The previous posts were designed to provide conceptual and technical underpinnings of a solid shifting practice. Today’s is all about developing inner hearing and the ability to generate music inside of your mind, because when you shift, you’re not just going to a place: you’re going to a note. If you’re not hearing the shift ahead of time, you’re flying blind and incorporating chance into something that should be built upon certainty.
The first thing to do is form a basic understanding of the intervals, aka the spaces between notes.
There are minor and major versions of most of the intervals. Majors get the capital “M” and minors get the lowercase “m”. For the most part, minor intervals have a sad sound and majors are more upbeat (this is simplistic, but useful if you’re just starting out). You’ll see that the last major interval, the M7 has not a happy but a sort of surprised face next to it, because the major 7th is a super bright, kind of stressful interval, especially in the classical context. In jazz and romantic/modern/postmodern contexts, it can seem happy, wistful, watery…it’s a flexible sound. But for now, if this is new to you, look for that reaching, slightly anxious distance to signal that you’re hearing a major 7th.
Some of the intervals have a P for “perfect”, meaning they have an open sound that is emotionally neutral or pliable, depending on context. The TT stands for Tritone, famously dubbed the devil in music for its sinister sound. The tritone is definitely the most metal interval. (for more advanced musical theoreticians: I’m not getting into the semantics of diminished and augmented intervals for now)
So play these a little bit, and assume it’s bass clef- sorry I left that off! If you’re feeling bold, sing (on “la” or “ba”) along with the intervals to get a sense for their physical place in your voice.
Next, the easiest way to get good at interval recognition is to have a song in mind to reference. In each example, the first two notes of each melody are the (ascending) interval. There are a few YouTube videos purporting to help you with this, but most of them are either weird or unclear, and one of them even mis-identifies two intervals (you had one job, dude). Go in search of them if you must, but seriously, my dear emptor: caveat.
Instead, I’m going to link to each interval individually using Spotify.
M2: Frère Jacques
m3: Brahms Lullaby or the Overture to Nightmare Before Xmas
P4: Bridal March from Lohengrin (ignore the brass/organ toots!)
TT: Maria (starts at 38 seconds) from West Side Story or The Simpsons theme , Rush: YYZ
P5: Twinkle. Twinkle Little Star
m6: 3rd and 4th (and 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th) notes of The Entertainer after the lil’ intro.
M6: It Came Upon a Midnight Clear
m7: nifty vocal line at 39 seconds into the original Star Trek theme
M7: the chorus of Take On Me, starting at 51 seconds, 80s dancing optional but recommended
P8: Somewhere Over the Rainbow Judy Garland’s voice was just so expressive, sigh
Take these intervals and try to hear them in your head. It doesn’t matter if you hear an instrument, a voice, or a full ensemble- just keep working on taking the notes from outer listening to inner hearing. The reason I suggest singing them first is to give you an internal yet physical representation of the notes. Singing a tiny m2 feels very different than a M6- there is a physical distance in terms of where the note resonates, and we need as much telemetry (in the voice, on the fingerboard, in the ear, from the arm) as possible in order to develop true mastery of a shift.
The next step is ear training and sight singing. Although you can jump straight to hearing shifts in your head, it’s so much better to learn the entire skillset than become a one-trick pony. Anecdotally, it was the people who struggled with sight singing who also had it harder in terms of intonation and phrasing during music school. Developing these skills is definitely not a waste of time.
Some ideas to develop ear training and sight singing:
- Play the first note of your scale and then try to sing the next 7 pitches. Every few notes, check to see if you are where you’re supposed to be.
- Do the above, but using a tuner
- Sing arpeggios: major and minor. Again, check with a piano, your instrument, or a tuner
- Take simple études (that you have not ever played) and, after giving yourself the first note, see if you can go measure by measure, identifying the intervals, and then daisy chain them together. If you need an intermediate step, you can sing along with yourself playing pizz. Some books I like for these purposes: Studies in Lyricism, the early pages from Schroeder 170 foundation Studies, ABRSM’s grade 6 sight singing text for bass clef readers, and any number of church hymns or books languishing away in your piano bench that feature a simple bass line.
The Gordon Institute for Musical Learning defines audiating thusly:
Audiation is the foundation of musicianship. It takes place when we hear and comprehend music for which the sound is no longer or may never have been present. One may audiate when listening to music, performing from notation, playing “by ear,” improvising, composing, or notating music (see types of audiation).
Audiation is not the same as aural perception, which occurs simultaneously with the reception of sound through the ears. It is a cognitive process by which the brain gives meaning to musical sounds. Audiation is the musical equivalent of thinking in language. When we listen to someone speak we must retain in memory their vocal sounds long enough to recognize and give meaning to the words the sounds represent. Likewise, when listening to music we are at any given moment organizing in audiation sounds that were recently heard. We also predict, based on our familiarity with the tonal and rhythmic conventions of the music being heard, what will come next. Audiation, then, is a multistage process (see stages of audiation).
Although musicians audiate all aspects of musical sound, including timbre, volume, and style, Music Learning Theory is concerned specifically with the tonal and rhythm dimensions of music. Teaching methods are designed to help students develop their ability to audiate tonal content–including tonality, resting tone, and tonal function–and rhythm content–including meter, macro beats, micro beats, and melodic rhythm.
Through development of audiation students learn to understand music. Understanding is the foundation of music appreciation, the ultimate goal of music teaching.
While I am an advocate of near constant audiating— effectively playing along with an inner recording of how you’d like to sound— there is no question that you should audiate when practicing your shifts. Shifting without hearing the goal note is like driving while staring at the hood of the car. Look at where you’re about to be, not just where you are! This habit particularly plagues students who are fixated on intonation, because they can tell if the note is out of tune, but frequently can’t hear the note until after they’ve landed on it incorrectly. This is also where the aforementioned “bloodhounding” tendency comes from, as students try to sneak up on the note, as if we’re not going to hear the frenetic mess that results.
How to actually do the thing:
- Identify the interval
- Play the first note
- Using that note as your foundation, hear the interval in your head (if you need to sing it, do that first)
- Take a gentle breath in, followed by a very slow, long exhale
- On a down bow, play the first note, then, while still playing, hear the second note
- On the same bow, shift to the second note
Things that sabotage the above effort:
- Speeding the bow when the left hand moves: in general, the more miserly your bow speed, the better
- Making a meal of the shift: the notes are important; the shift is simply the vehicle- don’t be an air raid siren
- Wiggling around or making mad adjustments if you miss. It’s better to shift to where you think the note is, catalogue if your perception is high, low, or right on, and make physical adjustments during your next attempt. The reasoning is simple: you’re trying to develop the feeling of nailing a note, of matching it to what your inner ear is generating. If you make a habit of adjusting, you’ll get good at adjusting, not landing.
- Doing any of this too quickly: give yourself every opportunity to cultivate technique
- Having unreasonable expectations: this is hard, and it will take a while, even if you’re very good.
(PS: audiating problem solving flowchart forthcoming on the next post)
There can be no truly exhaustive description of how to shift, because there are so many ways to talk about technique and approach- sometimes adding more is just more confusing. If you have an experienced teacher who seems to say things contrary to what I offer here, there is a high likelihood that we are less in conflict and instead drawing from different lexicons. There’s a reason they say that talking about music is like dancing about architecture!
I’m happy to offer clarification and encouragement, if you need it. Happy (relaxed, mechanically sound, well-planned, audiated) shifting!