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The Well Trained Ear: songs to strengthen aural skills

by David Newman

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In the beginning was the womb And you were surrounded by warmth and comfort and sustenance and Sound. Vibrations flowed to you from and through the giver of life. Voices and noises and the ever present pulse of a heartbeat. That engine of nourishment was your constant companion As cell by cell your body came to be And began a heartbeat of its own. You came to know the cadence of the two combined Infused by music of those pulses intertwined You learned the framework of a child and its mother To sense a smaller pulse embraced within another And because it was the only world you knew It filled you and formed you as you grew So melody and dance are your inheritance From the woman who created and incubated you And the central fact to which this all pertains Is that you were born with rhythm in your veins.
Second inversions are chords I adore I write them down with a 6 and a 4. These chords we encounter in four different ways… You can tell from the context you hear, From the chords that are near, And the movement you hear in the bass. The first we’ll call pedal (or stationary) ‘Cause the bass stays the same. But when bass notes move stepwise Often passing’s the name. When the bass goes a leaping, arpeggiated’s what we’ll say. And when we come to the end of a section, my friend A cadential 64 can help carry the day…. (IV 64)... well that IV 64 was stationary, oh… (I 64)... a passing I 64! Passing I 64! (vi 64)... ain’t it great when we can arpeggiate! And for the next one I’m just going to savor it ‘Cause a cadential 64 is my favorite second inversion…. Second inversion… Mmm, Second inversion…
This is a I chord and a V in first inversion, Then a vi, a passing I 64, then IV. But this song might get boring and you’d prob’ly start ignoring me If I tried naming every single chord. But there’s one chord that’s terrific, and its function is specific, And it hangs around in cadences for fun. With solfege we can state it if we just arpeggiate it, and Sol-ti-re-fa is a dominant 7, which brings us home to I. Of course the IV chord (FA-LA-DO) can be pleasant to the ear. Then there’s V7/V (RE-FI-LA-DO) That’s a chord we’re going to learn about more next year! We’re back to I now, and there’s that V in first inversion, Just repeating what we’d played when we’d begun. And this path that we had charted’s going to finish what we started ‘Cause SOL-TI-RE-FA is a dominant 7, which brings us home to… OH NO! That cadence was deceptive! It went to minor vi instead of I! That sort of trick can be effective At making things last longer when we thought that we were done! So here we are again and moving toward the finish, And I think, this time, we will not wait in vain. Cause I’m tired of extending it, I’m ready for the ending. And SOL-TI-RE-FA is a dominant 7, which brings us home again. Yes, SOL-TI-RE-FA is a dominant 7, which brings us home again. Fa-mi Sol-Sol Ti-Do. Woo!
I was hanging around in a scary minor key Searching for V7 of V When I heard a chord that really frightened me ... made me think I'd never survive. So I hid by a iv, but it jumped out behind me I turned around all ready to fight Then I saw what it was - a viiº43 Then my fears began to subside. So if you ever hear a stack of minor thirds Try to be enlightened. If you learn to recognize it and describe it with words Then you won't be frightened. You can tell from the bass what inversion your hearing Even though each third is the same.. Just remember the key and the chord that you're nearing That will help you give a name to each lovely, symmetrical Stack of minor thirds When the bass says "Ti" - viiº7 When the bass says "Re" - viiº65 When the bass says "Fa" - viiº43 When the bass says "Le" - viiº42 BOO!
Let's start with a simple progression Like a I chord, a ii and a IV. Then let some sevenths and a passing chord spice up the score. Then back to the place where we started... The harmony pretty but plain. Then add back those sevenths and make our way to the refrain. REFRAIN: Non-dominant sevenths, how you tickle my ear In inversion your seconds are not so hard to hear Non-dominant sevenths, nothing else can compare And you may come and go, but I always will know when you're there. When triads are minor or major There's nothing unusual to hear So when chords get more crunchy, it could mean a seventh is near Without them the world has less color It's pleasant, but sometimes it's bland. When I hear a seventh, it makes things exciting and grand. REFRAIN BRIDGE: Even chromatic mediants can have a seventh to share Oh, dear sevenths, I'm grateful to know even when your world modulates, Sevenths may always be there! Because of the chords they're attached to, You often may hear them around. They don't add much function, so you just have to know how they sound. So study chords with and without them Hear the root and what lies just below... Then listen and practice, so when there's a seventh, you'll know! CHORUS (END)
Sometimes I like to hear some German Sometimes I like to hear some French Sometimes I like to hear a nice diminished seven Or some other chords that I won't even mention The German chord resolves Le-So and Fi-So. The French chord is just like it, but with Re instead of Me But though I love these nationalities so Neapolitan makes my day Neapolitan makes my day.
I’ve got a pocket full of keys at my disposal I’ve got a pocket full of keys I can use. And I’ve got a pocket full of secondary dominants I keep in stock to help unlock whatever key I choose. I may just stay there for a moment. Yeah, I may just stay there temporarily. And I may decide to use a secondary dominant To demonstrate how chords relate when I’m visiting that key. A V7 of IV can help me linger for a while in it’s abode V7 of ii gives me another way to roam. V7 of vi can start a journey down a long and winding road Till a ii becomes a V65 of V to take me home! I keep them with me when I travel I like their function and the way they sound. That’s why I like to use a secondary dominant To make it clear to chords I’m near that I’d like to hang around. Like V7 of V7 of V7…. Ooooo Yeah.
Do Mi So Fa La Do So Ti Re Ti So Do Do Do Do Mi So Fa La Do So Ti Re Ti So Do La ... La Do Mi Re ... Re Fa La La ... La Do Mi Mi Si Ti So Ti Re Do Mi So Fa La Do So Ti Re Ti So Do Do Do Do Mi So Fa La Do So Ti Re Ti So Do Do ... Do Mi So Mi ... Mi So Ti La ... La Do Mi Re ... Re Fi La So Do So So Re Ti So So Do So So Fa Re Ti So So Do So So Fa Re Ti Si Mi La Do Mi Do Mi So Te Fa La Do So Ti Re Ti So Do Ti Do Ti Do Ti Do Ti Do Ti Do!
Third Away 01:15
When you're trying hard to sightread and see a leap to a Fa, La, Ti, Mi, or a Re... Well as long as you can always find So and Do, You're never more than a third away. You can try and sing big intervals that you see, And if you're good at it, well that's okay. But as long as you can always find So and Do, You're never more than a third away. So if you're leaping to "Mi," you can think "So Mi" And if you're leaping to "La," you can think "So La" And if you're leaping to "Ti," you can think "Do Ti" yeah... as long as you've got So and Do, you'll go far! So keep working on your intervals big and small And try to practice them every day But as long as you can always find So and Do, You're never more than a third away. Yeah, as long as you can always find So and Do, yeah... You're never more than a third away.
Dough, I had a lot of dough until I gave my dough to Ray. Ray took all my dough, so then I asked Ray to give me dough. Give me dough, Ray! Ray, give me dough! So far, Ray won't give me dough. So far, Ray just says "la la la la la la la" So far, Ray won't give me tea, either. And tea's what Ray and me like best. Turns out that Ray, he lost my dough. Turns out that Ray, he lost my tea, too. So me and Ray are gonna have a chat. Me and Ray are gonna work it out So there is dough and tea for me, Ray, and lots of our friends. So here's our plan: Just give me and Ray dough. (And tea.)
Sophie lay on my sofa Eating raw dough, and drinking tea Sophie don't lay on my sofa so... Don't tease me so! Let yourself fall for me. Eating raw dough is folly. Tea's not so bad. But Sophie, don't lay on my sofa Eating dough.
I sang you a song 'bout a girl on my sofa; [Yes, that was on "so fa"] She was sprawling around in the heat and eating raw dough. ["ra do"] I knew if she did that she never would go far, 'Cause when it's warm and your cookie dough's raw, bad germs start to grow. But I found a modal way to help her survive. There's one mode that's cold enough to keep her alive! And that's Phrygian... Frigid Phrygian... Phrygian... Phrygian...
This is Locrian. There's a reason why we don't use Locrian. If you really tried to stick with Locrian, You would never feel home.
Ms. Mixolydian likes her latte And in the evening she likes wine and beer, But if she wants to go out with Dorian, they stick to latte... 'Cause bars cannot serve minors here. He's got a minor third scale degree... Can't drink no alcohol. So Dorian and Mixolydian just stick to latte So they can mix it up all night.
A minor third is a major sixth in inversion A major third is a minor sixth in inversion A perfect fourth is a perfect fifth in inversion. Oh. A minor second's a major seventh A major second's a minor seventh, and oh... A perfect unison's an octave in this game But what we call a tritone stays the same.
Here's a major third and a minor third But a major chord still has a minor third Here's a minor third and a major third But a minor chord still has a major third If you want to know a chord's quality It's the third from the root that counts, you see. That's all this little song's about So take time to practice and figure it out.
Some say ascending fourths sound like "Here Comes the Bride" But change the context and... That perfect fourth won't sound the same And our song won't help as planned. But learning La-Re, and Ti-Mi, and Do-Fa, and Re-So... can help you hear that fourth in different ways. And you'll remember them for all the rest of your days.
THE MODULATION SONG She: I was sad So I chose a minor key And I felt bad Until I made a move to modulate to III Then things felt better If only relatively, And I stayed there for a while until I sunk back to my starting minor key. He: I felt low So I started out like you and tried to go to a relatively major point of view. Then I’d be happy… or that was the plan but another modulation sent me spiraling to where it all began. So I lifted up to iv - still minor (“minor key - check for ti”) But it opened up the door to something higher, ("or other altered scale degrees") Like another modulation - a celebration And for a moment I was not so broken-hearted In the major VI compared to where I started And I almost felt I had been set free but the pain was sharp And returned me to my starting minor key. Both: But I found lucky VII When I finally met you Now I’m in heaven since i became ii And when minor thoughts take over and sometimes make me blue I have memories of the major that help to pull me through. And it’s alright. I have finally seen the light. I can choose a modulation easily Even think back to that starting minor key. I’ll face anything as long as you’re with me. Two together: We can sing in harmony Even in a distant key Modulate sequentially Epicly!


Songs in a variety of (mostly) popular styles designed to teach music theory concepts and frameworks.


released May 20, 2019

produced by Jacob Rozmajzl
engineered, mixed and mastered by Danny Gibney


all rights reserved



David Newman Harrisonburg, Virginia

Educational Songwriter, Classical Singer, Digital Creator and Innovator, Science Geek and Music Nerd.

Music Theory and Voice Faculty at James Madison University.

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