Q: I am making headway with the Ear Training One Note Complete and Fanatic's Guide to Ear Training and Sight Singing, but one puzzling thing keeps occurring with pre-hearing a scale degree (tension signature) and singing it over a key drone.......it takes time to hear it! I wonder how much time should be allowed from cadence hearing to forming the inner pitch and reproducing this pre-heard tone vocally. I am afraid that a lot of time only encourages cheating (ie. relating the tone being practiced to a better known one - my favorite cheating device), but too little time denies the proper building and forming of a long-term memory. What is your experience with this and is there a set time interval I should aim for to pre-hear notes?
I also took your advice and started Key Note Recognition. I am sorry to say that while the major keys have been learned fairly easily, the minor keys are a disaster. I simply do not have the immediate recognition I get with the majors. Is this usual?
Also, I wonder if you could clarify what exactly you mean when you talk about the problem of using "vocal tension" when singing the same scale degrees in each key.
A: While waiting too long to pre-hear a note does encourage counter-productive behavior I think a better way to approach this is memory reinforcement of the pitch you are trying to memorize. For example if you are trying to hear F# against a C tonal center, first create the key of C through a cadence or vamp and then try to hear F#. If you can't hear it play the F#. Now try again and see if you can hear the F# after you establish the key center again. You will find that you will be able to pre-hear the F# if you continue this for a number of repetitions.
Next try bouncing between a couple of notes. Work back and forth between let's say F# and G#. Always give the pitch if the student can't get it right away. Soon you will see they can remember two notes. Keep adding additional notes if possible. Usually a student's memory burns out after about 10 or 15 minutes of this, but if this can be done 2 to 3 times a day you will see that students will start to remember the notes and therefore be able to pre-hear them with no difficulty.
Hearing all 12 notes against a minor tonality will seem strange at the beginning. Overtime you will hear the distinctive characteristics of each note but this usually takes some time. An analogy to this would be if you have a red piece of paper with yellow lettering inside of it at first glance the yellow lettering can look like it's actually white. Only after close examination do you notice that the lettering is actually yellow. Contextualizing all 12 pitches against various types of tonalities is an important part of developing this ear training method. I think at the beginning it's best to stick to I IV V I or simple drones. After a student can do one note ear training with the simple method then it is time to introduce various vamps and cadences that create alternate tonal environments.
Vocal tension is when a students uses the tension of their vocal cords to find a pitch. Very common with singers but also a habit that other students almost subconsciously develop. One common indicator is when a student sings slightly out of tune but of course this can also be caused by lack of air support or just guessing at the pitch.