Q: I am a music theory professor in a small liberal arts college, and I am quite intrigued by your various methods of ear training. I have recently examined Ear Training One Note Complete Method and Fanatic's Guide to Ear Training and Sight Singing. Since this method is very unlike most methods used in colleges and universities, I was wondering if you had any thoughts on how this method best works in a classroom setting.
How, for instance, do you evaluate student progress? My ear training classes are lab sections of my theory classes, so I have many students with a wide range of abilities. It seems that your CDs would work wonderfully for individuals, but I'm trying to figure out how to give quizzes and tests fairly and still push the more advanced students. Any thoughts?
Also, does it make sense to supplement your books with any of the more traditional graduated solfège books (Ottman, Benjamin, etc.)? Do you work on rhythm exercises? What about harmonic and melodic dictation? Is is best for instance to focus solely on the one-note method and the "Fanatics Guide" first before tackling melodic and harmonic dictation or solfège?
I appreciate your thoughts.
A: Thanks for contacting me. As we both know it doesn't matter what ear training method you use, as a class setting by nature is dicey. There's always that student who is slow and possibly hasn't even thought about trying to "hear" music and on the other end you have a student who progresses at amazing speed. This is complicated by the usual coupling of Ear Training Exercises within a music theory course environment. So once again you have some students who are great with music theory and have little ear training skill and visa versa.
Given the aforementioned parameters I would say that my "contextual" ear training would work as well as a pure interval approach. Many of the same exercises that most teachers use in "interval" based ear training can also be used; you just need to establish a key center first. For instance using Ottman's book for sight singing or melodic dictation would be fine as long as you give a key center before you play the example. I don't think I would start week one with Ottman's book. I'd give the students 3 or 4 weeks of listening and working within the class with listen/answer quizzes using the method on the "One Note" CDs first. You could also use the Ottman book for assigning singing examples in major keys. Just make sure that they sing these examples over the CD that accompanies the Fanatic's Guide book so they have the key sounding at all times.
For the Ear Training One Note Complete CDs I'd recommend to the students that they use an MP3 player and listen between classes. If they actually do that you should find most of your class will be around 50% accuracy with the note identification within 3 to 4 weeks. If they are like most students they won't do this religiously so you'll probably end up with 20 to 30% correct answers. Students progress will of course be helped immensely if you also have them working out of the Fanatic's Guide to Ear Training and Sight Singing and have them doing the "one note" singing exercise from the Fanatic's Guide book at home. (Once again 4 to 5 times a day for 5 minutes).
For testing you can go around the class each meeting and have the students do the "One Note" Fanatic's Guide to Ear Training and Sight Singing exercise where they attempt to sing various pitches in various keys. If you have more advanced students you can have them sing harder notes like b6 or #4.
For evaluation of students I think the best method is always based on personal achievement rather than a set bar that everyone has to reach. This is not always possible in a school situation but I think any teacher would agree it's the correct way to judge progress. The best method of course would be if you have 3 sections of Music Theory/Ear Training and could divide them up based on music theory knowledge and ear training ability. Of course the way music departments are organized this isn't always possible.
Overall if both the students and you know that you are basing their grade on personal improvement everyone will immediately think that's fair and realize that they have to improve to get a good grade. There of course have to be guide lines and I would say a student should have one note ability after their first year of school. If not if should be made quite clear that they are falling behind and need to do summer school work at home or in a classroom to improve their skills.
I would quiz students the first week by playing them examples like the "One Note" CD and have the students write down what they think the note is. Do this every week or at least every other week. You could even have the students correct each other's answers during class to save you the time of doing the corrections (Of course you would want to look at the quiz to see how each student is doing).
There are many other exercises you could do using the Fanatic's Guide to Ear Training and Sight Singing book --or as students improve, use the LINES: Ear Training and Sight Singing book or once again have them do dictation based on Ottman or other texts. The important thing is to get them to hear "contextually." You will find that once students begin to "get" this method not only will their note recognition improve but their musicality will change dramatically. Once a student can recognize a sound instantly by hearing it (not unlike just seeing a color and instantly knowing what it is) their mind's ability to memorize, categorize and basically understand music goes to a much deeper level. Every great musician I've ever played with has this ability.