Rhythmic Displacement Ear Training

As a companion to last weeks blog I’d like to share a few exercises that use melodic and rhythmic displacement to give your ears workout.

The main feature of these exercises is that they highlight ways in which our ear perceives strong melodic arrangement. Since music is something that we all absorb without effort, it makes sense that our brain makes decisions about the music we listen to without our conscience effort. Every time you hear a familiar song your brain registers everything about it. Instinctively you know when the drums, bass, keys, voice, ect. are supposed to line up. It’s all set up to have the biggest impact. The strength of the rhythm section will support the melody and vice versa. The purpose of the following exercises is to take strong melodies and displace the rhythm in order to change the way your mind perceives them. I’ve chosen a simple major scale melody because all of us have heard it a thousand times and it will illustrate the effect of the displacement very clearly.

Here goes:

1. The root of this series is this first pattern. An even distribution of strong notes on strong beats. The melody repeats 1234 of the major scale and the bass moves between 1 and 5. I have added accent marks to show that the first and third notes of the phrase should be stressed. Once displaced, putting the stress on these notes will help to separate your ears from their original perception more quickly.

2. This is the first displacement. The pattern flips and starts a half beat ahead. I’ve placed the accents to show visually how the stresses are manipulated. the bass stays consistent and the melody voice is displaced.

3. The next displacement is not quite as difficult on the ears. the 2nd and 4th exercises place the strong notes of the melody on the most unfamiliar rhythms. Numbers 1 and 3 are much more typical and place the stresses on even divisions in the bar.

4. This last permutation begins the phrase on the upbeat of 4. Again this places the stress of the familiar scale onto more uncommon beats.

It’s important to play each of these patterns for a long repeat cycle. The point is to lose yourself in the phrase and listen to the stresses. When you’ve gotten used to one of the patterns, move on to another and notice how your mind stretches itself in temporary denial of the new arrangement. You might even find that your fingers try to revert to the more familiar pattern. This is a lesson in listening detachment. These exercises will start to free your mind from its unconscious associations.

Here is another set of exercises based on the same concept. These use and added element of polyrhythm to create another layer in the listening study.

1. This is essentially the same exercise with one added element. The melody still consists or the first 4 notes of the F major scale. The difference is in the addition of quarter note triplets. This creates a displacement inherent in the rhythm of the melody. Notice that it takes 3 repetitions of the 4 note melody to make it through the same amount of bass notes from the last group of exercises. The previous patterns were grouped evenly with 4 notes per bass note.

2. The first displacement of the exercise.

3. The second.

4. The last displacement. All four of these are pretty hard to get used to at first. Except for the first example, they never line up at the beginning.

Thanks for reading and feel free to let me know your experiences with the material. These exercises together will get your head spinning.

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