Newburgh Ear Academy
Ear Exercises

North Fife

Nae dots:

Metal Flute


A 'tone' played on the piano A major 3rd played on the piano

Often people are frightened of being exposed as someone who can’t play by ear. Someone who's 'Tone Deaf '. This irrational fear is the biggest hurdle for most people.

A Tone (far left) & a major 3rd

An Octave played on the piano

One of the first ‘ear exercise’ you will encounter is that you will be played 2 notes (intervals). One will be very high & the other very low. The 2 notes at the far ends of a piano are often used. You will be told which is the lowest & which is the highest. A few more ‘pairs’ of notes will be played in a similar vane.

Then you’ll be asked to identify the highest of a pair of notes. Either the first one or the second to be played. Most people will manage this without difficulty. If you can’t tell at the start, you should be able to in due course.

Right: An Octave

If you can tell the difference, the notes will get progressively closer until we’re down to Octaves (which can be surprisingly difficult at first) 5ths, 4ths, 3rds, & then ‘tones’. If you can still identify the lower from the higher, you’re doing Very Well. Pairs of notes like this are called ‘intervals'.
A 'semi-tone' played on the piano

Finally we’ll go down to semi-tones – the closest there is.

a Semi-tone

a 5th

A 5th played on the piano

You’ll probably find you don’t reach semi-tones, or even Octaves, on the first time of trying. This simply means you have identified the level you ear is currently at. You Will improve as the workshop continues.As you are finding your level, scales can help you & will be played as well as the 2 note ‘interval’. If you are finding difficulty identifying a 5th, for example, hearing the 5 note scale from one to the other can help you identify if it’s going up, or down. It will certainly help for the often tricky ‘Octave’.

Blue Mandolin: folk workshops, Newburgh
So is that a ‘D’ then? It’s common for readers to ask what the names of notes are they are hearing. If you really need to know, you’ll be told, & it may just get you started. Try to resist this though. If you need to know the name of a note in order to play it, you haven’t yet developed the skills of reproducing what you hear by ear - or you haven't really been listening. It may help you in the short term, but eventually it’ll hold you back. The earlier you can resist, the better.
Moody trombone A better question to ask – is ‘is it this note?’ - & play the note you think it is. The chances are you’ll be able to answer the question yourself. Don't let this thought stop you asking though.
Others will be thinking the very same & it'll make finding the answer a collective activity.

I firmly believe that everyone is capable of being able to play by ear. Everyone has different ways of learning & listening. Many psychological barriers to really listening have been put in the heads of many people for many reasons. Removing these barriers methodically isthe way to get an individual to succeed. Often progress is dramatic.

There will be people of different levels at the class. Where you fall in doesn’t really matter. If there are people more advanced than you at the class, you’ll benefit as one always learns better when around people who are a wee bit better than you.

There are free programs & web-sites out there which test you ear. Have a go before you come. Just search for “musical interval tutor” is one.

Fish eye view of acoustic guitar: tuition in North East Fife
Sheet music

Sheet music - BEWARE ...don’t get addicted. It’s a slippery slope.

The 'Dots' do have their place. It is used occasionally at the Academy to demonstrate rhythm, chord structures etc. It may be given out as an aide-memoir to get you started if you forget – particularly a folk tune. A knowledge of sheet music is a helpful tool. You may jot down dots if that really helps you.

Sheet music It should, however, be treated with caution & should not be relied upon.
Fiddle close up: Fiddle workshops, Fife

Alcohol is a great drug. But when you can't function without it, it can lead to mindlessness & ruin. Think of sheet music the same way! Learn never to rely on it. Listening soberly is the route to the Holy Grail. Not being able, or interested in reading is the surest way to develop your ear to it’s best.

The Dots, draw the brain away from the main task of the Academy – training you to listen, understand & reproduce what you hear. Sheet music can rob you of those skills. Don't rely on it.

Keys – learn the piano in Newburgh, North East Fife The Piano is particularly challenging to teach without the use of the ‘dots’ but ain’t impossible. It’s the one area where it will often rear it’s ugly stave. However, bringing a recording device to your workshop to record the tunes is the ideal way to complement the Ear based approach.

Weavers Hall, Bank Close, Newburgh, Fife
KY14 6EG

email: james

mobile: 07970 744986
landline:01337 842434

Dave J Ford peering through  ice sculpture