Our first blog post looks to answer the two question. Firstly, for all those starting out down this musical road...
Why should you worry about training your ears to hear musical intervals, chords and scales?
Lend me your ears and I’ll tell you my story. I started playing guitar 18 years ago in Germany, but that story of hard labour and cold winters is for the memoirs. I took a few lessons and my teacher tried to teach me music theory and how it applies to the guitar. Sadly, for him, I already had a taste of playing Beatles songs (he liked German heavy metal which wasn’t quite my forte so we settled on the Beatles and Eric Clapton! I am certainly not that old but that is where our musical appreciation converged). Though I understood the theory, I was hooked on playing recognisable songs. I bought guitar tab books and with practice could soon play my favourite songs. It was challenging, fun and uplifting.
Fast forward all those years later and with the help of more books and the internet, I have improved technically and can now play a range of styles. Here comes the big ‘but’… when it comes to playing a solo, improvising or trying to play something I have just heard on the radio or in my head then it is simply embarrassing. It took me hours just to work out the ‘La La Land’ theme song (City of Stars)! Scratching around on the fretboard to find the right notes was nothing short of frustrating. And I still got it slightly wrong!
Scratching around on the fretboard to find the right notes was nothing short of frustrating. Click to tweet
What do we learn from this tale of horror and Oscar winning musicals? Basically, it doesn’t matter what instrument you play and how many years you have been playing, if you want to excel, really enjoy music and be creative, then you will want to actually hear the music you are listening to, including all the subtleties and complexities. You will then be able to:
If you want to excel, enjoy music and be creative, then you will want to actually hear the music. Click to tweet
So that is my answer to why ear training is important and the cornerstone of musical learning. However, that leads me to my next question...
Why had I, after playing guitar for so long, not been able to pick up the ability to recognise even the basics of intervals?
It suddenly hit me that learning from books and the internet had meant that I had almost completely bypassed the core skill of music – listening. I could not recognise melodies (or the intervals that make up those melodies) as at no point did I have to use my ears to really listen. From people I have talked to, who either were self-taught, had poor teaching or got bored with musical theory, I am not alone.
To work out what was missing, let’s take a look into the fantastical world of the brain for a second. I will try and keep it simple, mainly so not to embarrass myself. Amazingly, sound and music does not exist outside of your brain. Before we go down some dark rabbit hole filled with trees falling in woods, let me explain further. Your ear through various mechanisms converts vibrating air molecules of different frequencies into electrical impulses which excite fibres of the auditory nerve. Each nerve fibre carries a different frequency to the area of the brain called the auditory cortex. Here we enter the world of the brain and the firing of neurons. Neurons are the means by which data flows in your brain. Information is therefore encoded in your brain by the configuration of neurons. Different frequencies fire different neurons which then, using various brain centres, references them to previously stored configurations of neurons. The interpretation of music, including pitch, timbre, amplitude etc., is all linked to the constant referencing of the input stimuli to historical configuration of neurons.
It is a complex topic and, if people want, we will cover it more in depth in another blog post. Essentially if you want to get better at recognising musical intervals (relative difference in frequencies) then you have to build up the unique configuration of neurons to act as reference points. Like in forming any new habit this is usually achieved through repetition. Interestingly, Vibes is looking to help this process by creating more associations in your brain and therefore reducing the need for a high repetition learning.
To get better at recognising intervals, you have to build up the unique configuration of neurons. Click to tweet
Therefore, if, like me, you have learned from books without engaging your ears, then your brain has never had the chance to create the relevant configuration of neurons.
With a bit of understanding of how the brain works, you can hopefully see with dedication, you can gain the skill of ‘ear training’ and start on the road to be able to play that killer solo. Currently it requires study and hard work to allow your brain to recognise musical intervals, chords and scales. Our aim at Vibes is to reduce the time it takes you to learn and enhance the brain’s ability to process music. No tall order but we think it is possible.
I hope you enjoyed this first blog. If you have any comments then please let me know. Remember it's my first ever blog! Thanks