Associating Pitches as Color with Guitar

Associating Pitches as Color with Guitar

Associating Pitches as Color with Guitar

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Associating Pitches as Color with Guitar

Q: me start by thanking you profoundly for revealing what seems to me a key pillar to establishing genuine musicianship. As you have pointed out many times, the methods you teach are anything but easy. I am really very sorry that my questions are so long. But I really hope you have the time to help me out…I am extremely dedicated, so your help would mean a great deal to me.

I am a 23 year old aspiring musician/guitarist. I have been practicing out of the Ear Training One Note Complete book for about 3 weeks now. I was wondering if it is allowed when trying to be associating pitches to visualize the fretboard and picture the placement of each note. Or should I try to learn the pitches as blindly as possible? I am asking because I have found that focusing on the fretboard placement of each note helps prevent any cheating and note resolving I might have as my mind is occupied on the fretboard. I don’t yet have the mental focus and discipline of a zen Buddhist monk to prevent me from occasionally cheating, but I think your course is somehow helping me get there :-) I have also been thinking that visualizing and associating pitches on the fretboard would also save me the time of having to eventually transfer my relative pitch to my fingers, if you know what I mean.

My next question regards a worry of mine. I suppose that the way I have to memorize the pitches is the same way one memorizes anything else, the brain is exposed to it and then naming (identification) follows, and hopefully over time, the names and the notes become one in the mind. I am worried that when I guess a note right after hearing it, my brain might be associating the guessed (and at this point probably incorrect) name with the note. I am worried that this might slow my progress. So I am wondering if there was some sort of mental trick you can suggest to minimize that from happening. I do understand the need of guessing instantly, but instead could I just not hear/mentally-place when I am suppose to give the answer, let it ring out, and get the correct answer from your voice and then try to be associating pitches with the name (by having the note mentally ring out over the name)? Should I perhaps be repeating every track at least twice? Or is there any other method I can do if this is in fact a legitimate concern? Here again, any abstract Zen mental suggestions that you might have would be greatly appreciated.

In order to get into the habit of guessing quickly and not allowing reflex cheating, can I be practicing and associating pitches with the intermediate/advanced CD’s as well? I have some bad habits developed by previous interval trainings, but thank God I only had started bad ear training several months prior to purchasing your book (it is amazing how damaging so little can be). I ask this because I am not yet at the point where I have 80% correct on the beginning CD.

My next question is about fixing the bad habits. I have interval tendencies with G, also with A – which, thanks to previous self interval training, gets me hearing the opening riff to a song which starts off 1 to m3 (so I shift keys, in this case the A is the 1 and C becomes the m3). I also sometimes get the classics: D back to the tonic, G# back to G, C# to tonic, A# to tonic, the opening riff to Purple Haze starts playing when F# is heard etc… So my question is as follows: With G for example, a note that instantly (and I do mean instantly) is identified by upward interval and resolution with the tonic, can I somehow break this habit by playing other melodies in the root of C that include G, and from there try to ‘hear’ the G? If I were to play different melodies and intervals each time, couldn’t this prevent me from associating G with one particular interval/melody, and in turn force me to simply hear G? Another way of putting my question is that if I hear G from as many ‘angles’ as possible, wouldn’t this force me to eventually just hear G? Couldn’t I also play C and G in unison (or in any C chord), and have that help me break my old habits? Of course my question applies to any of my cheating intervals.

My next question involves a dilemma of mine. I had requested David Lucas Burge’s Relative Pitch Ear Training Super Course for Christmas. Once the order was placed, I read a review of Burge’s course in where a customer recommended your approach over his, but oddly enough, out of all the reasons he used to advocate your book, he did not talk about the interval vs. contextual differences of the two approaches. As a matter of fact, he said that studying Burge’s CD’s along with yours was a wining formula for him. So I bought your book and I began studying Burge’s Cd’s along with yours. I had begun singing the fifth intervals taught in his course, and after further understanding of your approach, I realized the damage that it had instantly caused me. But from the reviewer’s comments, I am wondering if his course can in fact be done with yours (I don’t know how familiar you are with his course). Here is the dilemma, I cannot return the Burge course (over $300). I have ordered a Fanatic’s Guide to Ear Training and Sight Singing and Key Note Recognition from, which will only get to me in mid March since I am in Toronto (and the whole of Toronto does not seem to have a copy of either books!). Should I:

  • a) be doing your course in tandem with Burge’s?
  • b) master your courses first and ONLY then perhaps do Burge’s?
  • c) forget about his course and only do yours?

Of course, both a and b would make me feel better about the money spent, but I have a feeling you are going to recommend c ;-)

I have no time constraints for practicing your exercises, and am incredibly motivated towards achieving some progress. I was wondering if listening to the CD’s for countless hours with small breaks would increase my progress, or is there a cap to how much can be done before the listening becomes a waste of time? How much can a typical person’s short-term memory hold? Should I be taking more frequent breaks when listening to the intermediate/advanced CD’s? Should I be listening and thinking of it as little as possible during the breaks in order to ‘digest’ what is in my short term memory?

I was also wondering if trying to learn songs/riffs by ear on my guitar would help with this ear training. I have a feeling that this is how musicians like Jimi Hendrix got good relative pitch. Any thoughts as to how the great get relative pitch? I know Miles for instance used a piano along with his horn (but I don’t know exactly what he did).

And my final request is this. I am dedicating all my time now to music, and I want to get improvements (especially, associating pitches) ASAP. I would really like to begin exercises from Fanatic’s Guide to Ear Training and Sight Singing. I have been doing some of the exercises given in the member’s area with my vocals over guitar, but I would really like to make sure I am doing everything right. Is there any other information that I need for these exercises that are exclusive to the book?

Anyway, thanks for reading through my book of questions, hope you have the time to answer them. Thanks again for your work. I really think you have provided me with a fundamental key to becoming the musician I have dreamed of being!

AThanks for contacting me and thanks for the kind words. You could visualize and associating pitches on the fretboard but honestly I have a feeling that there is another problem here and that is that your music theory relationships are not strong in your mind and on the guitar fretboard. I think you need to work through the Music Theory Workbook for Guitar Volume One & Music Theory Workbook for Guitar Volumes Two so you strengthen these relationships. This will help you with your guitar playing and with your ear training. The main reason I recommend answering quickly is that it stops you from cheating. If you answer quickly you don’t have time to resolve a note or sing up a scale in your mind. I understand your concern about programming the wrong answer into your mind but I don’t feel that is the case because you do hear the correct answer after you guess. You could think about each note longer if you make sure you are not doing any of the crutches people use to identify notes. If you want to try faster answering you certainly can use the intermediate and advanced CD before you are done with the beginning.

I’m sure you are aware that using the many resolution tendencies that you speak of can really mess you up. Notes don’t always resolve the way you might think. People who rely on these resolution tendencies tend to only be able to recognize notes if they are part of their memorized resolution. I think you are on the right track for fixing your resolution tendencies. I recommend you use the singing examples in Fanatic’s Guide to Ear Training and Sight Singing and Ear Training One Note Complete to help fix your problem. I would definitely recommend you not work on the Burge course in conjunction with my ear training. I think it will really mess you up because it is based on intervals and not the associating pitches to a key center.

One thing about my ear training method is that it helps you understand your learning process and your short term memory capacity. For example, I would do experiments with doing the ear training for 5 minutes 10 times a day to 20 times a day for 5 minutes. See what difference this makes, if any. Let me give you a quick example from when I was doing one note ear training. I was pretty good with associating pitches in the key context after a year and half of hell but I couldn’t get Ab. I kept adding on time that I sung and listened to the ear training tape. I concentrated on singing as many exercises as I could with Ab. I kept adding on time and adding on time. Finally it ended up that I was practicing ear training 10 hours a day for two weeks. After the two weeks I got Ab. This is an extreme example but sometimes you have to take great efforts to overcome a particular weakness.

Overall I’d say you are doing well. You are thinking seriously about this and have the drive to fix your problems and improve. That’s the most important thing. At this point don’t try to come up with other methods to help yourself. Just apply all your concentration and effect into the singing and listening and follow the instructions I give in the books. You can start applying this ear training but first make sure you can do the one note ear training at 80% with the advanced CD. You don’t want to apply a method before you understand it because you will have a tendency to make even more mistakes in your perception.

On a final note you might get:

Eric Kandel won a Nobel Prize for his work with memory, he also did a Charlie Rose interview which is well worth getting a copy of via PBS (Channel 13 in the New York Area).

Best Regards,


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