1. Composers use the realm of sound to artistically arrange notes and combine instruments. This knowledge is not something that a composer is born with. It takes years of study, careful listening, and a natural talent to become a true master of composition.

    Composers need to have a solid understanding of the instruments they are working with and the available timbres. Sound goes beyond the major, minor, and 7th chords of popular music. In modern music composers have a much larger palette available to them than in the past. Thanks to the advances of the 20th century, much music that was previously too dissonant, is now commonplace. This gradual progression of our ears has allowed modern composers a freedom within music that has until now been unprecedented. A "serious" composer should work to develop their craft and push the boundary of what can be expressed in music. Creating new sounds, with viable instruments, pushing the craft forward and not simply to continue recycling old sounds should be the aim of any classical composer.

    So how does a composer go about developing their ear? This article addresses a few of the most popular entry level methods and talks about some potential issues with them.


    Solfege is a popular method taught by many colleges and universities around the United States and the World. The problem with solfege is that there is no consistency. If a movable Do system is used the student may end up getting confused by what syllable to sing rather than with the actual music. Movable do can make even the simplest melody extremely difficult. Guido d’Arrezzo is thought to have developed the system of Sofege. In his time, it was a great method for teaching a choir a new piece. This was back before the average musician could understand printed music.

    Another option available to students of solfege is fixed do. This is a much better option since the syllables stay the same for each note. Fixed do adapts itself well to more complex, and less tonal music as well as traditional music that has a tonal center. Solfege syllables are designed to be unique and easy to sing. Try singing Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Ti Do and then try singing C D E F G A B C. Provided you knew how to pronounce each solfege syllable, which one was easier to sing?

    Number System

    Some colleges make use of a number system. There are some great advantages to this system as well, but in the end is more flawed than the solfege system. With the solfege system, you have easy to sing syllables that won’t tie up your tongue. While a number system might be a good choice intellectually, it doesn’t make singing fast moving passages very easy. This system between is not as good as Fixed Do but it is still better than movable Do.

    Interval Training

    This is a 3rd viable option for composers that want to develop their ear. This system could be used in combination with fixed do for those that like having a system. The trick to learning intervals is to gently and slowly expose the ear to each interval. Too often students are forced into learning all the intervals at once. The brain learns these intervals better when you isolate them and slowly add new intervals only when the previous interval has been mastered. Continuing in this way and learning intervals incrementally is the most successful way to develop your ear. It teaches the student to listen inside of the intervals and has a permanent effect when each interval is mastered. Interval training seems to be the best method for learning to hear and sing basic melodies.

    Other Methods

    There are many other methods for developing the ear. Most of these consist of tricks designed to help you learn a particular style of music. One such method involves memorizing tetra chords on the assumption that all music can be broken up into groups or sets of 4 notes. This method is just a trick for slapping together a shoddily developed ear as quickly as possible. In the long term, only the 3 methods above produce reliable results. Other methods are designed to increase your improvisational abilities, or to simply memorize chord progressions.

Leave a Reply