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Ear Training


(In Search Of My Muse #1.00)

As everyone knows, our brain (s) react to all sounds symbolic signals, on a physical, mental and physiological level, in many different ways. The left neo-cortex is used for composing and organizing sounds or noises in a formal way (melodies, sequences), while the right neo-cortex is used for a more creative and innovative approach (experimenting with weird sounds, playing e-music in a free-form way, abstract sound relationships and patterns, spatial locations (L-R panning, Doppler shifts, etc.). 

Hidden deep within, the 'primitive reptilian brain' treats sounds and noises as signals with a possible urgent meaning (alarm and emergency signals). It regulates also the other well-known human survival traits such as hunger, food, sex drives, and all sorts of emotional behaviors (such as singing and dancing).

Ear training 

To be a good synthesist, you need to sharpen your hearing sensitivity to a higher degree. Sadly enough, most people around us are totally or partially deaf - although their hearing is in good shape they do not always use the full potential of their hearing organs in their daily lives. 

There is a reason for that : in our hyper-media technological world, people tend to filter out information - and especially sounds and noises - which are not necessary to functioning in their immediate environment. This low-pass filtering of unwanted noises by the primitive brain and/or the left neo-cortex is deliberate and necessary, as it regulates the amount of information the brain needs to process to face a particular situation. 

We synthesists have to do the contrary: we have to learn again on how to listen with our 'primitive reptilian brain 'and open ourselves up to the world of noises surrounding us. 

Needless to say, meditation plays an important role in 'ear training' and 'perfect pitch' techniques. Indeed, your sense of pitch is deeply affected by your blood pressure (and by the events happening in your immediate environment): i.e, your pulse is also your natural inner-clock time base for everything related to pitches, frequency ranges and all timings in general. People with hypertension will tend to hear the pitch of the tuning fork as being much higher than it really is. By lowering your blood pressure through meditation and bio-feedback you might be better prepared to sharpen your auditory senses to the perfect pitch. 

Today, the A440 Hz tuning pitch is mostly used by Classical Symphony Orchestras. In most other music circles, there is a tendency to move towards a pitch of A442 Hz, while some Jazzmen have been known to use A445Hz as a tuning reference. 



Strangely, there exist huge differences in beat perceptions among various acoustical percussionists. According to the genre of music played, and the historical, cultural and styling codification used, the perception of 'the beat' often varies significantly. Due to their formal upbringing, Classical Music trained percussionists learn from the start to play in the 'roundness' of the beat. On the contrary, swinging Jazz drummers tend, at times, to play 'ahead' of the beat, while some Rock drummers have the tendency to play a bit 'after' the beat.

On a lighter side, it is interesting to note that the binary Rock beat mimics an inverted heart beat: i.e : "Boom, Boom, Tack" versus "Tack, Boom, Boom"... 

Perfect pitch

What is perfect pitch? Is it the well-tempered pitch used in standard keyboard tuning or is it the natural and universal pitch advocated by the Just-tonic community? It is both and it is none.... 

If you are a keyboard player, you will be more interested in having perfect pitch corresponding to a set of well tempered keys. If you are part of the natural "Just tonic" crowd, you'll only swear by individual and tunable touchboard keys and if you are into micro-tonality, generating the perfect micro-tonal comma interval will be your first priority.. 

This discussion on perfect pitch brings us to an interesting question : Should sequencer's CV outputs be quantized or un-quantized? In my opinion, they should be both... It is true that quantization helps to put a sequence quickly together in a live situations. However, if you use the CV outputs in a more elaborated way, such as timbre modulation, panning and gain controls then, it is better to use the un-quantized outputs. 

Exercise 1 

A good way for testing your sense of perfect pitch is to generate a melody on your sequencer, using only the unquantized control voltages outputs and no running clock. (To do that, trigger the clock, manually, step by step). 

Now take an electronic tuning device and compare ,step by step, all the individual pitches of your melody vs. the set pitches coming from the tuning device. Write down the estimated commas deviation and make the necessary adjustments for each step... 

Note : (one octave = 1200 cents; one semi-tone = 100 cents or 5 commas) 

Exercise 2 

Proceed as in Exercise 1, but build your melody while the sequencer's clock is running (Try it .at 1 Hz., then, 2Hz., 3 Hz., 4Hz., 5Hz... When done, stop the clock. 

Again, take an electronic tuning device and, as in Exercise 1, compare, step by step, all individual pitches of your melody vs. the pitches coming from your tuning device. Write down the estimated commas deviation and make the necessary adjustments for each step... 

Now, If you are in a stressed mood, the individual pitches might be higher than expected. Contrariwise, if you are in a relaxed mood, the pitches might be lower than expected! 



(Extracts from 'Ye Olde Timer's Analogue Cookbook' by Andre C. Stordeur)

André Stordeur has taught analog modular synthesis since 1973. He studied with David Wessel at the I.R.C.A.M , in Paris, and with American composer Morton Subotnick.