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A simple test and training of your jazz ear

If you watched my masterclass entitled, The Magic of Deep Listening, you heard me describe something I like to do when I hear a non-musical tone out in the real world (airplane engine, train horn, animal, etc.) I sing that tone and play around with it.

Here’s a simple thing you can do with that idea to assess and develop your ear for tunes.

I’ve recorded three synthesizer tones of different pitches.

  1. Hit play and listen to one of the pitches without determining its note name. (Octave up or down as needed)
  2. Think of a song you know well (Happy Birthday, All The Things You Are, Star-Spangled Banner, Tones for Joan’s Bones, etc.)
  3. Play that song with the synth tone as the root of the song, NOT the starting note. That note is the root of the song. Play as far into the song as possible.
  4. (Optional but probably helpful) Sing the root so that it settles in, then sing the start of the song.
  5. Listen for the reoccurring tone as you play to ensure you are staying within the key and maintaining an accurate pitch.

Here’s what NOT to do:

Figure out the note of that synth tone, determine the first note of a song relative to the key, calculate the first note for that particular synth tone. Play the song, fooling yourself into thinking you must have a good ear.

Playing successfully through an exercise is not determined by “right” notes any more than “right” notes is a determinant of improvising authentically over changes.

If you cannot hear the first note based on the synth root tone, you chose the wrong song for this exercise (at east for now). Start with Mary Had a Little Lamb or the Alphabet Song if those are possible for you.

Last, DO NOT THINK YOUR WAY THROUGH THIS EXERCISE. Go with your intuition. Don’t tell yourself that you have to get it right. There’s no grade or outside evaluation of you as a musician. Give yourself the freedom to get it wrong until you find a song you can successfully play. THAT is doing this exercise correctly and THAT will help connect you with your instrument and guide you through authentic improvised musical storytelling you wish to play.

The three tones:

Experience the fun and speed of
improving your jazz improvisation!

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Michael Lake

Trombonist, author, marketer, & tech guy

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