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Author Topic: How do you listen for chords?  (Read 433 times)
ranjit
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« on: September 05, 2017, 03:23:54 PM »

How do you develop a "sense" of chords? I can comfortably transcribe a melody and be absolutely sure I am correct. However, when I try to transcribe the chords, I am always left with a sense of doubt. In particular, I do not have an idea of how to listen for any chords other than typical major/minor chords, which I am only able to get correct with 60-70% accuracy.

Does everyone struggle with this, or is it just me? How do you go about learning to recognize chords, and how do you make sure?
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visitor
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« Reply #1 on: September 05, 2017, 04:11:04 PM »

like most things (w exception to those w perfect pitch), it takes practice, it's a skill, very similar to how  interpretation and learning theory, math, etc takes practice problems. I learned in music school as a required partner course to the 5 semester theory sequence, we had to take a semester of ear training and aural skills as well (sight singing, transcription of melody, chord singing and identifying etc.).
best way would be to look into a local college or academy with a music program/theory and see about enrolling or auditing the first course in their sequence, it was tough for me but classroom and lab work with a good instructor and lots of 'my own time' practice was the only way i got some traction on it
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dcstudio
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« Reply #2 on: September 05, 2017, 10:51:54 PM »

Start by listening for major or minor. If it sounds like the Hallelujah chorus it's major....if you can hum the Funeral March it's minor.  You are having trouble listening to two or more pitches played together so study harmonic intervals.  Learn to recognize a M3 from m3. Keep trying even when it feels hopeless.  Listen listen listen...and one day like magic your ears will suddenly turn "on" and you will be able to hear.  That's the way it happens but you have to work at it a while first.
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indianajo
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« Reply #3 on: September 06, 2017, 12:05:05 PM »

I found working through the book "Teach Yourself to Play Guitar" very useful to hear chords.
It turns out I am terrible at playing guitar, because I can't grow calluses.  But the experience did wonders for my ability to recognize chords. 
I had chord theory are a child, but it was about writing down the notes when given the name.  Not about hearing them.
I suppose equivalent help in hearing chords could proceed from playing pop music from lead sheets.  Those are also totally about chords.  I'm doing that some now too, in my sixth decade.  Fortunately some of those books have showed up at Salvation Army resale for $2-8, as they are very expensive to buy new. 
I'm still not amazing at augmented or diminished variants.  But my left fingers are starting to curl to the proper fourth fifth  sixth or dim seventh when I hear music on the radio, with better than the 8% accuracy I used to have.  Before I had never shown any sign of accurate fixed pitch sense, either, only relative. 
Practice makes perfect. 
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keypeg
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« Reply #4 on: September 06, 2017, 04:01:22 PM »

When I first started studying with my teacher, there were things I could hear and things I could not hear.  What I could hear also was shaped by the context of my own playing, singing, and listening history for a lifetime.  This is normal for everyone.

Some things to consider is that we can hear things in different contexts, and we can learn to expand those contexts.  For example, I readily recognize V7-I, but my hearing was so "functional" and "intervalic" that in a way, G7-C, F7-Bb, B7-E, in a sense they were all "the same" - that is, my ear was attuned to quality and cadence, but not to specific pitch.  Also, my ear was attuned to intervals more than chords, and melodically more harmonically (horizontal vs. vertical).  Thus initially I might mistake Bdim for Bm because my ear hard the m3 but not the jarring tritone.

For hearing intervals themselves, I like the teaching idea of starting with large contrast first, for persons whose ear is not developed at all yet. m2 and M7 contrasts greatly with P5, M3, P4.  One may hear "ugly-grating" versus "smooth-pretty" before distinguishing individual intervals (again, played together harmonically).  Yet theory tends to start with P5, P4, M3 and m3, which is like distinguishing orange vs. pink vs. red, rather than blue vs. red.

My experience with chords is similar to yours, maybe.  I could distinguish major and minor chords easily.  The "dom7" was also rather instant as sound -- not sure if that still holds true in inversions.  For augmented and dim7, my first breakthrough was to hear them both as "uneasy, strange, other" and decided to be satisfied with that as a first step.  After a while, they were different from each other and this was a personal sensation --- possibly I hear dim7 as gentle-unsettled, and aug as blaring-unsettled.

I'm starting to learn to hear some other things.  For example, BDFA is a "half diminished" chord or Bm7 with the 5 lowered making it (Bm7b5) as alternate name, but with D as the lowest note (DFAB) is it an inverted half diminished, or might it be heard as a "6 chord" (Dm6) because (some people's ears) my have the Dm sound jump out at them.  The more important thing seems to have been to just keep experimenting, and listening from all kinds of angles.
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anamnesis
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« Reply #5 on: September 07, 2017, 10:55:43 PM »

It's unnecessary to listen to chords as an organizing musical structure (as opposed to an emergent one).

See here:

https://komponisto.tumblr.com/post/161158195614/four-measures-of-ravel-a-detailed-derivation

It can be useful to hear"harmonies", but you shouldn't conflate the literal object of chords with harmonies. 

Harmonies are a more "spiritual" concept, they are areas with defined time-spans, that allow us to make scale degree assignments.  Sometimes the useful time span that defines that area is the same as the literal chord, but oftentimes not.  The effects of tones often last longer than the literal duration on the score. 

Musical content isn't really created in chords or their progressions, but in lines.  Generalized, it involves how  an audiated consonant interval (which can be prolonged over a time span or only implied) is "filled in" with dissonant passing pitches as you move from one of the stable pitches that defined that consonance to the next.  (Mi->Re->Do being the simplest example.).  What's interesting is in how layered and recursive this process can be as you abstract this concept.   

Even color tones for some vertical sororities are better defined by their implied (and non-fulfilled) linear progressions and the short time-span they have a particular effect.  (Because sometimes in fact, they DO go somewhere, and it's useful to distinguish that from when they don't.)


 


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Bob
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« Reply #6 on: September 08, 2017, 05:55:19 AM »

Listen for the bass notes.  I think that can help.  Sometimes they're more difficult to hear depending on the instrument.

The brain can also be trained though for taking in information.  If you listen for the bass, it will hear the bass more.

Also listen for middle frequency instruments, same idea.


That's not for identifying chords (although it doesn't hurt).  It will help you hear the chords though.  If you want to identify chords better (and it helps to hear them) practice ear training, listening and identifying / seeing written music and hearing the sounds in your mind.

You could check notes on a keyboard, although that can sound crappy when tuning doesn't match.  If you've got the printed music, that can help to mentally figure out what the chord is and to hear it.  Although sometimes you can understand what the chord is/should be/what the composer probably meant for a chord (if they thought in terms of chords), but in reality the music might not quite sound like that chord you see on the paper.
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ted
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« Reply #7 on: September 08, 2017, 09:25:05 AM »

Some people use computer applications such as Earmaster to good effect for chord recognition; something like that might be worth a try. I tried it for a few months and certainly recognised a few more sounds, but it didn't help my improvisation at all. I find that I can usually tell isolated chord types, even reasonably complicated ones, provided the voicing is not really bizarre and doesn't use extremes of the keyboard. The trouble is that, as other posters have said, piano sound  of any worthwhile complexity is certain to involve much more than a sequence of chord types, which is a pretty crude characterisation of music at the best of times.

I knew two players who took aural recognition to extremes. One was my teacher, who could immediately repeat anything he heard of reasonable duration, a bit more slowly of course, but with uncanny accuracy. The other was a retired American jazz pianist whose music was utterly dominated by chords and chord recognition. He kept large notebooks containing hundreds upon hundreds of chords and "changes". I was awed by both these people for some years, professional musicians, whose aural faculty must have been of the greatest assistance to them in their work. However, I came to realise that they actually created a good deal less in quantity and interest  than I could with my modest ear.

It's a bit like having a massive technique, I suppose, worth working on up to a certain point but a long way short of the whole story.
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ranjit
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« Reply #8 on: September 08, 2017, 02:51:01 PM »

When I checked, I realized that I was not as good at recognizing major and minor chords as I thought I was. I had always inferred them from context (relative to a particular scale, and diatonic harmony?). When I tried to identify them individually, I didn't fare as well.

Also, I wasn't specifically referring to transcribing piano pieces. I was only referring to identifying harmonies "accurately".

I've been seriously trying to transcribe music since about two years. Now I can[\i] hear the harmony up to an extent, but not nearly to a satisfactory level. Also, I can figure out pretty much any melody almost immediately on the keyboard (unless it has really fast arpeggios and such), so, to me, my ability to hear the harmony seems way below par.

I have mostly been trying to transcribe pop songs and film scores, for the record.
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anamnesis
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« Reply #9 on: September 08, 2017, 05:27:25 PM »

When I checked, I realized that I was not as good at recognizing major and minor chords as I thought I was. I had always inferred them from context (relative to a particular scale, and diatonic harmony?). When I tried to identify them individually, I didn't fare as well.

Also, I wasn't specifically referring to transcribing piano pieces. I was only referring to identifying harmonies "accurately".

I've been seriously trying to transcribe music since about two years. Now I can[\i] hear the harmony up to an extent, but not nearly to a satisfactory level. Also, I can figure out pretty much any melody almost immediately on the keyboard (unless it has really fast arpeggios and such), so, to me, my ability to hear the harmony seems way below par.

I have mostly been trying to transcribe pop songs and film scores, for the record.

True harmonies (stufen) are better defined by how their particular intervallic spaces are filled in (which implies a linear, horizontal relationship) meaning you can actually use your melodic hearing to figure them out.  

This implies that you actually have to take intervals and the study of counterpoint seriously as a starting point aurally.  In fact, the study of a single line (and how you abstract that to longer time spans and over multiple registers) usually doesn't get enough attention.  

The common starting point of 4 part-textures (meaning at least 4 distinct lines) is actually absurd, when you haven't even fully comprehended the effects of vertical sonorities with only two lines.  

See here:

https://web.archive.org/web/20120207014337/http://www.artsci.wustl.edu/~rsnarren/221/ModulationText.pdf

https://web.archive.org/web/20110607131614/http://www.artsci.wustl.edu/~rsnarren/texts/HarmonyText.pdf

https://web.archive.org/web/20120207014400/http://www.artsci.wustl.edu/~rsnarren/221/SpeciesText.pdf

Snarrenberg's text (you can rent on Amazon kindle until it's paid out), Schenker's Interpretive Practice is also incredibly useful.  

You shouldn't rely on a keyboard to transcribe melodies other than as a starting or reference pitch.  This prevents you from learning to organize and visualize your hearing using staff space.    
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Bob
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« Reply #10 on: September 10, 2017, 10:02:48 AM »

I suppose you could listen for overall function "color" (progression) too.  In that sense there are only about three chords -- tonic, predominant, dominant... and then everything else that's not really going anywhere.
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