Music is much like a language. In language our first and probably most important step is the listening. In the first 8 months of a child’s life they hear all languages equally. By 8 months our ear/brain begins to filter focusing only on the sounds of the language/s we hear around us. Interestingly enough hearing a foreign language on a recording such as TV or audio will not help a baby to hear the sounds of that language. They will filter out those sounds as well. The child must hear the language from a real life person. Its almost as though the child must have an emotional connection and studies show that babies do not connect emotionally with two dimensional images or recorded sounds.
In music like language starting early will definitely give you an advantage but the fact is almost all of us listen to music from an early age so we therefore all have a musical ear. What is missing is the connection of what we hear to what our hands, feet and mouth produce. Training this connection is not as difficult as one may think. It is really just a matter of doing it. A good example of how we already have a train ear is as follows. If I were to ask you to sing what is called a tone above or from Doh to Reh (a major 2nd) your initial thought may be you need training. But if I ask you to sing ‘Hap-py birth-day’ you would be doing just that. Going from ‘-py’ to ‘birth’ is a major 2nd.
Another interesting fact is what is known as perfect pitch. The ability to hear a note and be able to name it’s pitch instantly. While you may not be able to say the note name instantly your brain is most likely already conditioned to recognise any note and its pitch instantly. When you hear a favourite or well known song in your head you will naturally hear that song in the correct key. Its when you try to sing it with an untrained voice that you lose the pitch or get lost so to speak. Practice hearing a song in your head and focus on just the first note then play it on your guitar and see if it matches. You will likely get it right every time. Try ‘Stairway to Heaven’ which starts on the A note (open 5th string) or Good Riddance which starts on a G (3rd fret 6th string).
You see your ear is already trained. You just need to connect it to your instrument and this is where a good teacher will help. A good teacher knows its all there and will help bring it into your awareness. If you want to practice and develop your ear right now there is a good free website called GOOD EARto get you started.
David Hart – Program Director
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