warmups: ear training

R One of the underrated opportunities available to us as music teachers is to utilize warmups as much more than “warming up” (choral warmups). One of the biggies for me will always be training the ear. Two ideas…

Constantly do visual and aural solfege/numbers as part of the warmup routine. Those who know me know I generally use numbers and so I will show or yell them out randomly and have the singers match it. The fun begins when I go rapid fire or do the 7 to 4 tritone or hover around 1, 3 and 5 and then blitz them with a 6 or a 2. And I’m usually able to trip up my choirs pretty easily… at first. 🙂 The litmus test for me each year is guest conducting at the Summer Camp I do up at UMaine (MSYM). Invariably the choirs are easily tripped up initially, but after some practice they get really good at it. So, then I bring it to another level. Instead of “1” through “8”. I’ll do a scale of, “1, 2, 3, 4, 3, 2, 1, 7, 6, 5, 6, 7, 8”. Then I’ll yell out those numbers. This is more challenging still because hearing the 6 or 7 lower than the 3 is something our singers are not asked to do much of in any given warmup. But with time they get better at this. So the next step is to see if they REALLY have the pitches in the ear by having them mentally multi-task. So I might yell “1”. Then, “plus 2”. Then “minus 1”, followed by “plus 5″, minus 2”, “divided by 2”, then “times 3”! It’s really fascinating to find that choirs have a much more difficult time with this because they can’t focus solely on just hearing the correct pitch, and isn’t that why our singers have such a difficult time when you add text or dynamics, or phrasing or tone in rehearsal? Developing the singers’ inner ear to become truly adept at hearing ANY interval is an outrageously productive goal of any warmup.

Develop any exercise that requires them to hold a chord in tune by moving it up and down. My “no, neh, noo, nuee, naw” exercise has that component to it and the trick to mastering the half steps is to request it visually and to do it quickly. Any discrepancies in half steps will become very evident. But that’s with a triadic chord. Once that can be done successfully, I’ve sometimes gone to having them sing a major 7th chord (B=1, T=5, A=3, S=7) and then move up and down by half steps. Getting them to hold the chord in tune is a challenge but an achievable one. Another next step is to have them sing those 4 numbers (or any random set) and then yell, “plus 1” and see if they can actually move the chord and stay in tune! Do “minus 2” and see if they can still hold it. I would argue – and so would you – that a choir that successfully moves from a CM7 chord to an Em7 chord, just by hearing how their note fits into it has well trained ears. And I have a strong conviction that talent has very little to do with it.

The benefits to an ongoing training of a choir’s ears in daily/weekly warmups is clear: the music we ask them to sing constantly requires them to do the very same things(!) and this approach is an ideal preparation for greater success in that rehearsal process. Develop their inner ear as a reference point in warmups and reap the benefits in rehearsal.

This entry was posted in Music is work, Rehearsal, Warmups. Bookmark the permalink.

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