philistinism on modern life. . .

But I think James' book is a step in a more positive direction, as it opens up some new ideas that are accessible to anyone who wants to give it a try. Even the title "To Hear Ourselves as Others Hear Us" (whether deliberately or not) is evocative of the type of musical society (manqui) that I'm talking about. It piqued my interest before I even knew what it was about. Perhaps the tape recorder can indeed function as the ears that should be there, but aren't, or can't be. I hope to relate my experiences as I experiment with some of the techniques. . .

Sorry to be so long-winded. . .

George Gilliland Amateur Classical Pianist

-- George Gilliland (lgd@epix.net), March 02, 1999.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ