Listen to music and know what you heard

Is what you hear in music the same as what I hear? It is much easier to test this than it is to test whether the same blue color looks exactly the same for both. A song is playing. It is a famous group. We both hear the same words and the same music. We may feel different about what we’re listening to, but we’re both listening to the same song, essentially. The words are the same and the music is the same no matter how many times we listen to the song. It is a recording and everything is set or fixed, unchanged.

If the singer’s articulation is good enough, we will hear the same identical words. We could both sing the same melodic line that we heard. In your language, you can write what you hear, but can you write the notes with the correct pitches, rhythms and duration of each note? Can you hear the embellishments and also the doubled tones? Would you know how to write all of that down on manuscript paper or in a music manuscript software program, like Encore?

You can listen to a song linearly in sequential time. Do you also look at the structure of the song? You have to take it in its entirety to discover the structure and form of the song. There are various forms of songs and not one right or wrong way to write a song.

Looking deeper into the song, we notice instruments that we can hear. What are they? For the sake of discussion, we can call a singer or singers instruments. Do we hear drums, a bass, a guitar, keyboards and/or other instruments? Guitars, keyboards, and basses can play linear lines (melody lines) or chords, although chords are generally played less often using a bass. Harmonic intervals can sometimes be played on the bass, such as thirds or fourths, fifths, sixths, sevenths, or eighths, but three-note chords can sound muddy on the low notes of a bass.

The chords of the song are usually performed by guitars, keyboards and/or strings. How many chords are there in the song and what are those chords? How are those chords expressed, that is, how are the notes of the chords distributed? Is it a closed or open voice? Can you hear that? Could you write correctly what you hear? Could you play it on a keyboard or guitar just by listening to it? If I hear a chord, like Cmajor9 expressed in a certain way, I could describe it as a G6 in the right hand, playing 2 G’s and in the left hand there could be 2 C’s, an octave lower on the keyboard. Could it be what looks like an Em7 in the right hand and the same C’s in the left hand? Can you hear the difference and know immediately without having to think or analyze it? From years of experience, some people can. We all hear the same thing, but do we also know precisely what was heard? You absolutely don’t have to listen to these things to appreciate music. You may want to be able to do this when arranging, composing, or orchestrating a piece.

If you have the job of transcribing music, you absolutely must listen and also analyze the music to write it accurately. Your work will go much faster if you just “get it” instead of having to think about it. Knowledge and experience can lead to a perfect and fast transcription of music. Having a great relative pitch helps. Having a perfect pitch also helps, but contained within the perfect pitch, there is the relative pitch function. Perfect pitch may or may not be taught. I was born with it or maybe it developed along the way. I’m not sure which one. It has been put to the test, my college music theory professor, Dr. Paul Whear, a famous 20th-century composer, noted. We did a lot of melodic and harmonic dictation in class, which seemed very easy to me, but it was because I had a perfect ear.

The placement test for music theory class was to write The Star Spangled Banner. I have it all good. There were no musical instruments in the testing room. Each of us was given a pencil and a sheet of manuscript paper. That’s what brought me to Dr. Whear’s class. It was the beginning of “hear”.

There is also some unexpected good news. You can listen to music and appreciate it and not feel compelled to analyze it. By learning more, you don’t have to worry about diminishing your listening pleasure. Music analysis can be “turned on or off”, at least in my experience.

Imagine being able to sit down at a piano and just PLAY – Ballads, Pop, Blues, Jazz, Ragtime, even amazing Classical pieces? Now you can… and you can do it in months not years without wasting money, time and effort on traditional Piano Lessons.

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