If I listen to a Mozart piano sonata, I am practically unable to comprehend what is happening musically.

I'm talking about functional perception, hearing the function of each note or chord.

Sometimes as a phrase comes to an end I can make out the subdominant, the leading note and then the tonic. But it is like trying to watch a bluebottle. It may settle for a moment but it darts around faster than my eye can track it. As soon as I figure out where the buzz is coming from and put my eyes there, the bluebottle is somewhere else.

However, if I hear the melody of three blind mice, I can register the function of each note.

So, it should be possible to gradually ramp up the difficulty level!

Music is written to mystify the listener, so it goes in the opposite direction so a learning resource.

EDIT: I had better elaborate on that. Take any pop song, the harmony may be as basic as I vi IV V, but the lyrics, instruments, weaving melody tell a story that focuses the conscious attention of the listener elsewhere. Typically a listener doesn't hear the second measure and say to themselves "this is boring, it is just repeating itself" because they don't notice this repetition. Maybe like an Escher staircase, or a ball of clay that has been shaped into a dog, if you see the process from the beginning you're aware it is a ball of clay. But if you just see the end result it looks like a dog. Of course a well-trained musician is able to appreciate the underlying structure, but for a piece of classical music this basic structure gets twisted tweaked moulded ... until it is really hard to figure out what is going on musically.

Whatever scaffold was created initially gets rubbed out, a simple melody gets ornamented, a basic chord sequence gets extemporised upon, bass notes get erased, etc.

I could take a piece of classical music and simplify it repeatedly, maybe after 4 passes I will be left with the skeleton.

It strikes me that it would be a very valuable practice to start out with hearing such a skeleton, and only when I am able to fluently comprehend the musical content should I progress.

Usually I have but to think of something, and I can find it available from Googling.

I have been searching, expecting to find some 10 CD course, where the teacher is playing basic melodies and harmonies, of increasing complexity. And I can learn by picking out the melody or baseline solfege with my voice or on an instrument.

A simple melody harmonised with a single bass note every time the harmony changes -- this would be perfect. It seems like such a simple idea, surely some teacher has created such a resource.

But I cannot find such a thing! It's a difficult thing to search for.

So my question is, do there exist terms and phrases for this method of learning? Are there any resources in existence for teaching in this way? How might I go about finding them?

  • 1
    "Music is written to mystify the listener..." I hazard to guess that not every composer has this in mind.
    – filzilla
    Apr 18, 2014 at 20:54
  • 2
    If you can see a better way for me to express my question, please suggest it or make the edit, and I will be grateful. Otherwise you're just creating clutter with snide comments.
    – P i
    Apr 18, 2014 at 23:04
  • You are welcome to have the opinion that "Music is written to mystify the listener" which you appear to present as fact. My point is that not all composers or all compositions have this goal. It would not be appropriate for me to "edit" your question on this point, hence why there is a comment section. Nothing snide intended on my part. My apologies if it appeared to be snide to you.
    – filzilla
    Apr 19, 2014 at 0:06
  • Ok, maybe I need to edit my question, I'm trying to communicate something that I would expect people to find obvious, but I find it difficult to put into words. Readers of the thread please note that a second comment has been removed, giving a false impression that my answer was primarily directed at filzilla, whereas in fact I was merely hoping to catch him with splash damage in case he was being disingenuous :) The removed comment gave a dictionary definition of 'mystify' which I found churlish.
    – P i
    Apr 19, 2014 at 20:00
  • 1
    Just Google for Django Bates's 'The Interval Song'. Apr 21, 2014 at 20:06

1 Answer 1


The terminology you're looking for would be Aural Training, Ear Training, or Aural Skills and there is a lot of literature on the subject.

Since you seem to want to take a more academic approach to it, I can point you to this course offered online by Berklee College of Music.

Also, this textbook seems to take a similar approach as you described. They begin with basics like intervals and triads, and work up through harmonic progressions, using select pieces from the classical repertoire that make for good aural studies.

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