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I had a vocal session over the weekend and I couldn't get the sound right on the song I was supposed to present, it was "Nothing like Heaven" by Men of Standard.

My instructor said I needed to improve my hearing because I was musically tone-deaf. How do I do it and how can I actually get to improve my musical ear?

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Well if you are tone-deaf you can't improve, or vice-versa. I think your instructor exaggerated a little. Do you have a difficulty in general while singing on any song or just this one? –  percusse Apr 18 '13 at 14:32
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3 Answers 3

"Tone deaf" is a bit of a misnomer -- if someone truly wasn't able to understand relative pitch, it would show up in their speech patterns.

So, usually the term is applied to people for whom discerning differences in pitch is difficult, at least with the precision that is required for music. The fact that you must multitask this process with the act of singing to begin with compounds this difficulty.

At the most basic level, musical ear training involves asking the question "Is this pitch higher, lower, or the same as this other pitch?" Singing along with music being played is an application of this, as you must ascertain in real time if the pitch you are singing is correct, flat (lower), or sharp (higher) and make adjustments as necessary.

Obviously, the ceiling for aural skills technique is light-years away from this, but that is the fundamental skill of relative pitch and a good starting place.

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This area of musical study is called ear training. We have a tag on that subject; I have just added that tag to your question. There are several posts on that subject here on Musical Practice and Performance.

Here is one.

A music teacher can teach you ear-training (although this is usually done in classrooms rather than one-on-one) and there are a lot of software programs out there designed for you to teach yourself ear-training through a lot of drill-and-practice exercises.

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As mentionned in the other answers, ear training is in a category of its own. I would advise you to start with humming major scales and using an ear training course or software. Usually the first exercise consist of discerning the lower note between two, which is exactly what you need. Then you'll be able to move a step up and try to recognise intervals, thus later being able to sing the forth or the seven of any pitch you hear.

There's a lot to learn but if your like me, you will find that ear training is one of the most fun part of musical training.

Start by humming the scale (don't bother so much to learn different keys at first). I say humming because you don't want to focus on your vocal technique at all and it should allow you to better hear both your voice and the scale.

Learn it up, then down, then up and down. Switch key. Then isolate each interval.

  1. Start you major scale and stop at the second note - Root to major second : that's your first interval. Link it in your mind with the start of a melody you know. For the second, that quite easy, lots of popular and traditional songs start with a major second. The one I personnaly use is Frère Jacques because I'm French, but you might use any one you like.

  2. First to third note of the scale is your major third. I personnaly use a French song you wouldn't know (michel fugain Fais comme l'oiseau) but you might use When the saints go marching on.

4: Perfect Fourth : First two notes of Amazing Grace.

5: Perfect Fifth : First two notes of Star Wars theme.

6: Sixth : this one's trickier to find. I again use a French song, but you can use first two notes of verse of Angels by Robbie Williams. You could use first notes of Canvas Bags also. Or first two notes of My way.

7: Major Seventh : This interval is rarely played ascendingly. I use Somewhere Over the rainbow's first and THIRD note.

8: Octave : Somewhere over the rainbow first and second note :)

I gave you my example, but I think it's very important to use song YOU know well. Keep playing each interval ( with a virtual piano like this one if you don't play any instrument ) until a song you know pops up. I think it works better if you're very emotionnaly attach to this song (or one you know from your childhood).

Eventually, you would need to find songs for other "in-between" intervals (minors and flats) or to recognise intervals when played together. But before then, this workout should really help your so-called tone-deafness.

That might sounds like a lot of work but I promess it is actually really fun and rewarding.

If you struggle to find songs to associate, you shoud google "Interval song associations"

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There is also this wiki-question listing song start interval songs: music.stackexchange.com/questions/7805/… –  Ulf Åkerstedt Apr 22 '13 at 21:16
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