Tag Archive: lifestyle


I must start by saying that I am completely biased in this particular review.  This is pretty much my favorite app on my phone at the moment, so this is far less a “review” and infinitely more a Perfect Ear love-fest.  OK.  I feel better now.  You have been warned, so proceed at your own risk.

In the interest of full (or really quasi-full since I’m a pretty private person) disclosure, I downloaded the free version, so I can’t comment on some of the features.  However, I have been so happy with what I have so far that I am definitely planning on going for the upgrade.

You can get a decent idea of what Perfect Ear is about just in its name.  It is a program that attempts to train your ear better to hear music through a series of exercises.

Interval Comparison plays two different intervals for you (Note A followed by Note B . . . pause . . . Note C followed by Note D) and just asks you to decide which interval is bigger.  For this particular exercise, you really don’t even have to have a great grasp of what intervals are or how to identify individual notes.  You’re really just getting used to distinct sounds.

How it helps musicians: If you’re just beginning to develop your ear, this is a perfect starting place.  It teaches you to recognize even the smallest of differences, a skill that will come in especially handy when you’re trying to figure our melodies.

Interval Identification is slightly more challenging.  You are given an interval and asked to identify it (unison, minor second, major second, etc.).  It starts you out with only a few choices (unison or minor second; minor second or major second) and progresses from there.

How it helps musicians: Learning your intervals is one of the best things you can do for yourself when learning to play by ear and in learning sight singing.  In singing, you can be given the first note and, because you are so familiar with your intervals, you will be able to figure out the entire melody without ever hearing another note (in theory, anyway).  For musicians, being able to identify the interval simply by hearing it (and not having to see it on the piano right away) will help you as you try to decipher melodies in order to figure out what chords to use (and also how to insert more advanced chords, since sometimes you can use something you wouldn’t normally put in that position because the melody includes an unusual note that will allow you to whip out those half-diminished sevenths and minor 7ths with a sharp fifth and sharp ninth).

Chord Identification is a pretty similar concept.  It starts you with the same levels (getting progressively more difficult) but instead of playing intervals (one note followed by another one), it plays an entire chord (three or more notes played at the same time).  This is extremely helpful if you play by ear.  Chord Inversions and Chord Sequence follow a similar sort of pattern, each taking the skills to a slightly different level.  The basic idea here, though, is pretty much learning to figure out what chords are being used simply by hearing them.

How it helps musicians: This is the next step in playing by ear.  When you listen to a song and are trying to pick out more than the melody lines, wondering why your I – IV – V progression doesn’t quite seem to sound like what’s the band is playing, as you learn to identify chords by hearing them, you will save yourself hours of time and might even be able to retain a piece or two of sanity.

Absolute Pitch Trainer is a wonderful tool for training your ear to recognize individual notes.  It’s pretty much just a matter of matching pitch.  For me, one of the great things is that you can do this vocally or using the keyboard they provide.  I’ve pretty much used the keyboard because my personal range isn’t even on the same playing field as the piano’s.

How it helps musicians: Pretty self explanatory.  You hear a note, you play the note (or sing the note).  It’s about as basic (and essential) as it gets.

So, the bottom line: if you’re a music student (especially studying music theory), chances are you have something similar to this in some form of software required for your classes.  However, if you’re more like me, a person who uses whatever spare time she can find to improve her music skills, this program has been incredibly helpful.  It’s also just convenient to be able to do it all on the phone.  If you have an Android, I would highly recommend trying this out.  It’s free, after all, and if you don’t like it the only thing you’ve spent will have been time.  If you have a different phone, see what all is out there.  Chances are something similar exists.

Best of luck and happy playing!

It is a chord of mystery and enchantment.  Awe-inspiring, yes, but there is a not-so-subtle dissonance that characterizes the Tristan chord.  It is filled with a seemingly-perpetual unresolved tension that captivates its listener in the most literal sense: it leaves us spellbound – unable to draw our ears and emotions away from it – as we take in each tone and long for it resolution.

German composer Richard Wagner (whom pop culture has made famous by using his Ride of the Valkyries for a recurring Bugs Bunny theme) made extensive use of the chord in the opera Tristan und Isolde, using it as a leitmotif for Tristan.

While the use of unresolved tones (and even the use of a chord that consists almost entirely of augmented intervals) was not unique to Wagner, the composer made brilliant use of suspension in a way that surpassed those before him.  The general practice in using a suspended chord is to provide a resolution, and to provide it quickly.  Otherwise it’s just mean.  It is perhaps the most obvious way to convey tension musically.  There is just something about a suspended chord that is completely unsettling.  Until that blessed moment when resolution comes, it is positively maddening.  Think of the “amen” at the end of traditional hymns and imagine, instead of playing that final note, just holding out the one right before it for an undetermined period . . . exasperating, isn’t it? I’ll wait while you finish pulling out your hair.

Wagner’s use of the chord is unusual, for one, because it pretty much takes full advantage of the element of surprise.  It is full of tones that would not normally be found in the given key.  The most creative aspect, though, is simply its duration and resolution.  He draws out the suspension for maximum effect and then, when he finally decides to resolve it, he uses a passing tone to do so.

The nature of the passing tone shows how enticing this little melodic treasure truly is.  The whole purpose of the passing tone is to get us somewhere else.  It’s basically that little restaurant you stop at on a road trip to make the journey a little less arduous, but you don’t plan on setting down roots there.  It’s just a place to hang out until you get where you’re really going.  A passing tone is often a little note that provides some color and sets up the next tone.  So, when he decides not to give us that resolution for which we are pretty much salivating by this point . . . and then suddenly gives it to us in a passing tone . . . that leads into another suspended chord filled with tension . . . the major musical destinations in the piece are exceedingly complex and wildly unsettling.  Maddening!

There is something about the Tristan chord that still intrigues us to this day.  But – while I absolutely love opera – I am going to bring the discussion of the chord within Wagner’s masterpiece to a close here.  My next blog will focus on the chord itself: this breathtaking series of augmented intervals known, in other circles, as the half-diminished seventh chord.  I plan to discuss the chord in as much of its entirety as I can manage: its components, how to create it, why it works, examples throughout music and how to incorporate it into your own playing.

The half-diminished seventh chord is a strange place to start, I am aware, but it worked for Wagner, so I thought I would give it a try.  If anyone is interested on something on a much more basic level, please stay tuned.  I plan to write about simpler chords and concepts as well.  If you have any requests, please let me know!

Until next time, I leave you with a farewell, adieu and goodb-