Music, Voice

Prehearing

A basic ear-training exercise that I return to regularly is to sing intervals over a drone: for each of the twelve notes, you sing the interval from the drone to that given note, and vice versa.  It’s useful to choose the target notes in a more-or-less random order so you don’t rely on the previous note as a crutch to guide you to the next one.  It’s also helpful to practice different ways of singing the interval, ranging from a slide between the notes to separate staccato attacks.  The next stage of this practice is to keep the drone playing, but choose a different starting note: instead of singing from the drone note to each given note, you now sing from, say, a minor second above the drone to each target.  Go through all twelve possible starting notes, and sing all the intervals from that starting note to all the possible targets.  In my own practice I’ve found that the exercise becomes a lot more challenging (and more rewarding as well) when I add an explicit step which I’ll call “prehearing.”  Let’s say you’re singing the interval re-fa (over a do drone).  The idea is that while you’re still singing re, you try to hear fa in your mind.  You keep singing re for a while as you imagine fa, and only then, once you have a clear inner sense of the sound of fa, you switch from singing re to singing fa.  So far I’ve found that there are many cases where I can sing an interval pretty accurately, but the challenge of “prehearing” the target pitch while singing the starting pitch still eludes me.  For example, I might be able to sing re-fa, but my sense of “where fa is” only solidifies once I start moving towards it: I can’t actually hear fa at the same time I’m singing re, before I’ve begun to move in fa’s direction.  However, that ability to simultaneously sing one note and imagine another can be developed with practice, and the advantage of practicing it, I think, is that you can move between notes much more securely: you tend to land on the target more decisively, without “searching” for it.  I’ve seen that when you practice without explicit prehearing, you can still get quite good, and you can make the period of searching for the target note shorter and shorter, so that a listener might not notice any hesitation or uncertainty as you sing; nevertheless, prehearing lets you do even better, hitting the notes dead-on and with complete confidence.  This post is a note-to-self to remind me to practice prehearing!

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