Suppose that you want to practice the memorization of your repertoire by humming the notes while you drive. You can only hum one note at a time, not chords. I suppose you could just play the root note, but would you do in the case of dyads?

Update Let me give a concrete example: this is from Stravinsky's Sonata for two pianos, 2nd movement, one of my favorite pieces. Do you see the 6th note? It's not a chord and if you ignore the G note, then it doesn't sound right. Then again, you can't substitute those two notes for something else. 1]

  • Please provide some examples of the kind of music you are talking about.
    – Tim
    May 6 '20 at 5:46
  • BVW 114, Minuet in G major
    – bobsmith76
    May 6 '20 at 7:15
  • I can't find any A note. May 6 '20 at 8:44
  • 1
    So the question is more like "how to practice remembering harmonies with a non-chordal instrument"? Nothing to do with transposing. May 6 '20 at 11:08
  • 2
    Transposing is a very understandable word, but it just happens to be culturally assigned to a completely unrelated concept. Maybe you meant "transform"? May 6 '20 at 11:55

This is a good method to practice the chords and train the ear!

If you mean to reduce a song written in chords to one single voice ... that's impossible.

But you can try this:

e.g.:We shall over come

singing two 16th (l.h. root and 3rd) and holding the melody note (r.h.) as a quarter note or even a half note.

domiso__ domiso__ domila__ domila__ domiso_ domisofa ....

The example of all examples is the prelude in C by Bach. You can sing the arpeggios like Arvo Paert plays it in a fast tempo. Try this out and then you can do it with a slow song always starting with the triad root or bass note.

You can download any piece or song in double speed and sing the lowest pitch and the highest pitch and imagine the middle parts of the chords. But you can also sing it slow ... as you like.

also this is an interesting exercice:

BWV 114 you can practice as following:

  • Play the bass line l.h. and sing the melody Play the melody r.h. and sing the bass line
  • Sing the bass line and "listen" to your inner ear the melody and vice versa

  • Sing the chord as triad domiso

  • You can also try to sing both lines skipping from the lower to the upper part, but this has to happen very slowly ...

BWV 114 is not so practicable like other pieces by Bach as e.g. BWV 999


The Largo of Stravinsky's Sonata looks as a good example to try singing both parts as one skipping from the l.h. to the r.h.


I think you can try to outline the chord with your humming like a walking bass. Like for a bar of C you could humm C - E - G - E. Thats what a walking bass is about: 'outlining the chords'.

If the chords change to fast for you to outline the full chords, you can try to omit some chord notes (humm only root/fifth or thrid/seventh)


It's not really transposing. What you're trying to do isn't going to be that productive if you keep changing bits round. How will that cement anything into memory, when it's not strictly what you eventually play (or sing).

Best bet is to get recordings, and you can play them in the car, and hum/sing along with them. That way, you are absorbing the whole thing, while singing along to any part you like. In key as well..!

  • I disagree, the point is to practice memorization. Of course, I can listen to music, but that doesn't test whether or not you're able to reproduce it.
    – bobsmith76
    May 6 '20 at 9:16
  • O.k. So how do you know if you're singing it right, and is being able to sing something the same as being able to play that same thing? I think not. It may help a little, and if that's o.k., fine, but it woudn't be enough for me.
    – Tim
    May 6 '20 at 10:06
  • When you're in your car what else are you going to do?
    – bobsmith76
    May 6 '20 at 10:39
  • I would turn the volume down and up - that helps me keep in time as well. But I certainly don't do my practice while driving. My concentration is taken up with driving safely!
    – Tim
    May 6 '20 at 10:42
  • Turning the volume up or down is more dangerous than humming a tune since with the former your hand is on your musical device rather than on the wheel. Further, in most states the law prohibits use of electronic devices while driving, but it certainly does not prohibit singing or humming.
    – bobsmith76
    May 6 '20 at 10:49

When talking about popular music, you probably won't have songs written in "chords". The majority of popular music is based on melody. Sure you have chords backing the melody, but if your plan is to memorize the song, you should be singing the melody and be sure to know what harmony comes with it.

But supposing you're playing something that is truly just chords like The Chord Catalogue, you could try singing the highest note in pitch for each chord. If that doesn't work (like chords changing by bass movement), sing the higher note that is moving from chord to chord.


A song written in chords tends to be homophonic and can therefore be reduced to single notes and a singable/hummable melody fairly easily. I know I've converted lots of music I've listened to this way by ear, including some with no published sheet music. I've almost always been satisfied with the results (although I do like singing accompaniment notes I can squeeze in). In fact, I tend to compose by humming a melody until it sticks, then harmonizing it.

What throws a wrench into this method is polyphony and counterpoint. The excerpt in the question/OP alludes to this: the lower displayed staff of its Bar 2 is a rough inversion of the contents of Bar 1. An astute listener likely wants both the new material and the rough inversion in Bar 2 to be heard, and they may not be satisfied with only one of them sounding at a time.

I've generally sung polyphonic pieces and pieces with strong and distinctive enough accompaniment by singing a different musical line in each repeat or the loudest musical line in all repeats. I'm often not satisfied with the singing results of any one repeat as a result. (I swear a recording of the slower Bach Well-Tempered Klavier fugue in F Minor I listened to several times when I was younger has forever messed up how I sing that piece and possibly all polyphonic pieces, simply because it kept emphasizing the topmost line.)


I haven't used this process to work on a instrument part before, however when I work up a harmony vocal, I sometimes record my vocal part played on an instrument and then use that to memorize the part by playing it back and singing along with it. I do this in my music room, but it might work for you if you have a music player in your vehicle. It can help you get used to recording yourself too.


Of course you can, Mr. Schenker!

Jokes aside, you can always simplify dense chordal passages to triads, intervals and even single notes, but why doing this? This may lead you to an incredible knowledge of the pieces form and important points of formal coherence or lead you to nonsense understanding of harmony and form.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.