I’ve hit a new stage in my music studies.
For several months, I’ve used Musition software to improve my timing. It throws up rhythm patterns, and I have to tap them out on a keyboard. It’s fantastic. I got to the point where I did a good job of reading syncopated rhythms and everything from 3/4 to 12/8.
I used a a piece of Android software called Interval Recognition, to train my ear. It works very fast. I can now identify any interval between unison and an octave by ear. I do 60 intervals a day, and it’s very unusual for me to get one wrong, unless I’m distracted.
I also used an old program called Note Play to improve my ability to sight-read pitches. It puts up notes, and you play them within an allotted time. If you succeed, you move to the next level, and it gives you scores.
These things were great helps, but they had limitations.
Note Play has a big (huge) jump in difficulty between some of the levels. It gives you individual notes. Then you get one-hand intervals. Then you get a left-hand chord plus right-hand notes. Then it goes to counterpoint, which means individual notes for each hand. That’s a tough jump. And the time allowed is very short, so you end up failing over and over and having to restart the game, which is annoying.
I found a program called Alfred Interactive Musician. It has an activity similar to Note Play, but it doesn’t shut me down over and over, and the increases in difficulty are more gradual. That’s very helpful.
Interval Recognition was great for ascending and descending intervals, but it’s not so great for harmonic intervals, where you hear two notes played simultaneously. The poor sound quality of my phone and tablet, even with high-end earbuds, tends to make notes indistinct. It also seems to turn major sounds into minor sounds. Don’t ask me why, but cheap electronic tones always seem to have a little bit of a minor quality. If you go into a casino, you’ll hear rows of machines playing the notes E, G, and C in various combinations, because major chords are supposed to sound cheerful. You’ll also notice that there’s a funny edge to the sound which is not cheerful. I don’t know why this happens, but it seems to be a real phenomenon.
I’m still using Interval Recognition for ascending and descending intervals, but for the others, I’m using my digital piano. The sounds are better, and I believe I get better results.
Musition has several major limitations. It does not produce ties, and you can’t read rhythms unless you master ties. It also uses a metronome sound, which keeps you under pressure. Unfortunately, it also prevents you from keeping your own time, and it causes your ear to remember the metronome instead of the sounds you’re making. On top of that, it doesn’t produce extended tones. It’s just “tap, tap, tap,” so a whole note sounds like a 32nd note.
My answer to that is to print out JPGs of Musition exercises and read them without the PC. I can sound out the notes so they sound the way they should, and I have to keep my own time. This improves my ability to hear the rhythm patterns in my mind before I utter them. I don’t really need the perfection of metronome-driven timing. No real musician grades himself on how accurate he is. That’s stupid and counterproductive. I needed the metronome at first, to get me started, but now it’s a hindrance.
I am trying to get into sight-singing, but I’ve had some technical issues to overcome. I’ll figure it out eventually. I also found a program to teach me how various chords sound, but it’s an Android program, so the tones are not very realistic. I don’t really want to sing from a printed page. That’s not the point. The point is to get the printed music to make sounds in my head, and this is a way to do it. People who comment here have suggested it.
If you don’t understand music, and you’re too lazy to master an instrument, you can improve your musical comprehension by doing the things I’m doing. You don’t need an instrument at all. It may be that after you get this stuff into your head, an instrument won’t intimidate you any more. Every kid should learn this stuff. There is no excuse not to. It’s not a lifetime commitment. A one-hour course that lasts one school year would do it.
As I’ve written before, Arthur Rubinstein used to “practice” piano works by reading the scores away from the piano. You shouldn’t underestimate the power and importance of ear training and studying written music. This stuff is more useful than playing. A monkey can be trained to repeat the same movements over and over, but he won’t understand it. That’s what happens when you play without study. You can’t write music well. You can’t read it. You won’t understand it. That’s not where you want to be.