When I lived in Boston, I never once drove a vehicle. Since moving back to Cape Breton, I’ve been doing a lot more driving – it’s a must in Cape Breton to have a car – and I’ve realized how much I’ve missed cruising to the tunes- and how much practice time I’ve been missing out on. I always tell my students that listening time is just as valuable as hands on practice time. But without driving, I wasn’t making much time myself for listening. I’m not much for walking while listening to an iPod, or working in the house while listening to music unless I’m by myself, but these days, I’ve been doing a lot of solo driving and accomplishing a lot!
I’ve had one particular album in the car for over three months – just that one album because I love it that much- and one day last week I finally decided to take a crack at the new tunes I’ve been hearing on it. I pretty much had them exactly upon the first try. When you drive you probably do a combination of subconscious and conscious listening. Have you ever had a song or tune that you’ve been listening to a lot randomly pop into your head without trying to recall it? This is the first step to learning by ear- having the tunes firmly in your head so they just flow out of you.
So the next time you feel you don’t have time to practice, pop some of your favourite tunes in the car. Perhaps try and find some good recordings of the tunes you are learning if you don’t have any already. You don’t have to keep listening to the same recordings for 3 months (!)- but let them seep in for a good while. You’ll be surprised at how much you can’t get them out of your head!
In my private lessons, I’ve been talking a lot about spotting chords in the tunes my students are learning. I’ve written in previous blogs about how I believe that knowing the shapes of the chords in tunes can help your ear training. Tunes are full of arpeggiated chords and chords form shapes on the fingerboard. Being able to recognize a chord-type melodic fragment and associating it with a finger pattern can help you nail down tunes quicker. You will know what type of frame the melody produces on the finger board. We inherently learn a lot of these shapes just by learning many tunes over time. However, practicing arpeggios is a good suppliment to nailing down these shapes.
This reel, Spey is Spate by the great Scottish composer James Scott Skinner, is a great example of tune containing arpreggios. Not all tunes contain as many blatent arpeggios as this, but most contain a significant amount of chord shapes whether as a direct arpeggio or hidden with some passing tones. It’s in the key of D major. The main chord shapes a tune in this key will spell out are
D major: D F# A
E minor: E G B
G major: G B D
A or A7: A C# E (G)
Before looking at the tune for chords, acquaint yourself in the key of D major by playing through the arpeggios I outlined above. Listen to the mp3 of the tune. Do you hear these chords in the tune?
Let’s work through the first four bars of the tune:
In the first bar we have a straight ahead D major arpeggio. In the third bar, we find the notes of the Em arpeggio. And in the fourth bar, the notes of the A7 arpeggio. After practicing these arpeggios and getting used to the sounds and shapes of them, see if you can find them in the rest of the tune.