Lauren’s Comprehensive Crowdsourced Tune Library

Friends, Colleagues, and Students! You know by now that I’m a big advocate for playing tunes by ear, in all keys, to help develop sound, phrasing, musicality, intonation, range, technical ability, dynamic contrasts, theory skills, composition and analysis– jeez, is there anything tunes CAN’T do for your musical progress?

Well, oftentimes I come up at a lack for a tune to do or I’ve done the same few for several weeks and need something new. Or, a student might need a new tune and wants something up a level, or in a different meter, you name it. Yesterday morning I started making a list of simple tunes.

By afternoon I’d created a whole spreadsheet detailing each tune’s level of difficulty, range, meter, tempo, style, and basic technical considerations. And then I shared it as a collaborative link.

Collaborative Tune Library

How to use the document: 

1. Decide what level of tune you want to try (easy- basic intervals and key; medium- some altered tones, bigger range; difficult- modulations, technical passages, long phrases) and what technical considerations you might want to involve (range, dynamics, articulation, etc), and pick a tune accordingly.

2. Decide what key is easiest for you to start in. If you are looking to work on higher register tones, start in a key where the tune’s highest note is in your comfort range, then transpose the tune upward by half steps until you reach the range you want to improve. This can be done in the opposite direction for low range. You can move around the circle of fifths, also.

3. Find a good tempo for you to learn at, and set your metronome.

4. Put a drone track (free mp3 download) to your first key. Headphones are best for this, unless you have a quality sound system. Make sure you can hear both the drone and your own sound.

5. Play that tune!

How to add to this document:

1. Open it.

2. Make sure the tune you want to add isn’t already on it.

3. Add your tune and all the relevant details. Feel free to add comments about why you like it or how it helps you.

4. Repeat with another tune!

 

Weekly Round-up 2/29/16

Happy Leap Day!

Performances: As always I keep a calendar updated on this site.

This weekend I’ll be performing with Exultate Choir and Orchestra on their series “Emmanuel”- a performance of the best of the best oratorios we know and love. Check out their website or my calendar for dates and locations.

Rehearsals: A dress rehearsal for ECC is the only thing planned, although I am beginning my stint as player-coach for Hamline U’s Wind Ensemble brass this afternoon!

Practicing: I’m getting back into the groove of tunes by adding a few new simple ones to my roster: He’s a Jolly Good Fellow, Camptown Races, Zipadeedoodah.

Listening: Elliot Smith took up my Sunday.

Teaching: Accessing the music- how do we hear each phrase? Are we directing it or waiting for the phrase to guide itself (spoiler alert: we steer this ship)

Studying: Flow. And, I’ll make this official in this section, because I’ll have to start studying some theory and history soon- I was accept to UMN’s music doctoral program! I begin my program in September on track to receive a Doctorate of Music Arts in trombone performance. Ee!

Relaxing: Enjoyed the lovely weather Saturday on a bike ride. Yesterday I took a short class on working live sound and understanding sound boards. It was amazing and I’d love to try it in the field someday soon.

 

What I’m working on this week

AKA A fresh look at something familiar.

Learning to rely on your ear, if it’s not intrinsic for you, can be pretty terrifying. As a musician I have a good feel for phrasing, tempo, and style, but “playing by ear”, i.e. hearing a tune and repeating it back without seeing the music, has never been my strong suit. In college my two required years of music theory, which included a fair amount of melodic and rhythmic dictation, were a constant source of stress.

Of course, part of the problem was I never filled in a lot of the holes in my earlier music instruction and these classes were far more advanced than the basic theory I’d been given in high school. UW was generously equipped with a music learning lab where I could have gone to self-tutor, but did I ever go? Please. (Music students: don’t be a fool. Go study ear training)

Flash forward to grad school at UNT, and the concept of ‘tune jury’: Jan would select 12 tunes for each of us and we’d be required to learn them in all 12 keys, tested at random. I remember struggling vainly with “Over the Rainbow” in B Major, but ultimately having to test it in Eb, to my tremendous relief. Jan wanted us to follow our ear through these tunes, not thinking about key but about melody, but I was never quite able to do that. The best I could do was analyze the structure of each tune and quickly transpose it.

Over time I’ve sort of fooled myself into thinking that I play by ear this way. In reality, I’m playing by theory, thinking in scale degrees or patterns in order to maneuver different keys. I don’t think there’s anything fundamentally wrong with that, but I decided this week to train myself a little differently.

I started singing each tune in solfege first.

Yeah, you’ll say, but isn’t that just scale degrees?

Technically, yes. But solfege was created for ease of singing, with one syllable for each pitch, so that vocalists could transverse their melodic terrain without having to stutter. It’s also easier to sing a song when you have lyrics, right? Because melody and story are linked in our brains. So solfege becomes a sort of consistent story, with each pitch serving as a character in play. That makes it easier to change key, and helps us hear the specific intervals that make up a tune.

Try it on a simple tune this week. Let’s say “Ode to Joy”-
OtJ starts on the third note of a major scale. That’s solfege “mi” (sing “Do,a Deer” to yourself if you can’t remember solfege). Below each line is what it would look like in the key of C.

Mi mi fa sol sol fa mi re do do re mi mi re re
E E F G G F E D C C D E E D E
Mi mi fa sol sol fa mi re do do re mi re do do
E E F G G F E D C C D E D C C
Re re mi do Re mi fa mi do Re mi fa mi re do re sol
D D E C D E F E C D E F E D C D G
Mi mi fa sol sol fa mi re do do re mi re do do
E E F G G F E D C C D E D C C

Can you sing it on solfege on C, play it on your instrument, and then transpose it (by singing it first and then playing)? Try it for a week in different keys (flats AND sharps, beloved band students of mine), and see what it does for your pitch recognition, intonation, and ability to play by ear.

Happy practicing!