Recommendation for tolerance on ear training exercise

December 27, 2018, 12:59 PM · I started doing ear training exercises on a phone app not long ago. One of the exercise is interval singing. For example, the app will play you G4 and ask you to sing back a major second up from that and the app will check you for correctness.

There are three tolerance settings with this: the easy one takes +/- 50 cents error, the middle one takes +/- 25 cents error, the hard one.... I never try.

I started with the middle setting but I was struggling. Even with the unison exercise (I sing back exactly the same note the app just played), I am not getting over 70% of the questions correct overall. Initially I thought to myself, I have next to no musical education before and only play violin for a few months, maybe I should start with the easy setting. I switch to easy setting and get 90% correct on the unison exercise. But then, I wonder if this is effectively cheating (ie if we set the tolerance very large then no one can be out of tune, but it is not helping me to get in tune).

My question is, what is the best way to approach this exercise? Should I start with a comfortable tolerance (ie easy) and work on getting the different intervals "about right"? Or should I spend time to get the unison exercise to be very precise before I work on other intervals?

Thank you very much for reading.

Replies (6)

Edited: December 27, 2018, 3:22 PM · My first thought was that it would make sense to get good at the unison test. I think that the better you are at singing the correct tone in unison the better you will probably be in singing the other intervals correctly, because in order to sing an interval you kind of need to be "in unison" with your imagination of that interval.

But what about your ability to sing? Maybe you can imagine the right pitch but it is not easy to create it with your voice? Maybe listening to songs and sing along the recordings would be an idea.

What about your voice's register? Does the app play in a register that fits your voice? If not it could be quite a problem to hit the right pitch I would say.

What about recognizing the intervals? Hopefully the app has drills where you are supposed to recognize intervals played back to you.

So that was just some thoughts which came to mind.

December 28, 2018, 1:34 AM · The limit of pitch discernment among adult, trained, musicians is about +/- 5 cents, or about 1/20 of a half-step. When two tones are played as double-stops we can do even better by hearing the difference tones/beats/interference pattern, which is a different skill. Piano tuners and musicians from the traditional cultures of turkey, Persia, India, can do even better. +/- 50 cents is useless, might as well switch to piano. +/- 25 cents will give you notes bent in the wrong direction, will sound out of tune to the audience. The "error" of the equal-tempered piano will give intervals that vary from 2 to 10 cents off, which is tolerated by most. Your phone app. is probably calibrated to equal temperment. That major second interval that you try to sing will be either the long 9/8 frequency ratio or the short 10/9, depending on the harmonic context. For singing in tune, you might have better luck being in a choir, blending with the other singers. for playing the violin, being in an orchestra section helps. You blend, tune to the chord, and if you can't hear yourself, you are probably in tune.
December 28, 2018, 1:52 AM · Hum... to me it sounds like voice training rather than ear training. Can't answer your question, but however do wonder if your time and effort wouldn't be better spent on exercise that involves the instrument rather?
December 28, 2018, 8:34 AM · I experimented with an ear training app for a while, and found the app was much more valuable to my practice sessions (and ears, of course) with my instrument in hand. Are you ultimately hoping to learn how to sing or learning to recognize/"play back" correct/in tune notes on the violin?
December 28, 2018, 10:23 AM · I'd say do both middle and difficult.
Trying to improve on 90% will give too few returns.
Trying to improve on 70% will give better returns.
But trying to improve on whatever you get on the hardest level will be better still.
December 29, 2018, 8:41 AM · All, thanks for the input. I am not trying to be a singer. I was told that having the ability to sing the right pitch in your head is beneficial to producing the right pitch on your instrument. I was looking for things I can work on this. The actual singing part is needed, because otherwise there is no way to check what pitch I got inside my head.

Technically I can use that program to play back to note on the violin instead of singing. However, I find it very difficult to just hear a note and figure out, for instance, that has to be A4 and play that back on the violin. It almost seems like I need to have perfect pitch to do this. Voice, on the other hand, I can somehow sing back the note, even at some intervals away from that note, without knowing if the starting note is A4 or B4.

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