How to figure out melodies of a different timbre than the piano

I am trying to develop my aural abilities, I'm trying to figure out the melody lines of songs by ear. I tried one-note tracing(i.e. one unknown note played on the piano and then I have to figure out on my piano which note was played). Although I have gotten a little bit of accuracy in this exercise, I am not able to replicate this when figuring out a pop song with vocal melody lines. I think it probably has to do with the fact that it's a different timbre, so I struggle a little. So, I would like advice on how I can overcome this problem, any feedback or tips would be greatly appreciated.

• Not certain what the question is here.
– Tim
May 27, 2023 at 7:57
• Are the answers here helpful: How do I identify the first 4 notes in this song?. May 27, 2023 at 7:59
• I think I'll change it to make it a little more specific May 27, 2023 at 8:05
• I think the issue with this question is the use of the word timbre. It the question how to hear a melody of a different timbre, or how to get past the first note of a melody of any timbre? May 27, 2023 at 10:11

Practice what you're aiming for

A typical feature of conservatory ear training is piano melodic dictation exercises. If that's what you're used to, it makes sense that you won't be as good at figuring the pitch of different sorts of sounds.

If it's vocal music you can't figure out (which can be very microtonally rich), then I can't think of a faster way to get better than to keep trying - your ear will eventually adapt.

Common tricks you might have used when listening to piano pieces still apply, such as keeping track of the chord progressions, and figuring out what "fits", as well as using the accompaniment notes to track intervals (like solving for x in a simple math equation).

Best of luck!

Learn scales and arpeggios. Establish which notes go with which chords, and where the root of a key is in all that (^1 in a root chord, ^5 in a IV chord). As with everything, the more you do, the better you become at it - it will take some time!

Learn to recognise intervals - not necessarily by name, but be able to reproduce any interval you hear - facilitated by knowing those scales and arpeggios.

I would begin by listening to vocal and instrumental versions of the same song. This would be an exercise in itself — listening to multiple versions to hear the same melody in different timbres.

As a next step, find a song where one version has a piano melody and one has a vocal melody. Transcribe the piano melody, then play along with the vocal melody (you may have to transpose your piano version, which is also a good ear-training exercise).

I suggest children's songs and folk songs as a starting point. These are most likely to have been recorded both with voice and with other instruments.