Post your playing posers and technical teasers to: Theory Godmother, Guitar Techniques, 30 Monmouth Street, Bath, BA1 2BW; or email me at email@example.com – every wish is your Godmother’s command!
Everyone, including your good self, has told me that ear training is a vital part of coming to terms with music, and I fully intend to launch into it as soon as I can. The thing I need to ask is, what would you consider to be stage one in the ear- training regime? In other words, what would you consider to be the basic starter’s pack that would form a solid foundation upon which to build for the future?
I guess that, ultimately, the ear should be fluent with everything involved in music – intervals, scales and so on. But the longest journey starts with a single step, and I’m intrigued to know what you would consider that step to be…
Gary I’m sure a lot of people are bewildered by the idea of ear training, so I guess that outlining a sort of ‘ beginner’s guide’ would be helpful. I’m told that many of the ear- training apps available for phones, tablets, desktops, etc are programmable, so it should be possible to limit your initial studies to just a few different categories.
As a start, I would say that being able to differentiate between major and minor is the first big step. This would centre on the difference between the two types of 3rd – the deciding factors in major- minor tonality ( Ex 1). Begin with just the intervals themselves, and then extend things to major and minor chords ( Ex 2). After your ear has fully acquainted itself with the basic major-minor idea, it will be time to move on to scales. The difference between a major and a minor scale is not quite so straightforward, because there is more to it than just the 3rds changing ‘ gender’ ( see Ex 3), but they still provide the central deciding focus, and give the ear something to latch on to.
If you can, program the app you choose to test you on major and minor scales, chords and 3rds in all keys, and once you find that your score is consistently high – aim for above 90 per cent at least – you can move on to the other intervals, scales and chord types. If you can work with a musician friend to test each other – chords, scales, intervals etc – all the better. And remember the radio! Listen to tracks and try to decipher if they are in major or minor keys, and so on. It’s great fun and is a natural form of ear training.
Accidental Etiquette? Dear Theory Godmother
Recently, at a band rehearsal, we were talking about the notes in a couple of chords in a song we’re learning, and I said something about playing a D# and the bass player said that I meant Eb. I argued that they’re both the same note, but he insisted that he was right and I was wrong. How can that be? When there are two ways to describe the same note, how do you know which one to use? It’s been bugging me ever since the practice session, and so I’d really value your input on the question.
Carl Technically speaking, it all depends on the key of the piece you’re playing in, Carl. If you were playing in a flat key like Bb or Eb, then you would be right to call the note in question ‘ Eb’, as it’s in the key signature ( see Ex 4) and, in fact, it’s in every flat key beyond Bb. So, for major keys like Bb, Eb, Ab, Db and so on, you would normally call the note that occurs between D and E ‘ Eb’. However, if you’re in a sharp key like E major ( see Ex 5) then there, we find D# in the key signature, and so it’s appropriate to use that terminology instead.
If the note we’re talking about is an accidental, then we have to consider where it falls in the scale, and what altered interval it represents. For instance, a ‘ sharp 9th’ in the key of C major would be D#, but a ‘ flat 5th’ in the key of A major would be Eb ( Ex 6). I admit that it can be really confusing to begin with, but, as always with music’s funny little ways, there is some sort of logic that underpins it!
Tensioning Up Dear Theory Godmother
I’ve been getting into dropped tunings on my acoustic recently, and have found that I’m having great fun in DADGAD, open C and a few more, too. The only thing is, I find that by slackening the strings off, I’m losing tension, and this affects the feel of my guitar. I also think that it has affected the tone, too, as it seems to have lost brightness in the upper register.
In the open C tuning especially, I also think there’s a tendency for the tuning of the bass string to be very unstable. Is there a fix for this? Other players I’ve spoken to at open- mic nights say that I’ll get used to it, but I’d like an expert opinion as to any steps I can take to regain the feel and sound of the guitar.
Michael Well, I’d second the opinion that you will get used to it after a while. But if you think it’s actually affecting the tone of the instrument and its tuning stability, why not use a slightly higher gauge string set – or even a hybrid mix of gauges? A few string manufacturers these days make dedicated DADGAD packs where the strings are tensioned to feel more consistent across the set, meaning that the bass and top two strings have been increased in gauge a little so you don’t have the ‘ slackness’ or tuning instability problems.
The only thing would be, if you use one guitar to tune to standard and all the dropped tunings that you use. In that event, I would say that it’s a case of experimenting to find a string gauge that is a compromise, and which suits most eventualities.
To illustrate how drop- tuning strings can reduce the tension, a .012 gauge top E will create approximately 10.67kg of ‘ pull’ at the bridge on a standard-scale guitar. If you drop this to D, you lose over 2kg of tension, which will be readily detected by the fingers. You don’t mention which string gauge you are using, but if the bass in particular becomes unstable when dropped to C, then I’m guessing it might be a fairly light set.
I think you need to look at a set of .012s at the very least, with the possibility of upgrading the bass to a .056 and the top two to .013 and .017, respectively. You should find that the tuning becomes more stable, you don’t lose brightness in the trebles, the overall slackness virtually disappears and you’ll be able to dig in without causing bottom- string flap. Happy ( de) tuning!