Ear Training Foundations

Today I was giving advice to a talented DJ/turntablist, who wanted to develop his knowledge of music and his ear, so that he could more quickly find samples that fit in with other instrumentalists creatively.  Cool idea.  Here’s the 2 quick points I taught him that should get him well on his way:

These are good first steps for anybody’s ear training actually!  They come from my experience as a professional bassist, in that bass players need to be experts at the basics, and have a sage-like knowing of what their role is and what it is for, to do their job well.  It then follows that, to learn the basics, it will be wise to follow these bass-ics experts when first getting started in ear training.

So, what are these two things?

  1. Learn to find the tonic or fundamental of any chord, or better yet, find the overall tonic in any phrase of music.  It will have a finished and more relaxed feeling.  Bass player’s primary job is to nail the tonic.  “Listen to the bass player” is wise advice that I got at one point.  
  2. A bass player’s secondary job is to simply support the chord tones, meaning primarily asking themselves “is this chord major or minor?”  This is designated by the “3rd of the chord” which is only 2 notes up from the tonic… not so far away to hear it by ear.  A major chord will have a “major” third which is two whole steps away from the tonic and will have a very distinct bright and happy feeling attached to it.  The “minor” third is only a step-and-a-half away from the tonic and has a very different, much darker, feeling.  One little ear trick that helps you find the third is: hear the 2nd quickly flipping up the scale (see video).

As a bonus I also talked about how important it is for you to learn to listen for how bass players connect chords with “walk-up’s” and “walk-downs.”

I hope this helps you!  Please feel free to leave comments and questions below!

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