In my last two columns, I outlined a series of different ear training exercises designed to sharpen your note-recognition abilities. As you may recall, we began with an examination of the intervallic relationships between pairs of notes, then expanded the scope of our analysis to include full chords. Up to this point, we’ve been using the guitar as the tool for learning. Ear training, however, is something that a musician should ultimately be able to apply to sounds made not only on one’s principal instrument but to notes produced by other instruments such as keyboards, horns, strings or the human voice. When your ears become really good you’ll begin to realize that every sound is made up of either one or more pitches, and you’ll listen to music — and the sounds around you — in a new and different way.

If you have diligently worked on the exercises I presented in the last three columns, your ears have no doubt improved. But there’s no rest for the weary: this month I’ll be giving you some drills that will raise the ear training bar a few more notches.

In my first column, I outlined exercises that entailed singing along with everything that you play on the guitar. What we’re going to do now is to sing in harmony with everything we play.

Let’s begin with the interval of a fifth. FIGURE 1a illustrates the A major scale (A B C# D E F# G#), with the intervallic relationships indicated between the standard notation and tablature. In the key of A, A is considered the first scale degree (“one”) and the root note. Note E is called the “fifth,” as it is the fifth scale degree of the A major scale. If you were to play these two notes, the root and the fifth, together, as shown in FIGURE 1b, you’d be playing notes that are the interval of a fifth apart; the resulting sound is an A5 chord.

Figure 1
Listen Figure 1A
Listen Figure 1B

The A minor pentatonic scale (A C D E G) is one that many guitar players are familiar with, so we’ll be using it as the basis of our next exercise. FIGURE 2a depicts the A minor pentatonic scale, while FIGURE 2b illustrates the same scale with each note harmonized a fifth above. As you play each pair of notes, sing only the higher of the two, which is the fifth. Play and sing this harmonized scale up and down several times.

Figure 2
Listen Figure 2A
Listen Figure 2B

Now comes the fun and challenging part. FIGURE 3 is a melody built from the A minor pentatonic scale; your mission is to play this melody on the guitar while harmonizing every note a fifth above with your voice (these notes are indicated in parentheses). This may seem difficult at first, so tackle this exercise one pitch at a time, and try your best to sing the harmony notes as in tune as you possibly can.

Figure 3
Listen Figure 3
Figure 4
Listen Figure 4

Next Part we’ll expand this concept to other intervals, such as thirds and fourths. See you then.