Popular Music Key Center Sense
Popular Music Key Center Sense
Q: I understand that you feel the traditional interval-based ear training to be impractical. I’ve never done any extensive ear training before. After trying your method for about a month, I noticed that it actually worked, but only in a very specific, limited way. When I listen to a piece of music, first I need to hear the key. Naturally, I don’t need to identify what key it is, but I need to get a sense of the key, whatever it is. Based on your ear training, until I get a sense of the key, I cannot identify anything. The problem with this is that much of modern music (pop, jazz, dance, electronic, rap, etc..) has very vague use of key. Even with very straightforward pop songs, many of them don’t seem to establish any key until the chorus section. Some songs don’t at all for the entire song. Some songs are modal and get very confusing as to how to interpret the key. The keys for many pieces of music are a matter of interpretation. When I cannot establish a key in my mind, I find that I can’t use what I’ve learned in your ear training. Many times my Popular Music Key Center Sense is just not there. It only seems to work with old classical music like Bach, or very elementary pop music like Britney Spears. Just thought I’d tell you how I feel, in case there is something I’m missing here.
A: Thanks for contacting me and making such excellent observations. First let me say that your progress is terrific for only working with one of the Ear Training One Note books for a month. It’s great to see you applying your ear training to “real” music. First let me discuss some general topics so you can understand my overall beliefs concerning ear training.
I don’t believe there is such a thing as “Atonal” music. All sound has a pitch and as sound groups together it forms a key. If your ears are good enough you will be able to distinguish this key center. Of course you will need a reference pitch which people usually get from the instrument they are playing. I should point out that many times in supposed “atonal” music the key centers are changing very quickly. These quickly changing keys require you to learn how to modulate which is what the Ear Training: Two Note Series starts to teach you. Anton Webern one of the fathers of this supposed “atonal” music explains in the book THE PATH TO THE NEW MUSIC (Bryn Mawr, Pa., T. Presser Co. [c1975]) that he doesn’t believe that there is such a thing as “atonal” music. His reasoning falls along the same lines as mine. Arnold Schoenberg has also been quoted as believing that no music is “atonal” and hated the reference of “atonal” to his music and others. Both these composers felt that you could hear the key centers moving in highly chromatic music or even music created using 12 tone rows. I should interject at this point that getting to the point where you hear for example Schoenberg’s Funf Klavierstucke (Five Piano Pieces Opus 23) in a key or quickly moving keys will not happen in a month of ear training. It will happen though, after years of working with this method. I’ve got a group called Spooky Actions and we recorded Schoenberg’s Funf Klavierstucke and I can confess that you need to really listen to that type of music for quite some time before all the key centers are easy to hear. But that was essential for me because we were also improvising over this music.
Your statement “The problem with this (the ear training method) is that much of the modern music (pop, jazz, dance, electronic, rap, etc..) has very vague use of key.” I do agree that many styles of contemporary music have a vague sense of key when you compare it with Mozart. But, you will find that this ear training method over time will help you develop better skills in hearing keys in this type of music. Let’s examine how you should proceed to reach this ability
There are two sides to practicing this ear training method. One is listening to the CDs the other is doing singing exercises. For the listening you should progress through the books in the following sequence:
- 1. Ear Training One Note Complete
- 2. Key Note Recognition. Doing the four levels of this course will really help to develop a Popular Music Key Center Sense because it uses different types of “one” chords.
- 3. Fanatic’s Guide to Ear Training and Sight Singing Volume Two. Doing this course will also help to develop a Popular Music Key Center Sense because it has you sing over various types of key centers like Dominant, Minor 7b5 etc…
- 4. The Two Note Ear Training.
Note: After the Two Note Ear Training you need to move to:
- 1. Ear Training Three Note Series
- Ear Training Four Note Series
For Singing I recommend starting with The Fanatic’s Guide to Ear Training and Sight Singing You would then continue with:
- 1. Lines: Sight Singing and Sight Reading Exercises this give you a more linear application of your Popular Music Key Center Sense.
- 2. At this point I would recommend specific studies out of other books, like Key Retention Builder or Single String Studies Volumes One and Single String Studies for Guitar Volume Two.
- 3. Singing along with chord progression and melodies from modern repertory pieces like jazz standards, pop, jazz, dance, electronic, rap, etc..)
- 4. But most importantly to develop your Popular Music Key Center Sense I think you need to get started with the Scale Analysis book. First this develop your understanding of how chord and scales relate and second singing the scales all in one key will transform your understanding of chord/scale relationships.
- 5. You should also consider starting the “Hearing Chord Progressions” course but I would do that after the Scale Analysis Course.
Also there is the direct application of your developing ear training skills. Here is an excerpt from My Blog on Ear Training from brucearnold.com.
Once you are getting around 50% correct answers with the Ear Training One Note Complete method it’s time to diversify your listening repertoire. This will help you as you will be hearing the ear training in another context. I would first get the Direct Application Ear Training Volume One. This will give you the same “one note” ear training exercise but with real music as the background, not a simple cadence. It will also give you crucial information about how key centers are formed and help you bridge the gap between exercise and real music. I would also start working with the Instrumental Color Series which is exactly the same as the Ear Training One Note Complete exercises except now the note to identify is played by another instrument, giving you different timbres to work with. With the addition of these other exercises I would break up your listening each day. If you are doing 5X a day for 5 minutes, try to use a different exercise for each of the 5 minute intervals. Along with widening your “context” it is way more engaging –I might even say it’s fun! Also keep in mind that the Direct Application Ear Training can be used with your instrument and the tracks are in all 12 keys. You can improvise along with the tracks as you are doing ear training. This adds more time with ear training each day and again now expands the “context” to you playing your instrument and doing ear training at the same time. That step is as important as it gets. There is also an additional companion CD available for the Direct Application Ear Training Book.” Direct Application CD Volume One Major will give you a further 10 tracks to work with in all styles from bluegrass to orchestral pieces, again expanding your “context.” You could also expand into the 2 Note Melodic Ear Training at this point if you are also getting over 50% correct with all notes with the Contextual Ear Training exercise. I’d stick to the Beginning Level of the 2 note series so that you still have a firm key center given and the melodic notes are not playing too fast.
Once you are getting around 80% with the Contextual Ear Training you can move on to the second singing book Fanatic’s Guide to Ear Training and Sight Singing. You could also add in Secondary Dominants. This book shows you how to hear chord progressions in one key center which is key to understanding how you should think and hear music when you are playing. I can’t over emphasis the importance of this book. It’s also a great way to apply the the melodic minor ascending scales so commonly used in contemporary improvisation.
Of course I haven’t even mentioned Rhythm Ear Training which is just as important as ear training for notes. But overall this should give you a general idea of the progression through this ear training method. Obviously you will need to interact with me so that I can lead you through all of this. But in general, I would follow the path I set out for you above. Of course if you have any questions please contact me. The worst thing you can do is work on any of this ear training the wrong way. I feel I have explained it pretty well in the books but if you’re not sure please check with me first.
I should also mention that you could use your method of just transcribing melodies using only the interval relationship, but my objections to this method are as follows.
- 1. This method obviously divorces you from what key these pitches are functioning in. It’s a bit like “follow the dots.” You may end up with an outline that looks like something, but there will not be any sense of the underlying form that holds it all together and gives it shape. When I store melodies in my memory, I store them as they relate to the key, not as how the individual notes relate to each other.
- 2. After working with intervals, most students have extreme difficulty developing the proper technique when doing the Ear Training Two Note (+) method.
- 3. In the improvisational/interactive setting of a band, if someone is playing constant sixteenth notes at quarter note equals 80. You are far better off knowing the key that these notes are functioning in than knowing the actual pitches. If you can hear the key you can interact in a creative way with the other musicians.
- 4. As you develop through the ear training method presented in my books you will find that your ability to transcribe anything will improve exponentially. Give it a chance and you will see.
- 5. Popular Music Key Center Sense will improve as you apply the fundamental ideas presented here to real musical situations.
Hope this helps you understand the method better.
It is also recommended that you read Bruce Arnold’s Blog at his artist site. It contains more discussion of the musical topics found in these FAQs as well as other subjects of interest. You will also find the “Music Education Genealogy Chart” located here which shows you the historic significance of the music education products found on the Muse Eek Publishing Company Website.
Popular Music Key Center Sense