IFR blog > Practice tips > Developing your ear > Is singing the tonal numbers a crutch

Is singing the tonal numbers a crutch?

Hey David,

Good morning! I've been having a great time practicing. I have a question for you. I play the guitar and in order to avoid getting lost on the fretboard I say the numbers of the scale out loud. So I literally say "1, 2, 3" etc out loud as I'm playing.

So my question is whether or not saying the note numbers out loud would be like a crutch in the future where I would only be able to move around if I count the notes. How will I eventually learn to move freely without counting the notes? I'm sure you don't count notes anymore as you play. So I just need to know if I'm going in the right direction.

Thanks much!

David's response:

Hi Mike,

That's a GREAT question. Let me answer you with no confusion whatsoever. Right now you should absolutely be singing the tonal numbers out loud with every note that you play. It's not a crutch at all. It's one of the most powerful things you can do to develop your ear and your understanding of harmony.

IFR guitar student singing the tonal numbersYou are right that I don't consciously say the tonal numbers to myself when I'm playing. But the tonal numbers are inseparable from my thinking. I might not be thinking about the numbers consciously, but if you stop and ask me what note I just played I will tell you without hesitation, "I just played note 3". So the awareness is there even though I don't think about it consciously.

This awareness isn't about "counting notes" though. It's about understanding the sounds and knowing where they are located. So for example it even applies to the sounds that someone ELSE plays. If we're listening to a jazz album and suddenly you stop the music and ask me what note the soloist just played, again I will tell you without hesitation, "He just played note 6".

The point is that we don't even need to think consciously about the tonal numbers because we can HEAR them. Every sound you have ever heard is one of those tonal numbers. So just as soon as you truly clarify for yourself which sound is which, you no longer need to "count" anything because the sounds themselves become synonymous with their tonal numbers.

Sing the Numbers 1: The IFR Tonal MapRight now, singing the tonal numbers out loud is an excellent practice for you because this is how you will build that connection for yourself. Don't think of it as a crutch. Think of it as a powerful discipline that actually accelerates your learning. Whenever you are trying to learn something, repeating it to yourself is never a crutch. No matter how many times you repeat it to yourself, it always helps. It always helps to drive that knowledge even deeper into your mind. Our audio course Sing the Numbers will help you do this.

Don't worry at all about your singing practice becoming a crutch. The truth is just the opposite. Every time you sing the tonal numbers out loud you are improving both your ear and your understanding of our musical system. The more energy you put into this singing practice, the faster you'll grow as an improviser.

Thanks for a great question and for putting so much energy and sincerity into your music practice.