Music Theory & Ear Training Experience?

BenOBrienSmith

Senior Member
Who here has actually worked on ear training and/or music theory? Maybe taken a course? Addressed it over the course of some lessons? Covered it school?

Been working on developing a course (via Sounds Like a Drum) that's ear training specifically geared towards drummers with practical application (hearing intervals between heads, recognizing high vs. low pitch lugs, fundamental vs. overtone, etc.) rather than all being piano based. I'm very curious to hear what thoughts you all have on this and what your experience has been.
 

Mighty_Joker

Silver Member
I have a lot of experience with theory, especially rhythmic theory (it's the topic of an upcoming book I have coming out). I find my playing and career as a drummer has been enhanced because of it.

Ear training in the way you are describing, honestly not so much. IMHO there are so many things to work on, that take a lifetime of study and practice, the concepts you are describing are so niche that I just couldn't justify dedicating any time to them.

I do not wish to diminish your work or disrespect you in any way; if you are passionate about those concepts, go for it. However, it would be disingenuous of me to tell you that I see any real practical application to intervals between heads, overtones, or lug pitch recognition. Yes, there are (dubious) examples in which matching drum head tuning to intervals has been done to some effect, though I think many would struggle to really notice, if we're being honest. Practical application for recognising overtones on a drum kit? You're welcome to try and convince me...

I hope you don't find this reply rude. You asked for my thoughts and experience, so here they are! I think there is a reason ear training with regards to pitch, intervals, and overtones isn't really on any drummer's curriculum.

EDIT:
I should clarify that I very much value and appreciate the learning of theory for drummers. Intervals, harmony, scales, chords, arrangement, composition, all can be very useful to all musicians, especially for drummers who usually neglect such things. My rather critical answer was in response to some extremely niche things: fundamentals and overtones, lug pitches on a drum kit, tuning intervals for toms. I am just very sceptical about how much real value these have, considering how specialist they are.
 
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Morrisman

Platinum Member
I studied theory and aural throughout high school and university. I’ve been teaching Year 12 theory, aural, harmony and analysis for more than twenty years.

Our courses include rhythm dictation, scales, intervals and chord recognition, melody dictation and more - aimed at producing well rounded musicians who can hear things and write them down, and also sight read pitch and rhythm. Includes drummers, but not really focused on drums much.

Auralia ear-training software is the most comprehensive I’ve ever seen. Hundreds of different question types and courses which explain the concepts. Its worth signing up to a demo or a one year subscription to see what’s possible.

One quite useful drill for drummers is tuning comparison - two notes very close in pitch are played one after the other and you pick which is higher or lower. It gets very hard as the notes get very close. Intervals and basic scales are useful too, all to help with tuning. Picking the middle or upper note in a chord helps to identify the pitch and overtones of a drum.

Rhythm exercises, and groove exercises where you hear straight eighths, swung 8ths and slightly swung 8ths, help you focus your hearing on these details.

Another option to investigate - Noteflight is primarily a sheet music distribution site, but also has a feature where you play the song into your computer and it tells you if you were sharp or flat, early or late. That could easily be adapted for snare drum patterns to help fix timing issues.
 

brentcn

Platinum Member
Who here has actually worked on ear training and/or music theory? Maybe taken a course? Addressed it over the course of some lessons? Covered it school?

Been working on developing a course (via Sounds Like a Drum) that's ear training specifically geared towards drummers with practical application (hearing intervals between heads, recognizing high vs. low pitch lugs, fundamental vs. overtone, etc.) rather than all being piano based. I'm very curious to hear what thoughts you all have on this and what your experience has been.
My ear training comes from piano and guitar lessons, and also being an assistant instructor at a music camp program, where basic theory is taught, including interval training (i.e. becoming able to identify intervals by ear). I have to say that these experiences help me to tune drums, especially when discerning the fundamental from overtones, comparing top and bottom heads, and comparing one lug to another. Curious to hear how you would organize such a course!
 

johnwesley

Silver Member
I had classical music training having played in both marching band, and orchestra through junior and high school. Played clarinet and in addition to the classroom and rehearsals with both I took private lessons twice a week for 5 years. Because of that I understand harmonics, composition, time signatures, tickling the girl next to me, dynamics, transposing, syncopation, etc. Then Rock and Roll creeped into my soul and I started playing drums. With the exception of some instruction on rudiments, everything I learned was through listening and figuring out how to accomplish the rhythmic patterns and fills. When playing jazz/big band music on clarinet, I didn't need sheet music, it was all by ear. I applied that talent/technique to drums and it's worked out fine. I am a big proponent of listen and learn.
 

8Mile

Platinum Member
I'm not sure how much benefit I would see in using theory to talk about drums. Maybe a little bit? For me, the main thing is being able to converse more easily with other musicians. But, that being said, maybe some drummers who would be put off by the idea of getting deep into theory would sign up for a course that promises to apply it directly to the drums. I don't know for sure, but that wouldn't surprise me.
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
I do ear training with my son once in a while. He will play 2 notes while my back is turned and I have to try and determine if it's a 3rd, 4th, 5th etc. interval. Not easy.

I agree with Larry above, I'd like to be able to converse in the musical language as my main reason for decoding theory.
 
I have, formally, self study, and private lessons. And since Rhythm is a principle component of music theory, I hope every drummer on this site recognizes that they have studied music theory in some way, as long as they have studied the fundamentals of what we do as drummers in at least some way. Meter, timbre, and form are other components that are directly applicable to a drummer playing a basic song.

Aside from playing a few other instruments, understanding melody, harmony, and other components in music theory helps me as a drummer in number of ways but probably most significantly in communicating with other musicians.

Personally, I think the most useful and rarely discussed element for drummers - aside from the more immediately obvious components such as rhythm, timbre, meter - is contour. Contour provides a link to melodies and harmonies without having to get into the specifics of scales and accurate intervals. But for any drummer who thinks that playing a percussion rig has nothing to do with melody - whether its just K,S,HH, or a bunch of rack toms, or just several cymbals - contour begs to differ.
 
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brentcn

Platinum Member
I do ear training with my son once in a while. He will play 2 notes while my back is turned and I have to try and determine if it's a 3rd, 4th, 5th etc. interval. Not easy.

I agree with Larry above, I'd like to be able to converse in the musical language as my main reason for decoding theory.
Cool! You should try some next-level stuff, like different chord qualities (major, minor, dominant 7th, minor 7th, sus2, sus4, diminished, etc.), and also basic progressions/cadences (IV->V->I, V->IV->I, ii->V->I, vi->ii->V, and so on).
 

Rock Salad

Junior Member
That's what marimba is for.

But wait now, please tell me more about "contour" as it applies to drumming on a kit. I understand the melodic/harmonic concept.


edit
the easiest introduction to ear training is usually through familiar song melodies ie "Here Comes the Bride."
 
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Xstr8edgtnrdrmrX

Well-known member
I had all of the standard stuff in college for my Music Education degree

was pretty good at a lot of the interval (via tuning tymps) and some of the standard chord stuff. I played vibes, as well as drum set in the jazz band, and usually was not given music for the vibes, so I had to apply a lot of that knowledge...I also play bass, so a lot of times, I would just look at the bass players music for the chord symbols

I can't play piano to save my life, but can chord out songs, and use all of that knowledge for when I write and arrange for my drumlines...

one of the BEST things theory has done for my drumming is that is has allowed me to follow all of the musicians in studio sessions or "one rehearsal" type performances. When the melodic guys say something like: "can you accent that little rhythm that we do going from the G to the C chord?", I know exactly what the yare saying. I ALWAYS get compliments from people for recognizing their vernacular

in my marching drumlines, I used to tune the drums to specific pitches, but it became too much "science" for me to be doing on a Saturday morning with all of my other competition day duties of managing 30+ kids. I now just "know" the drums and the heads well enough to get the heads to where I like their sound. There was a point in time where I would actually try to tune the drums to the key sig of the horn parts...WTF was I thinking?
 
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jeffwj

Platinum Member
I do ear training with my son once in a while. He will play 2 notes while my back is turned and I have to try and determine if it's a 3rd, 4th, 5th etc. interval. Not easy.

I agree with Larry above, I'd like to be able to converse in the musical language as my main reason for decoding theory.
You’d probably like the ear training exercises on www.musictheory.net/exercises. It has interval recognition exercises similar to the one you mentioned.

I have no affiliation with the site, but it really helps my students. I have a student who did very well with his college entrance exam after working with the theory and ear training exercises.

Jeff
 
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This one is even better in my opinion because you can work on small bits at a time (e.g. only ascending and only thirds): https://www.earbeater.com/
Gnu Solfege is also very good: open source, dozens of exercises, customizable, statistics of your progress. I don't know about another free ear training program that deals with so much stuff. https://www.gnu.org/software/solfege/solfege.html
These free sites are great for theory and chord progressions in classical music and Jazz: https://tonedear.com/ and https://www.teoria.com/
 
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dmacc_2

Well-known member
My background includes 5 years of Music Theory studies and 1 year of ear training. I've always had a challenge with ear training since I've been partially deaf since I was a very young child in my right ear and then playing drums in bands without any ear protection for 20+ years took more away.

This training lead to studying mallets and piano for a handful of years many years ago and was a huge help in my transition to studying woodwinds over the last 5 years.

I feel it also helped me communicate with the musicians I was playing with who knew theory very, very well. I don't regret a second of time spent learning any of this.
 

GetAgrippa

Platinum Member
Just curious- why is discipline called Music “Theory”? Nothing theoretical about It is there- it’s Music Studies seems more appropriate.
 

8Mile

Platinum Member
I'm not sure how much benefit I would see in using theory to talk about drums. Maybe a little bit? For me, the main thing is being able to converse more easily with other musicians. But, that being said, maybe some drummers who would be put off by the idea of getting deep into theory would sign up for a course that promises to apply it directly to the drums. I don't know for sure, but that wouldn't surprise me.
I just wanted to clarify that I have studied music theory and I was citing my own reasons for pursuing it. My comments are about my attempt to gauge the interest your course may generate amongst drummers who have not.
 
But wait now, please tell me more about "contour" as it applies to drumming on a kit. I understand the melodic/harmonic concept.
Contour refers to the relative changes in pitch in a sequence of notes played over time. It can be thought of as the melodic shape of music in a general sense, how the music goes up and down, like the contour of a bunch of mountain tops on a ridge line. Melody is also about a sequence of single notes played in time undergoing changes in pitch, however it's more specific than contour. You can play the shape of a I-IV-V harmonic structure on toms that aren't perfectly tuned or spaced at perfect intervals.

Reading melodic notation for other instruments gives you a side profile of how the notes rise and fall on the page, the shape of the melody, the contour. You could remove the staff and therefore not necessarily be able to tell which pitches are meant to be played but you can still tell whether the next pitch should be higher or lower than the previous one.

Drum set notation, though not specific to pitches, is conveniently laid out in a similar fashion. You have your deepest fundamental frequency (the kick) at the bottom of the staff, with a mid-tone snare in the middle, and high pitched cymbals at the top. Even the multiple toms that can be transcribed in a piece of drum notation will rise and fall on the vertical staff lines as higher and lower pitched tones are desired. (*Fun fact, there is another intuitive way that the placement of particular drums and cymbals is laid out in drum notation - that is the different notes are placed on the staff with some relation to the relative elevation of them as they're found at a typical drumset. Kick on the bottom, crash cymbals up high, and the snare somewhere smack in the middle.)

A drumset can be used to play both melodies and harmonies, let alone support melody and harmony of others. Of course counterpoint can be used too. But even when our drums aren't tuned to specific pitches, drummers can help express the contour of a melody, even just by varying where they place their notes on a ride cymbal.
 
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Push pull stroke

Platinum Member
Just curious- why is discipline called Music “Theory”? Nothing theoretical about It is there- it’s Music Studies seems more appropriate.
Analyzing the form of complex compositions can get pretty theoretical. There are multiple schools of thought, and trying to figure out a composer’s intent decades after his death can be challenging. So “Form and Analysis” classes get theoretical. But understanding why specific chords work the way they do in chord progressions, etc. isn’t theoretical, it’s actually based totally in acoustical science. So you’re right about that part. And it goes without saying that ear training doesn’t have any “theory” to it, except for maybe different theories as to the best way to teach it.
 

Jeremy Bender

Platinum Member
Just curious- why is discipline called Music “Theory”? Nothing theoretical about It is there- it’s Music Studies seems more appropriate.
 
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