Ear Training - January 5, 2006

John Murphy - musical fluency

A recent visitor to my site is a professor at the University of North Texas. His name is John Murphy, and among other things, he happens to teach jazz aural fundamentals (ear training!).

We've already exchanged a few emails, and I hope to interview him in the near future so I can learn more about his ideas and experiences with ear training. In the meantime, I thought I'd share a couple short articles he wrote, which fit in nicely with my message of ear training:

"Do you speak music?" by John Murphy

Suppose you had studied a second language. You can read well-formed sentences composed by someone else if they are given to you in writing, but you can't converse easily. You can understand spoken phrases if you can listen to a recording of them repeatedly and write them out, but you can't deal with them quickly enough to have a conversation. You can make phrases yourself, but not in real time. You have to write them out and make lots of revisions. Would you call yourself fluent?

Rick's note: Unfortunately the rest of this article isn't available online anymore. Basically, it went on to compare how being able to play music accurately by ear is the same thing as being able to speak fluently in a second language. If you can't play by accurately ear and/or must rely upon written music then you aren't fluent in music.

"Subtitles" by John Murphy

Ever get the sense, when you watch a film in a foreign language (especially one you have studied a little) with subtitles, that you are picking up enough of the language to be able to follow it without the subtitles? In most cases, unless you are really fluent, you can't.

We can think of fake book charts, lead sheets, and transcribed solos as the subtitles of jazz playing. Many musicians could not function without them, even though they would like to consider themselves fluent enough in the language of jazz to hear the changes of the tune without the lead sheet or figure out a soloist's line without writing it down.

Update Feb 5, 2005: My interview with John Murphy is now online!

Update Jan 28, 2006: For more on speaking music, read my article on the Suzuki method.

Comment by Angela

I really appreciate the way you are methodically exploring all these things. Thank you.

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Ear Training

Ear training is extremely important for understanding and creating music. Unfortunately, it's also typically absent from early stages of mainstream music education. I created some ear training tools to help improve my skills. Hopefully, these tools and my experiences will strengthen your aural skills as well.

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