Harmonic Ear Training
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Harmonic Ear Training (DVD). An excellent workshop from the assistant chair of the Ear Training Department at the prestigious Berklee College of Music, this DVD is a vital intro to the topic for songwriters and performers looking to improve their listening skills and become better musicians. You'll learn to: recognize chord progressions quickly and confidently, and incorporate them into your writing and performing, listen to music more analytically, and apply this knowledge to all of your projects. 73 minutes.
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The star rating on this rating really depends on who you are and what your expectation is - my main gripe/incredulous//what's going on/very disappointed feeling which prompted the original one star was that there was nothing on this product to indicate that it has a very specific target audience..primarily it seems students actually attending Berkeley College who had completed precursor course(s) and, presuming they had been diligent, already have acquired certain aural skills, significant theory and the specific study materials where it must be spelled out the logic of why things are done the way they are on this DVD (see below)..these are are only mentioned in passing on this actual product. Even if these precursors were available to the general public on-line (and I for one don't want to have to do that..if I'm buying a instructional DVD I want that to at least in part tackle all that is necessary to get going) this is not made clear in the introduction and having gone through the various menu options I at least cannot find anything specific other than a link to on the line version of the Harmony course itself. - after the causal chat format introduction (which includes a few one-liner hints) the Instructor just leaps straight in as if she's in front of the people who were there last term - . As described below, some of the presupposed aural elements a fair number of people will just plain not be able to hear what is referred to, lacking the required explanation and training (akin to wine tasting or Magic Eye you don't know it's there till somebody points it out and then you have to practice to be able to do it).
So let's imagine you are an amateur musician experiencing some kind of "angst" because you are pretty nimble on guitar by now but when it comes to playing along to a record etc, even though you can hear the chords are something pretty simple rock or pop, you have not a clue what they are. You've picked up somewhere the notion of ear-training but don't know too much.. You come across something described on the box as ' A VITAL INTRODUCTION to ear training for songwriters and performers looking to improve their listening skills...', also contains the word Harmony - that's chords right
- Nothing on there about `ONLY INCLUDES THE SECOND STAGE OF THE PROCESS - absolutely requiring having already mastered a certain type of Single Note Ear Training and also requiring having learned a substantial part of ACADEMIC HARMONY TEXTBOOKS WHICH MOST PEOPLE OUTSIDE OF COLLEGES HAVE NO EXPERIENCE OF,
On the actual ear training part you might be currently lacking on and which is not demonstrated here, only vaguely alluded to:
There's no attempt here to explain or demonstrate the fundamentals of why we hear things in a 'harmonious fashion',what the subjective qualities of the sound of notes or chords it is we need to learn to recognise - without this you may be stumped, going nowhere with the rest of this.
Without going into too much detail (and I'm a learner rather than an expert) you need to understand the idea of a tonal centre and be able to hear the way individual notes sound in relation to a tonal centre before you can tackle anything on this DVD. A key phase of working out a chord progression suggested here is to be able to hear the bassline as a 'tonal melody', however, this term is not defined, there's no substantial explanation of what this involves..it's just assumed you can already do it (which may be the case if you are 'on the course').
My advice - if you have not already done so first check out Bruce E. Arnold's ear training books and website where these concepts are properly explained..I've made a lot of progress even with a sloppy incomplete use of his methods (and also the somewhat expensive but excellent book 'Harmonic Experience' by W.A. Mathieu). Once you've done that you might well decide you don't need this DVD. (on the other hand it does not cost that much so you might want to give it a try anyway - if you buy it and can do the tonal melody bit you'll probably ask the question `why didn't they just apply the same to the rest of the notes as well as the bassline. You'll also quickly realise that unlike here where someone plays you the key in advance and it stays there, much music in both the classical and popular world does not behave in this convenient manner - the notes used might not be 'sufficient' to cause the brain/ear to decide it's in a single definite key from the outset and the key may change or become ambiguous/unstable at various points, but there's nothing about how to deal with that here.
The other side of it is the academic theory bit..
The quite signifcant, definitely 'academic' knowledge assumed here is really taken for granted, like it's water off a duck's back to you .I would imagine there are even quite a few professional songwriters and performers who have never heard of secondary dominants (quite apart from knowing that if the bass note has dropped by a fifth between 2 chords it probably means the first chord was a secondary dominant.. I think I got that right!) and don't own a copy of 'Harmony' by Walter Piston etc. I have not (yet) done it myself but my estimate was that in the average text book you'd need to go to something like the 150-200 page zone to cover the territory up to secondary dominants appearing on the scene. The instructor gives a set of restrictions on what chord sequence drills will do (although only 'the students' are fully party to why this so)..obviously for learners there needs to be limits but the problem is the approach seems to rule out what is being done in a lot of 'popular' music which is not complex but does not know these rules.
What's further frustrating about the presentation is the limited 'academic' context, which I suppose is inevitable given what I said about the introduction. The main presentation lasts about 20 minutes and consists of a sort of dictation exercise to work out a block chord progression played by the instructor on the keyboard (the rest of the time is drills in the same context - even though some of these are intended to be 'easy for starters' they all still have 7ths, secondary dominants in rather than giving you some really basic C, F, Gs etc to get going on ). There's are only a couple of one-liner remarks on other musical contexts...perhaps the most obvious one being the approach to take for live music where the rest of the musicians won't stop or let you 'rewind the tape' to hear what just happened -it would have been useful to see the Instructor or students in action so you could get some kind of idea of what is possible/dispel some notions that other people could do miraculous things why not me etc. Songwriters are mentioned on the box but there's nothing on using your ear training to better understand and compose your music. How to approach reading /hearing in your head harmony from sheet music mentioned but no substance.. as mentioned oftentimes the key signature is not telling you what the music is actually doing but no material on how to recognise it/tackle it.
I've tried hard to think of postive things to say about this DVD but at the end of the day I think for many potential buyers (ie. the Non-Student Population) the negatives are the things to point out - you may find you fall at the first hurdle of the Bassline Tonal Melody and there's not enough even 'in passing' information on this to allow most people to suss it out..so you have to go off elsewhere.
there is a 5 minute introductory section on the DVD which seems to focus exclusively on how the students (presumably of berkelee school ) already have significant knowledge of theory ,secondary dominant harmony, many hours of melodic and rhythmic dictation experience etc. trouble is it's me that bought the dvd...i am not "the sudents"! i was not aware that this was supposed to be for in-house use only.
the core presentation is only about 25 minutes . i frankly found elements of this perplexing. the purpose of ear training is to analyse music by ear, either live or recordings, therefore usually in real time. however having suggested that identification of the tonic is the first element (fair enough) she proceeds to play a tonic chord before playing at the keyboard the example piece to be identified ! and totally misses any discussion of how to identify the tonic in the normal scenario where it is not first delivered on a plate..any methods, difficulties or key ambiguities that might come into play etc are not discussed. try bruce arnold's key note recognition book and you may find that finding the tonic is not such a piece of cake as is suggested here.
next step is to extract the bass line formed by the harmony...again this presents no difficulty since she sight reads it ! the example is not replayed and an attempt made to extract the bassline from this hearing, with discussion of how to do this,..she just plays it from the page!
next step is to hear the bassline as a tonal melody using solfege. again this is an acquired skill in itself but it is more or less assumed that you, the presumably Berkelee student of the introduction, can already do it. in fact there is no actual explanation of solfege other than the mention of do,re, mi ..certainly no ti,li,say etc.
the following chapters may be of use if you can already do the stuff above and the theory it was assumed you already knew, but with a total length of about 10-15 minutes or so this seems to be in contradiction with a question from the introduction re. how long it takes to learn this stuff to which the answer was 'i hope you are not doing anything else for the rest of the week'. the emphasis is more on inferring and guessing chords from theoretical presumptions rather than just plain hearing them ..perhap this better represents the reality of things but if you where hoping this dvd had the magic answer to that one then look elsewhere.
especially if you are,like me, not already a college level etc music student with aural skills falling just short of hearing chord progressions i would forget this in favour of working with bruce arnold's books, gottschalk/kloeckner 'functional hearing' etc. the dvd visual format is not exploited here and the short duration and lack of in-depth discussion/explanation makes most ear-training book/audio systems preferable to this to my mind
Berklee instructor Roberta Radley discusses how students can take a logical and analytical approach to breaking down the hearing process by listening for one element at a time such as the bassline, the chord's third, or whether the chord sounds "in key' or not. By applying these processes individually and combining them with theoretical knowledge the student can determine the chord progression. Radley does a great job of explaining and providing suitable examples.
The second half of the DVD consists of listening exercises of increasing complexity played on piano followed by the answers (I did notice one error in the answers).
Radley doesn't pretend these skills can be learned by watching the DVD a few times and in fact says right at the beginning that it takes a very long time. Also basic ear training and music theory is required before starting harmonic ear training.
This DVD is a very good investment for anybody wanting to learn how to recognize chord progressions, just expect to invest a lot more in time.
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Do NOT buy this junk. Berklee should be ashamed of itself!