The Zen of Ear Training – Part 1 | DiscMakers

by Evan Kepner

An important part of every musician’s evolution is ear training. It’s a strange concept, but becoming an active and educated listener pays off in a huge way. First lets cover a few points about what ear training is and isn’t and then we’ll get to the exercises. Ear training is a broad term used to cover two aural developmental practices – perfect pitch and relative pitch. A common misconception we’ve got to dispel right away, perfect pitch is learnable, but your expectations need to be reasonable. Learned perfect pitch is a very subtle thing. It’s not that you suddenly can call out every note in every tune; rather it gives you a deeper perception of music. The best analogy is to think of describing different shades of color to people. Relative pitch is equally important (and more-so for certain types of playing) and is the art of hearing the relationships between tones even if you don’t know the exact note e.g. minor third, descending diatonic scale, etc. This is also learnable with practice.

Ear training will not diminish your ability to enjoy music. Incredibly, I’ve heard other musician’s say “I don’t want [insert “perfect pitch / trained ears”], it means I won’t enjoy music anymore.” WHAT??!! That’s like saying you don’t want to see color because it diminishes your ability to enjoy art. I think this is an excuse because ear training can be abstract and difficult, do not believe this. If you make a regular point to practice ear training it will pay off.

I’ll admit that ear training is difficult for me. As a grounded bassist and otherwise instrumental player I don’t really relish the idea of singing a lot… that’s why I’m an instrumentalist, and why no videos are included with this lesson (believe me it’s for the better). Over time I’ve found that these exercises have been extremely useful in my musical development. I make a point to do singing exercises regularly (and I am NOT a trained singer by any stretch of the imagination) and it gets easier over time. Remember that these are all a process of refinement. If you can tell that a bird chirping is higher than a dog barking you can learn this, we just have to work to where our ears can distinguish finer and finer pitch differences.

Finally, why bother? In the gigging world the musician with the “biggest” ears wins. If you have developed your ability to hear quickly and accurately, you’ll never be lost in a tune and you can get through most obstacles in a gig on the spot. Good ears = lots of gigs. Also transcription will become much easier and this is one of the most important steps in developing a soloing style for jazz.

For this lesson the exercises are very sequential. Each one builds on the abilities learned in the last. These are also very plain-clothes, salt-of-the-Earth, non-flashy drills. I like to think of them as musical meditation. Without sounding too corny, seriously try to clear your mind and immerse yourself in the individual tones, there’s a lot of subtlety here. Part two will take this another step farther, so make a point to work on these exercises in preparation for more.

Exercise 1:

Sing a scale. This is the classic Do-Re-Mi drill from grade school, if you don’t remember the notes it goes like this:

Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Ti Do

This is important though, you have to be able to sing these tones in key. Play along with your instrument as you sing these scales. Just make it part of your practice routine, anytime you play a scale you sing it as well.

Exercise 2:

Once you feel comfortable that you can sing a scale in tune, focus on each interval. For example sing and play the following at 40 bpm, changing notes every 2 clicks:

Do Re Do Re Do Re Do Re Do Re

Doing it over such a long interval is important, you need to really let your ears soak in each tone. Now once you have that down, repeat it but only play “Do” on your bass. You’ll be singing Do Re Do Re Do Re while your bass is sounding a consistent Do Do Do Do Do – creating a drone. I cannot stress enough how important this boring simple exercise is to your ear development. You really need to meditate on each note, we have some serious bass zen going on but this is what it takes.

Exercise 3:

Remember this is all about development, which happens slowly. Repeat exercise 2, but do it with each interval in the diatonic scale. That means you do Do Re, then do Do Mi, then Do Fa etc, each to completion. Start small, pick one interval a day to start and dedicate yourself to spending 10 minutes on it. So Sunday would be Do/Re, Monday Do/Mi, Tuesday Do/Fa and so on. Set a timer.

Again this is all to get your ear used to distinguishing the subtleties between the pitches. Try to pick out one thing that differentiates the tones from each other. For example when I compare an F# and and Eb the F# has a more twangy sound to it. My best typed rendition would be “rrrwaanng rrrwaanng rwaaang” underneath the actual pitch. With an Eb I hear a more “woooooaaaa wooooaaaa woooooaaa” – it’s a very delicate difference but it’s there, and that’s what you have to hear and take notice of in this exercise. If you don’t hear anything that stands out, don’t try to force it. Continue with the exercise and come back to it another day, you want the subtlety to be something that is noticeable to you without intense effort.

Write down your “identifying subtlety” for each note. Some people find it useful to associate the tones with colors, others don’t. The important thing is that you identify something about each tone that sets it apart. This is the first step to developing perfect pitch.

Exercise 4:

Exercise 3 is great for really getting inside the tones, after you do it for a week or two you can start to streamline the procedure just to keep your ears “refreshed.” Now keep the metronome at 40bpm, but count in 4/4 meter (one beat per click). Now sing exercise 3 with each diatonic interval getting one measure. This means you’ll have:

Do Re Do Re | Do Mi Do Mi | Do Fa Do Fa | Do Sol Do Sol | ….

When you hit the octave, sing coming back down referencing the higher Do (the octave tone). Ascending you have Low-High (in terms of the pitch relationships), descending you’ll have High-Low (since the octave is the highest).

Exercise 5:

Repeat Exercises 1-4 in the different keys. In exercise three you should notice a lot of overlap in your “identifying subtleties” – once you’ve identified a tone as having a particular characteristic try to focus on hearing it when that tone comes up in other keys. For example, an F# should have the “rrrwaanng” sound whether it’s in the key of D, G, E, A or B even though its intervallic relationship is different in each one.

If you have a recording device you can make yourself different practice tracks for different keys to do at different times. For example, make a practice tape for the keys C, G, D and A to work on during your commute to work. Another for E, B, Gb and Db to do during your lunch break and finally one for Ab, Eb, Bb and F to do on your commute back home. You’d have all twelve keys covered without losing any of your normal practice time (assuming you don’t shed and drive…).

There’s a lot going on here, and it’s worth taking the time to do these exercises properly. As musicians how often do we really take the time to immerse ourselves in a single tone’s quality? This is a process of musical discovery! A final note would be don’t try too hard and don’t force it. Eventually your ear will open up, it will be different for everyone and will take time. There’s a reason why lots of musicians don’t have good ears, developing them takes a lot of patience and a lot of practice. Keep at it and in the next lesson we’ll step it up a notch.

Article courtesy of our friends at, the site for bass players.

Read more: The Zen of Ear Training – Part 1 – Disc Makers Echoes

3 Tips on Crowdfunding Your Music from The Kickback | Launch + Release

the-kickback-kickstarterThe Kickback is a group from Chicago, IL, with some South Dakota roots.

This may not be a combo you hear of often (South Dakotans rarely move to Chicago, I’ve heard) but The Kickback is absolutely crushing it as they raise money to fund their debut album!

Here are a few tips and tricks that their project highlights.

VIEW PROJECT | GOAL $16,000 | 30 DAYS | Emails 300 | FB 4603 | Twitter 771 | Monthly Podcast Subscribers 1500

Reach Out Any Way You Can

Beyond a shadow of a doubt, when nobody knows about your crowdfunding project then you will receive zip/zero/zilch/nada through pledges.

And it makes sense that when more people know about your project, then your odds of success and funding will be higher.

But trying to maximize the number of people who know about your project is an extremely daunting and ambiguous task that often leads to procrastination, unfocussed effort or, worst of all, paralysis.

The Kickback took a very reasonable and doable approach to spreading the word about their Kickstarter campaign.

I think everyone in the band has found themselves reaching out to people virtually anyway they can. From family members to professors from college to disinterested people from high school, we think that people knowing the campaign is even happening is a big part of (hopefully) making this successful. ~ Billy from The Kickback

Tip: Make sure each and every person in your group reaches out to each and every person they know. Start with those you are closest to like friends and family and work out from there towards loose acquaintances.

Choose the Crowdfunding Platform that is Right For You

Kickstarter is all-or-nothing and has national and international brand recognition.

Indiegogo has flexible funding that let’s you keep any funds you raise but isn’t quite as well known as Kickstarter.

Pledge Music positions itself as a direct-to-fan avenue and allows pledges all the way through product fulfillment allowing you more time to collect pledges.

And those are only the three most recognizable platforms!

Somehow, you have to choose which one of these makes sense for you and this decision needs to be based on the factors surrounding your project.

For The Kickback, Kickstarter just made sense.

Our campaign fits very much into the Kickstarter “All or Nothing” approach because the basis of our goal is that we’re tired of making records the wrong way: cheap and usually in one or two days, as fast as humanly possible, and not particularly happy with the result. People who know us and those who watch our video hopefully understand that this is something we’ve been fighting for (literally) years. We either want to make a record the right way or we’ll wait longer, so having a set goal is just the way it has to be for us. ~ Billy from The Kickback

Tip: Before deciding which platform to use, take a little time to consider your needs. (But don’t turn the choice into an obstacle. Actually creating your project is by far the most important objective!)

Dont’ Be Shy, ASK for Support

This is always a tricky topic for many artists when it comes to crowdfunding.

You don’t want to seem needy, greedy, ungrateful or poor (even if you are). So asking for money feels bad.

If you’re worried about dignity, you shouldn’t be publicly asking people for money.  ~ Billy from The Kickback

This quote made me chuckle, but what I take away from Billy’s comment is that if you are crowdfunding in the first place, you cannot be ashamed to ask for money.

He is right on about that and note that there are also many reasons why it is both legitimate and important to ask for money.

Tip: Be unapologetic and direct when you ask for money. Make sure people understand that you are chasing your hopes and dreams with their donation not just boozing it away! Give a clear Call to Action with your project that asks for people’s pledges.

Project Takeaways

  • Don’t assume that people will “spread the word”. Make sure each member of your group contacts everybody they know over the course of the project.
  • Spend a little time choosing the platform that is right for your project.
  • Of HUGE importance, get comfortable asking for people’s support and money. It is a critical element in turning project viewers into project backers.

Mixing – The Importance of Spectrum Analysis

From another engineer’s blog.  I don’t use spectrum analyzers any longer, though I did when I was just starting out.  Good tool.


Mixing – The Importance of Spectrum Analysis.

6 Ways to Motivate Yourself to Write | TuneCore

By Cliff Goldmacher

As passionate as we are about our songwriting, the reality is that sometimes it’s difficult to motivate ourselves to write.  Whether it’s the fear of plumbing our emotional depths or just good old fatigue after a long day, there are often obstacles to overcome when it’s time to write. While flashes of inspiration are great, we can’t always count on the muse showing up on our schedule.  Instead, we’ve got to make our own inspiration. I’ve put together a list of a few things that should help you keep your creative fires lit.

1. Set up a place at home to write

As simple as it sounds, having a place to go where you can focus and be creative can be motivating.  Even if it’s just a small desk and chair in a corner of your living room, the fact that you’ve dedicated it to your art will serve as that little push you might need to write.  Keep your writing tools—rhyming dictionary, guitar, laptop, etc.—out and easily accessible.  It’s amazing what a difference putting your guitar on a stand versus keeping it in a case can make.  Make things as easy as you can for yourself and you’ll be much more likely to dig in.

2. Set up a time of day to write

Routine can be a good thing even for something as artistic and creative as songwriting.  If, for example, you know that every day at 7pm, you’re going to write for half an hour, then you’re more likely to do it.  They say it takes a few weeks of consciously making yourself do something before it becomes a habit.  A daily time to write will go a long way towards the healthy habit of songwriting.

3. Keep a file of unfinished songs

One of the hardest things about writing is starting with a blank page.  By keeping an organized file of your unfinished lyrics and rough recordings, you won’t have to climb the mountain from the bottom every time you sit down.  While sometimes it feels good to start with a fresh idea, don’t forget to check your unfinished ideas from time to time.  It’s remarkable how a few days or weeks can add the perspective you need to see a partially finished song in a new light and finish it.

4. Find a co-cowriter

Nothing motivates more than accountability.  If someone is counting on you to show up and work, you’re more likely to do it.  Not only that, but halving the burden can make writing a much more approachable pursuit.  This is one of the many benefits of co-writing.  Other advantages include having someone whose songwriting gifts compliment your own in such a way that you both get a better song than you would have separately.  If you haven’t co-written yet, this is as good a time as any to give it a try.  Even if it’s not a perfect experience, we all benefit from observing firsthand someone else’s writing process.

5. Give yourself an assignment

Sometimes the idea that you can write about anything is just too much freedom. Often it’s easier to write if you have some guidelines.  If, for example, you tell yourself you’re going to write a song with one chord you’ve never used or a song about a topic you’ve never covered, you’ll find it’s easier to get to work. Anything you can do to give shape and structure to what you’re attempting to write will make the task that much simpler.

6. Tell yourself you’ll only write for five minutes

This is one of my all time favorites.  On days where you’re really struggling to make yourself write, tell yourself you’ll sit down for five minutes.  That way, if nothing is happening after five minutes, at least you’ve tried. It’s astonishing how often those days are the days where the breakthroughs happen.  Taking the pressure off of yourself may be all that you need to get on a roll. That being said, if it’s just not coming, stop.  There’s no point in making yourself miserable.  There’s always tomorrow.


Being a songwriter is a gift, but, as with most gifts, some assembly (otherwise known as work) is required.  My hope is by suggesting a few ways to lessen the burden of getting started, you’ll be able to write more consistently and enjoy the accompanying results.

Good luck!

Cliff Goldmacher is a songwriter, producer, session musician, engineer, author and owner of recording studios in Nashville, TN and Sonoma, CA. Cliff’s site,, is full of resources for the aspiring songwriter including monthly online webinars. Go to: for the latest schedule.