Classic Computer Magazine Archive START VOL. 2 NO. 4 / SPECIAL ISSUE #2




Ear Trainer won't teach you to wiggle your ears at parties. But it can help you learn to play music by ear, and get a better grasp of the sounds that make up songs and symphonies. As you learn to recognize the elements of music, you'll get more out of the music you listen to-and become a better musician. Interested? Then read on-you'll find Ear Trainer on your START Disk!

You'll find the program for the article in the file EARTRAIN.ARC on your START disk

When I was in high school and college, I played guitar in a series of rock bands. in an effort to improve my musical knowledge, I took courses in music theory and spent many hours listening to intervals, chords and scales, which I tried to identify by their sound.

At first it was intimidating; some days a Perfect Fourth sounded like a Perfect Fifth, and I always got the Minor Sixth mixed up with the Augmented Fourth. But I got better, and soon I was writing the bass guitar and keyboard parts for the groups I was in- sometimes without even picking up a guitar to check what I was hearing.

The old notion that playing music by ear is something you're only born with, I realized, is simply not true. You can learn it-and, with practice, you can get better.

What's the use of all this? If you don't play a musical instrument and don't ever plan to, probably not much. But if you're a musician - or just want to increase your enjoyment of the music you listen to-you may find the program Ear Trainer to be very useful indeed.

Dancing Ears
Ear Trainer doesn't, as you might guess, teach you to perform amusing party tricks with your ears. Instead, Ear Trainer lets you work your way through a series of exercises and practice sessions, teaching you to recognize four different musical elements: intervals, chords, scales, and melodies. Each exercise has three levels of difficulty, so if you're a beginner you won't be overwhelmed-but as you grow more experienced, you'll still be challenged.

Ear Trainer won't directly improve your ability to play guitar or piano, of course. But with practice you can improve your ability to recognize melodies and background harmonies in music you've heard and wanted to play-but didn't have (or couldn't afford, or couldn't read) the sheet music for It's really true: You can learn to play by ear.

The Five-Minute Musician
You don't need a degree in music to use Ear Trainer, but it helps to understand a few basic elements of music theory. An interval is the distance, or the number of half-steps, between two notes. What's a half-step? Well, a standard musical scale, from one C on the piano to the next, consists of eight notes:


But it's not the same distance between all the notes. Equally spaced by sound, there are actually 12 half-steps from C to C:

C C# D D# E F F# G G# A A# B C

From C to C# is one half-step. The interval is the distance between two notes, from zero to 12 half-steps.

The notion
that playing music
by ear is something
you're born with
is not true.

Table 1 lists the traditional names of the intervals, along with their abbreviations and common memory aids that you can use to identify them. Actually, there are intervals of more than 12 half-steps, but for simplicity, Ear Trainer only deals with the first twelve intervals. However, as difficulty levels increase, intervals may be spaced more than one octave apart. And remember, C to G is a Perfect Fifth-but so is D to A. The interval is the distance between notes, not the notes themselves.
Short Form
Perfect Unison
Yes, that means the same note. No jokes about the short form, please.
Minor Second
The last two notes of the Major Scale (the one you might have played forever in high school band warmups) are a Minor Second apart.
Major Second
Think of the first two notes of that same boring Major Scale (the one they sing about in the Do-Re-Mi song). Or think of the first two notes of the Promenade in Mussorgsky's "Pictures At An Exhibition."
Minor Third
I'm ashamed to admit I always remembered this one as the first two notes of "Iron-Man" by Block Sabbath.
Major Third
The first two notes of the theme from the old "Jetsons" cartoon TV show ("Meet George. . .").
Perfect Fourth
For example, G to C. The first two notes of "Here Comes the Bride" are what most people use to remember this one by.
Augmented Fourth
Also known as the Diminished Fifth or the "TriTone" (because it is also equal to three "whole" steps). The distance between the first two notes of "Maria," from "West Side Story," is the classic example of the Tritone.
Perfect Fifth
For example, C to G. When I went to school we didn't have a good example for this one. Today you have the first two notes of the theme from "Star Wars." Be thankful.
Minor Sixth
The first two notes of "Love Story" are a Minor Sixth apart.
Major Sixth
The first two notes of "My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean."
Minor Seventh
The first two notes of the theme from the original "Star Trek" TV show.
Major Seventh
I don't have a song for this. Don't think you'll make money by being the first to write it, either. This interval sounds as if somebody died trying to reach the next octave.
Perfect Octave
The first two notes of "Somewhere Over The Rainbow."

A scale is a series of notes starting from any one and extending to the same note at the next octave. Most scales use various combinations of half-steps and whole steps to get there. The exception is the Chromatic Scale; it consists entirely of half-steps, and as a result it's also longer than the other scales.

There are many scales possible; Ear Trainer includes many of the most commonly used ones, along with a couple of "exotic" scales. Table 2 lists the scales used in the program along with the sequence of notes, starting from the note C, that produce that scale.

Identifying chords (three or more notes played simultaneously) could get complicated if we didn't limit some of the variables. For this program, you're only asked to identify the seven chords that occur "naturally" by combining notes from the Major Scale that are at least two notes apart.

Each chord is built on a different note of the Major Scale, and each note in the chord is a certain interval away from the first note. The chords are listed in Table 3.
Scales Used in Ear Trainer
Scale Notes
Major C D E F G A B C  
Natural Minor C D E- F G A- B- C  
Harmonic Minor C D E- F G A- B C  
Melodic Minor C D E- F G A B C  
  (but going down, it's: C B- A- G F E- D C)  
Dorian C D E- F G A B- C  
Phrygian C D- E- F G A- B- C  
Lydian C D E F# G A B C  
Chromatic C C# D D# E F F# G G# A A# B C
Mixalydian C D E F G A B- C  
All scales, except for the Melodic Minor, go back down to the root note (C) after the last note shown.

Sharps are indicated by a # after the note name; flats by a -.


Using The Program
To use Ear Trainer, first copy the file EARTRAIN.ARC to a fresh disk along with ARCX.TTP. Run ARCX. and when the Open Applications box appears type EARTRAIN.ARC and press the Return key. Your disk drives will spin, messages on the screen will tell you the files are being uncompressed, and soon you'll have a runnable version, EARTRAIN.PRG, on your disk. Double-click on EARTRA1N.PRG, and you'll be ready to go.

Ordinarily Ear Trainer makes its music through the speaker on your monitor But if you've got a MIDI synthesizer, you can connect it to the MIDI Out port on the back of your ST, and Ear Trainer will use it for all the program's practice and test sessions.

Chords Built on the
Major Scale
Name Note of Major
Scale The Chord is
Built On
Tonic First-the "root."
Supertonic Second (a Major Second from the root).
Mediant Third note (Major Third from the root).
SubDominant Fourth note (Perfect Fourth from the root).
Dominant Fifth note (Perfect Fifth from the root).
SubMediant Sixth note (Major Sixth from the root).
SubTonic Seventh note (Major Seventh).

Start with something from the Practice menu. it offers four choices: Intervals, Chords, Scales and Melodies. The first three selections are fairly self-explanatory. After you've clicked on one, a dialog box appears with a number of choices that may be selected with the mouse pointer. Each choice (except for Quit) produces one of the sounds you'll learn to recognize. The Chords dialog box also has a button labeled Key; selecting this causes four chords which identify the key, randomly chosen for this practice session, to be played in succession. (These same four chords are also played immediately after you select Chords.)

The Melodies option requires a little more explanation. For the purposes of this program, a melody is a sequence of note names separated by spaces. Valid note names consist of the letters A, B, C, D, E, F, and G, with an optional # (to indicate a sharp) or - (for a flat). For example:

F# E D E F# F# F#

is a valid "melody," as recognized by Ear Trainer.

The Tests menu lets you test yourself on the sounds you've practiced. The program plays a particular interval, chord, scale or melody, and your task is to recognize which one has been played.

Identifying Melodies is the most challenging, and may be too difficult if you haven't had some training in music before. But it provides a good advanced test once you've mastered the other tests: You must listen to a string of notes and, after being shown the first notes name, identify the other notes.

The dialog boxes for the tests have two other choices: Replay and Give Up. Selecting Replay tells the program you want to hear the problem again before making a choice; you'll only be allowed to do this a limited number of times per problem, depending on the difficulty level. Select Give Up when you just can't figure Out a problem.

The Options menu has two choices: Scores and Status. Ear Trainer keeps track of the most recent score for each of the four tests. Selecting the Scores option displays them. Scores aren't saved when you exit the program.

You can learn
to play by ear.

The Status dialog box allows you to change some program parameters. The first one is Difficulty Level. There are three difficulty levels: Easy, Intermediate, and Advanced. The difficulty level affects things like octave range between notes of intervals, number of times you may replay a problem before making a choice, and length of melodies. Playing Speed determines how quickly the program will produce the sounds you'll be asked to identify. You can also disable the sounds the program makes when you answer correctly or incorrectly.

Finally, you can quit the program by clicking on Quit in the Files menu.

A Theory Farewell
Ear Trainer provides some tools for learning about the components of music and identifying them. The best way to improve your listening skills, however, is to practice ear training with the music you listen to every day. Think about the music you're hearing. Try to guess the intervals between notes of the melody, and try to follow the chord changes. Later, try out your ideas on a musical instrument to see how far off you were. As time goes by, you'll improve. Of course, analyzing real music is much more complex than choosing from a list of intervals or chords. But real music is where ear training becomes practical-and leaves the world of theory behind.

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David T Jarvis is a systems analyst for Ashland Oil who also has a degree in music theory.