Podcasts and Punchy Progressions, Training with Theta, Majoring in Music, and the Pitfalls of Perfect Pitch

The effectiveness of music education often hinges on turning material that is traditionally dry, uninspiring, and frustrating into something relevant, intuitive, and exciting.

This week at Musical U, we are celebrating and recapping the new content brought to you in September, releasing two new podcasts on fun and effective ear training, and sharing an expert’s tips on how to get the most out of your music school experience.

Podcasts and Punchy Progressions

September has seen us introducing the Musicality Podcast, a twice-weekly radio show that can help you nurture your inner musician while riding the subway, walking the dog, or waiting for that chronically-late band member to show up for practice. Covering diverse aspects of ear training through both tutorials and interviews with music education experts, this is your answer to acquiring aural skills while on-the-go.

Meanwhile, this month’s Resource Packs saw our resident pros for bass, guitar, and piano focussing on breaking down perhaps the most ubiquitous, useful, and impactful chord progression in Western music. Not only did our pros explain the mechanics of the progression and how to play it on your instrument, but they gave away some trade secrets on tweaking and embellishing the bare-bones chords to create grooves that are entirely your own.

Discover this chord progression and get an overview of our podcasts so far at What’s New in Musical U: September 2017, and be sure to subscribe to the Musicality Podcast so you don’t miss a beat!

Training with Theta

A common hurdle for musicians new to ear training is making this learning engaging, relevant, and – dare we say it – fun. Acquiring those much sought-after aural skills doesn’t have to involve dull, repetitive what’s-that-interval-type exercises.

With Theta Music Trainer, it’s just you, your electronic device, and 50 engaging ear training games designed to cement your aural skills and keep you entertained.

In our 8th podcast Making Ear Training a Game, with Steve Myers, Musical U sits down with Theta Music founder Steve to understand his ear training journey and how he created an app that would make others’ ear training journey pleasurable and engaging.

Steve was always amazed to witness other musicians’ improvisational skills, something that seemed to come very naturally to them and require little thought.

After several frustrating attempts to develop this elusive musicality and almost giving up, Steve finally came across an ear training course. Something clicked. Though the course was tedious and requiring immense self-discipline, he stuck with it, realizing the power of concepts like relative pitch and pattern recognition.

The second “lightbulb moment” came when Steve realized the benefits of injecting fun into the learning process. With his decision to apply the game-based application to the world of ear training, Theta Music Trainer was born.

When Theta Music Trainer originally launched their online ear training games, Musical U was there to capture the moment! For a little throwback and reminiscing about that time in music education history, listen to our interview with Steve!

Steve explored the struggles that he had beginning to improvise or jam over chord changes. He felt as though something must have been wrong with him that he couldn’t improvise freely like his colleagues. This is a struggle that many musicians face, which can be overcome with some practice and a few simple to tips to start you off.

Developing your musical ear in general is such an important part of being both a musician and songwriter. As with improvisation, getting started can be difficult. Turn to the experts for some tips for beginners on developing your musical ear.

The cassette series that Steve talked about was unique in that it was full of very accessible lessons that he could immediately apply to his instrument practice. He later recounted that it gave him the original idea to make his now-famous program, which is one of many great examples of fun exercises and drills for developing your sense of pitch.

After moving to Japan, Steve noticed that his students were not always young learners, but also adults that had free time on their hands after retirement. The benefits of learning a musical instrument later in life have been well-documented in many scientific articles. But even beyond science, there are several reasons to dust off that piano you had as a child and give it a go.

Majoring in Music

So, you’ve decided to pursue a music degree! Though rigorous and demanding, music schools are excellent for boosting your proficiency as a musician and keeping you on track with your musical goals.

There’s no such thing as “the best music school”. There’s only the best music school for you. Thankfully, MajoringInMusic.com co-founder and director Barbra Weidlein has compiled an excellent list of criteria to consider before you make one of the most important decisions of your musical career.

In Majoring in Music: Choosing A School That’s Right For You, Barbra covers both practical aspects and factors you may not have thought about, giving invaluable advice on how to ensure that you wind up at a school that suits your learning style, musical goals, and lifestyle.

Everyone knows the importance of picking the right school for your studies, but what about the right teacher? Selecting the right teacher is incredibly important, as they will be with you for the entirety of your studies, and act as an instructor and mentor in equal parts. Thankfully, much like choosing a school, choosing a teacher can be boiled down to something of a science!

A major step in considering music school is to prepare your audition. After all, that is your one chance to showcase your hard work to become the musician you are! Getting ready for your audition is a multi-step process, with many possible outcomes that you should be prepared for. As Music Think Tank outlines, passing the audition itself requires consideration of the requirements and the environment you will be playing in.

Finally, Barbra discussed the importance of becoming a proficient sight reader when preparing to enter university. Sight reading is a major part of music school, but it is a skill that you can develop! And it doesn’t have to be dry and dull:using an app is an excellent and engaging way to improve your sight reading skills. Check out Music Maker Apps’ Rhythm Sight Reading app for a fun way to improve your rhythm and musicality!

The Pitfalls of Perfect Pitch

If asked which skill they would kill to have, many musicians wouldn’t hesitate to say that they’d want perfect pitch.

But what is perfect pitch?

In a nutshell, it’s the ability to name a note you hear without any reference to a known note. If someone plays the highest D key on a piano, you’d be able to name it. If someone honks at you in traffic because you’re making a poorly thought-out left turn, you’d be able to determine the exact pitch of their car horn.

The bad news: scientific studies have shown that you pretty much need to be born with perfect pitch or have had it from a very young age. As an adult, it’s very difficult to “learn” perfect pitch, and even then, it won’t be perfect.

In our 9th podcast, About Perfect Pitch, Musical U founder Christopher Sutton delivers you the good news: you do not need perfect pitch to play by ear, sight-sing, or improvise. You don’t need it to be an incredible musician.

This podcast focuses on debunking the myths surrounding perfect pitch, and introducing you to a different path to natural musicianship.

Learning perfect pitch is not necessary to develop your musical ear, and not the only way to really do ear training. In fact, consistent work and exposure to certain melodies, scales, and intervals can greatly help to nurture your ear training.

One important method of ear training that Christopher explored was specifically for audio engineers. Home Music Studio 1 offers some great beginner tips on how our ears use reference sounds to impact our perception on what sounds “good”.

Many musicians (and non-musicians) can instinctively sing a song that they are familiar with in the proper key. This is due to the memory that our ears develop to a song after a number of listens. But that is not always the same thing as being “on pitch”. Check out this exploration into the differences between singing in key versus on pitch!

So, we have learned that while perfect pitch is often what musicians think they need, having a good sense of relative pitch is a much preferred route to having musical freedom. Your next steps? Applying your new sense of musical expression to your instrument!

Debunking Musical Myths

With this week’s information, we hope we’ve debunked two pervasive but false beliefs:

Myth #1: Perfect pitch is necessary to be a great musician.

Fact: Relative pitch is a much better avenue to follow for improvisation, composition, and playing and singing by ear.

Myth #2: Ear training is tedious, dry, and practically irrelevant to modern musicians.

Fact: With the multitude of apps and learning systems available to musicians today, you can tailor your ear training journey to fit what you find relevant and fun.

With this new knowledge, go forth and dive into the world of ear training (and, no, you don’t need to be a music major to do this!). And don’t worry about being able to recall the exact pitch of that car horn.

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