Singing what you hear is an important part of improving your perception. Let’s look at it from a body/mind perspective.
Recognizing that C and F is a perfect fourth is a cognitive exercise. You have to think about it. Maybe only for a split-second, but you still have to translate your physical experience, a verb, into a mental object, a noun.
The experience of C and F is a physical experience. It is a physical vibration traveling through the air and affecting your physical ear. You, who knows the sound of a perfect fourth, and a non-musician, who doesn’t know the name of what they are hearing, still hears the exact same physical vibration coming through the air. That means that the cognitive part of your ear training obviously separates you from the non-musician.
Many musicians only take it that far. They get stuck in their heads. I’m sure you know musicians who seem to know a lot but still don’t have “that feel.”
So naming intervals and understanding music theory is done with the mind while experiencing sound is accomplished by the body. Both are very important.
Take a look at the word emotion. It means, with motion. When we talk about our emotions, we say “I feel…” You feel things in your body. When you sing a tone, you feel the experience in your body. It’s real on the gross level. Whereas the mind experiences things on a more subtle level. If I punch you in the gut, you really feel it. If I insult you, you experience it in a different way. Sometimes that experience will have correlates in the body. So they’re intertwined. But if I punch you, your mind has no choice but to follow your body’s commands. You keel over. If I insult you, you have the choice of ignoring me and directing your mind elsewhere.
If you’re only working on the cognitive, or mind, aspect of ear training and music theory, you’re missing a large chunk of the experience of sound. Singing what you hear brings what you are learning into the body so that you can embody your knowledge of music. It’s not just a theory or skill anymore. It’s part of your identity.
Therefore, you can improve your musicianship by singing, and embodying, everything you learn. Here’s a couple of practical exercises to try.
- Reach out to your instrument and play any two or more tones. Then sing them from the bottom up or top down.
- When you hear sounds that you would like to emulate, try emulating them with your voice first.
Got any exercises of your own to share?