Month of the Woodshed
August is the least busiest month of the year for me, in 2009, so I've been using this time to explore some new routines and prepare for a busy fall season. One of the things that I've been doing is getting up earlier, checking all of my social media networks and taking care of administrative duties, then launching into a hardcore practice session that includes ear training, scales, left and right hand exercises, learning new tunes and rehearsing older ones. My main emphasis is on the chromatic dulcimer right now, learning how to get around the fretboard and pull out the tunes that I want. One of the ways I'm doing this is through ear training.
With ear training, you're training your ears to recognize tones, especially the intervals between tones. Being able to hear these intervals goes hand in hand with knowing the scales on your instrument and being able to arrange your own music. For years, I've played by ear, but part of the challenge here is to not only hear the tone, but be able to at least name the numbered interval (if you can also name the note, then you are truly accomplished at this.)
The Interval Ear Trainer is a free online resource that plays a series of tones and allows you to guess what they are. The application keep score and also allows you to hear the intervals in ascending, descending, melodic or harmonic fashion. On the average, I listen to about 11 intervals a day and have seen an improvement in my ability to hear them in the ascending category. Since the tones take on slightly different characters when played harmonically and in descending fashion, I'm going to work on those next.
How will this help you as a musician, specifically a diatonic mountain dulcimer player? For one thing, it will help you to identify tones in music that you hear and in music that you play. Besides the basic Major and minor chords that make up the bulk of the music we encounter, there are also extended chords such as 6ths, 7ths, 9ths, 11ths and 13ths. You'd be surprised how many of these are available to you on a diatonic dulcimer and, if you begin ear training, you'll see how easy it is to slip some of these chords into your music and spice it up!
Even if you know nothing about intervals, try playing it as a game and see how soon before you are able to correctly identify the intervals. I can assure you that it will improve your playing a hundred-fold!