Ear Training for Musical Creativity: Where to go next?

After completing the workshop Ear Training for Musical Creativity, you have two great paths available to you:

Path 1: Expand your melodic repertoire. Expand your palette of sounds to include the other harmonic environments of the major scale. We do this work in the following two courses:

IFR Jam Tracks Level 1: Seven Worlds
Sing the Numbers 2: Seven Worlds

Path 2: Move on to recognizing chords! Advance to the next level of my ear training course and learn to recognize the four most important chords of western harmony in the music all around you. We do this work in the following course:

Recognizing Chords by Ear

What follows is a more detailed description of each of these paths.

Expanding your melodic repertoire

If you are especially passionate about improvising, the ideal next step for you is to apply the skills you learned in this course to the other harmonic environments of the major scale. As mentioned above, we do this work in IFR Jam Tracks Level 1: Seven Worlds and Sing the Numbers 2: Seven Worlds.

To accelerate your ability to understand songs by ear, you can start by giving special priority to the 6th harmonic environment. Western popular music is based almost entirely on just two tonal centers: note 1 and note 6. When note 1 is the tonal center, most people call this a "major key". When note 6 is the tonal center, most people would say that the song is in a "minor key". But they're really the same seven notes the whole time. All that changes is where we feel the tonal center.

What we mastered together in Ear Training for Musical Creativity are the sounds of the major scale when we're feeling note 1 as the tonal center. This is by far the most important set of sounds in all western music, and it gives you the foundation you need for learning everything else. We learned to picture these sounds in any key as the following drawing:

1st harmonic environment

The next step is to apply everything you learned in this course to the context of minor keys. And remember that what most people call a "minor key" is not actually a different scale at all. It's just the same seven notes that we've been studying, but now we will be feeling note 6 as the tonal center. In IFR, we call this the "6th harmonic environment", and this is the very next set of sounds that you should master in your ear training practice:

6th harmonic environment

Note: If you look closely at the two drawings above, you can confirm for yourself that they are just two different visions of the same scale. Notice that the intervals between the notes don't change. For example, in both drawings there is a whole step between notes 1 and 2, another whole step between notes 2 and 3, but then just a half step between notes 3 and 4, etc. We're just changing our point of view so that it's easier to appreciate note 6 as our tonal center.

To look at an example in a particular key, here are the notes of the G major scale in the way we normally think about it, with note 1 at the beginning and end of the scale:

G, A, B, C, D, E, F#, G

And here is a shifted vision of the same scale that gives you a better view of the 6th harmonic environment:

E, F#, G, A, B, C, D, E

To study the 6th harmonic environment you can apply all the same exercises and methodology we have used in this course. For example, you know that you should start with a small set of sounds and add new sounds gradually. And each step of the way, we want to explore the sounds in many different ways to achieve a total immersion in these new sounds. Here's an idea of how to organize them:

Notes 6, 7, 1

Notes 6, 7, 1, 2

Notes 6, 7, 1, 2, 3

The minor triad 6, 1, 3

Adding note 4 to the triad: 6, 1, 3, 4

Notes 6, 7, 1, 2, 3, 4

Crossing the octave line: 5, 6, 7, 1 and 5, 6, 7, 1, 2, 3

Approaching note 6 from below: 3, 4, 5, 6 (the 3 to 6 movement is like the 5 to 1 in major)

Converging to note 6 from above and below

Studying the 6th harmonic environment in one octave: 6, 7, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Studying the chord notes across all your musical range: 6, 1, 3, 5, 6

Studying the pentatonic palette across all your musical range: 6, 1, 2, 3, 5, 6

Spend some time studying each set of sounds in a holistic and immersive way, using all the tools you have learned in this course:

1) Sing the Numbers

In Sing the Numbers 2: Seven Worlds, you will find three tracks dedicated to exploring each harmonic environment in three important ways. For example, here are the tracks dedicated to the 6th harmonic environment:

Track 16: This is a slow and meditative track that gives you time to listen carefully to each sound and feel it when you sing.
Track 17: In this track we only use the notes of the 6 chord (6, 1, 3, 5), over a bouncy and groovy track.
Track 18: This tracks uses song-like melodies highlighting all of the notes of the 6th harmonic environment.

The Sing the Numbers tracks will help you get oriented and used to feeling note 6 as a tonal center, and they will also help you discover many beautiful melodies in this new environment.

2) Creative Exploration

Our creative exploration of the sounds is one of the most important activities for ear training. You are the one exploring the sounds at your own pace, creating your own melodies and making beautiful music with the sounds you are studying.

Remember all of the variants of this activity that we practiced together:

- Sing the numbers and play at the same time.

- Hum and play at the same time.

- Follow your voice: hum a melody and then play it on your instrument.

- Improvise freely with your instrument as you imagine the numbers silently in your mind.

IFR students use IFR Jam Tracks Level 1: Seven Worlds for all of this creative exploration.

3) Acapella

Remember to spend some time singing the numbers acapella. This allows you to practice your ability to recall these sounds from your memory. Remember that this is one of our more challenging activities! So start slowly and carefully, and always check yourself with your instrument to make sure that you are singing the numbers with their correct pitches.

Note: You can even use the drone tracks from this course for your acapella practice in the 6th harmonic environment! All of the drone tracks are made from just one single note. This allows you to repurpose these tracks to study any harmonic environment you like. To practice singing acapella in the 6th harmonic environment over the drone tracks, all you have to do is imagine the drone note to be your note 6.

4) Feel the Numbers

If you really want to challenge yourself, a great exercise is to create your own Feel the Numbers tracks. All you have to do is record yourself playing short phrases in the 6th harmonic environment on your instrument. After each phrase you play, remember to leave an equal amount of silence. Later when you listen to these recordings, you can try to sing the numbers after each phrase you played on the recording.

5) Analyze songs

I have put together a playlist of many songs that are based in the 6th harmonic environment. Even before trying to recognize the tonal numbers, I encourage you to just spend a lot of time listening to these songs so that you can learn to recognize the particular sound of the 6th harmonic environment. Right now, the most important thing is just clarifying the different between major (where note 1 is the tonal center) and minor (where note 6 is the tonal center). So as you listen to the songs on this list, notice what they all have in common. And notice how the overall sound of these songs is different from the sound of all the songs we analyzed together in Ear Training for Musical Creativity. This is the difference between major and minor, or between what we call the 1st and 6th harmonic environments of the major scale.

Playlist on Spotify:

Once you've had a chance to advance with some of the other activities that I propose on this page, you can begin trying to recognize the tonal numbers of the melodies to these songs. Whenever you figure out the complete melody to a song, I encourage you to add your favorite ones to your own personal book of songs. Remember that just singing these melodies in tonal numbers every day and playing them on our instrument is a wonderful practice that greatly accelerates our ear training and our understanding of music in general.

Explore the other harmonic environments in the same way

With IFR Jam Tracks Level 1: Seven Worlds and Sing the Numbers 2: Seven Worlds, you can explore all seven harmonic environments of the major scale in the same way. For ear training purposes, the most important harmonic environments to master are the 1st and the 6th. But each harmonic environment contains many important musical lessons to teach you, and I encourage you to spend lots of time exploring all of these beautiful sounds.

Learning to recognize chords by ear

The other direction that you can take your ear training practice is to begin learning to recognize chords and chord progressions by ear. This is a tremendous skill for any improviser and it's also great for people who just want to be able to play songs with friends. And the deep, "hands on" learning that you'll do in our next course Recognizing Chords by Ear will even allow you to begin composing your own songs and chord progressions!

This course is now available as a SELF-STUDY VIDEO COURSE. It includes all of the same kinds of activities you enjoyed in Ear Training for Musical Creativity, but now our focus will be on the chords. To see everything included in this video course, please CLICK HERE.