I've been doing ear training and I have to say my scale degree identification (after playing cadences) is pretty good, I can identify the #4 and the b2 and the b7 etc well

but the problem is that as a beginner, I'd be trying to assume the song that I'm transcribing is in either major or minor. you know I don't expect the #4 to show up because well I don't really know what it sounds like in the context of the key and usually (in classical music at least) the sharp 4 is not played in the context of the key, it's the modulation.

I don't really know how to explain so you guys can know what level of understanding I'm at to be able to give me advice.

  • The whole point of ear training is that you don't "assume" what the notes are, you "listen" and identify them accurately. It seems like you are doing fine, you just need a bit more confidence to believe what you are hearing is actually correct.
    – user19146
    Aug 6, 2018 at 0:28
  • The question title doesn't seem to match up with the question itself.
    – Dekkadeci
    Aug 6, 2018 at 14:40
  • @Dekkadeci I agree, maybe it could be rephrased for more clarity?
    – coconochao
    Aug 6, 2018 at 18:09

4 Answers 4


I think this is precisely the kind of knowledge that comes with experience. In other words, once you'll be able to spot a mode for sure in a tune, you won't be a beginner anymore!

One possible approach to recognising modes is to find pieces of music or tunes that are in specific modes, and listen to them, analyse them, play them... Try to understand what makes the tune modal.

Another nice training is to compose modal chord progressions. It does not have to be much. A progression of two orthree chords is more than enough. But that will help you get a feel for modes, hopefuly recognise some specific chord changes in some music you listen to.

Last but not least: pratice modes as scales and shift from mode to mode. For example: start practicing C ionian (a.k.a. C major) then practice C dorian. Once you got both down, try to shift from one to the other.
The ultimate workout about this is to shift form one to the other while improvising.

Hopefuly, these exercises will help you hear modes with time.

  • 1
    The only reason that we know what feeling healthy feels like is that we know what feeling sick feels like. When you're listening to modal songs/scales/chords, you need a reference point, and the closer those reference points are in proximity, the better you'll be able to know the difference. So make sure you're alternating back and forth semi-regularly to hear the differences.
    – John Doe
    Aug 8, 2018 at 16:20
  • This part of the answer is based on David Wallimann'sd Big modal workout. He does it on a guitar, but you can totally adapt the concept to another instrument. Check it out! Aug 9, 2018 at 8:54

The #4, especially in classical music, is probably acting as part of the secondary dominant of the dominant chord. For example, in C major, the dominant chord is G major. The secondary dominant (V/V) is D major, which would include an F#, which would be the #4 of C major.

When listening to the melody, listen to the relationship of the note coming after the one you don't expect. If it resolves up by a half-step, there's a good chance that outside-the-key note is part of a secondary chord. I find it easier to think about notes, intervals, and chords in their relationship to one another rather than memorizing how individual notes sound in any key.


You need to play these intervals on your piano. Play a note. Sing it. Decide what the interval will be. Sing that note. Play the correct note. Or, play two random notes with your eyes shut. Work out what the interval could be. Open, and check. Please remember that every interval has at least two names, depending on what you call the notes. C>Ab =m6, but C>G# =aug.5. The more you do it, the better you'll become.

Recognising if a piece is major or minor is very important - it tells a lot more about which notes you'll find. The giveaway is the third. It's M3 in major, m3 in minor. Once you've established that, you'll know what the piece is in.

But that's nothing to do with #4/b5. That can happen in any key, and usually shows a modulation, to the dominant. Unless it's blues, where that interval happens frequently!


You're doing fine. You can identify '#4 and the b2 and the b7'. You're NOT locked into an assumption that every note will be diatonic in a major scale. Well done!

Having said that - yes it's much easier to transcribe - particularly chords, where it may be difficult to hear individual notes - when you know what the possibilities are. If you only know about major and minor triads, an augmented chord is hard to recognize. If a song is in Lydian mode, it's ineffecient to 'hear' every 4th as a wrong note!

Experience will expand your stock of familiar patterns. But accept the linits of your experience, when you encounter something you don't recognize, be prepared to work it out from first principles. Do you recognise a whole-tone scale? A #9 chord? A 6/9 chord? Onward and upward!

Also, practice sight-singing. It's like transcribing, but backwards!

(And after 60-odd years of working with music, there's still plenty that I have to WORK at transcribing :-)

  • I can only identify the #4 b2 and b7 in the context of a cadence. Not in a context of the song
    – Sky Star
    Aug 9, 2018 at 17:50
  • Keep practicing then. You will! Also practice sight-singing.
    – Laurence
    Aug 10, 2018 at 11:53

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