Ear training and memory

Our ear training classes have been following a format that I have started to notice and thought I'd attempt to pen down. Every class starts with a warm-up in solfege. First we sing the scale by steps and then in canon form. We move on to outlining chords in root position, then chords in first inversion, then chords in second inversion. This is followed by singing the previous day's assignment by memory and then singing it again transposing it into other major or minor keys. Then we move onto our dictation exercise, where the teacher plays a melody which we write down. This becomes the melody that we must memorize for our next class and the next assignment where we sing and play, transposed into new keys.

We do three hours of this twice a week. I'm noticing that we use a lot of the same examples in multiple different ways and it is a requirement for it to be memorized for the next lesson. You would think that as a pianist this memory work would be easy. In a way it is but it is also really challenging when you are used to sight reading all of the time. Memory work is different from reading work and this requirement is helping me to think about music in a new way.

Memory work has benefits such as ease of recall and accuracy of pitch. More importantly, it fosters the ability to audiate music while you are doing other things. For example, when having to sing a melody by Mozart and play the given bass line from memory, transposed into a new key, all of a sudden, singing the melody goes on auto pilot and your senses are much more aware of the more challenging task of playing the left hand.

We went for a walk yesterday to buy a few household items and on our way to another part of the city, we were able to stop and see some of the remnants of the Soviet occupation. What once would have be an extensive Hungarian army barracks was overtaken by the Russians and now sits abandoned and left to ruin. As I stood in awe at this tangible history before my eyes, I wondered if these buildings could not be an allegory for our memories. What stands before us contains layers of meaning and yet we move about our day perhaps not noticing the vast encampment. Perhaps it is too hard to look at because it brings up uncomfortable feelings or perhaps we have so much on the go that we have to keep moving through our day. Either way, as soon as a thought enters into the mind it flickers onto something else. We spend most of our days focusing on one task and then another and another because we are masters of multitasking.

This week I have been learning how to intentionally multitask my music assignments which means to be able to focus on the difficult task and memorize the second one so that two thoughts can be held simultaneously. The aim is not to be on autopilot while completing the harder task but to intentionally understand the layers of music around me. What a great challenge to offer ourselves and our students.

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