The category of aural skills includes our ability to hear, perceive, and discriminate between sounds. In other words, these are skills that relate to the ear and the voice. Aural skills are often overlooked in musical training, especially in the intermediate phase. Too often, aural is relegated to a quick run-through a week before an exam.
In this episode I sat down with Ronel Perks and her outrageous curtain. We spoke about the importance of training the ear and using the voice. She even gives us some suggestions on how to integrate the whole body into the learning process. Ronel is a vocalist and cellist who teaches voice and cello to children and adults. She is an accomplished musician with whom I had the privilege to perform Ravel’s Chansons Madecasses:
Aural Skills: Solfège
At one point in our conversation, Ronel referred to solfège. This is the French term, but it’s also known by the Italian solfeggio or simply solfa. This is a system for learning pitches, aural skills and sight-reading. Most people are familiar with this song that depicts it quite well. It’s quite simple: first, play all the white keys from one C to the other. You have now produced the C Major Scale. Each of the steps in this scale has its own name in the system:
This is an essential part of musical training. This is because you need to be able to sing a melodic sequence in order to play it. In the early stages, it’s also important to develop the ability to actually discriminate between pitches. If you have children you’ll know that some of them sing nursery rhymes perfectly in tune while others do not. With practice, you can remedy this. Ronel gave me some inventive ways to integrate solfège into my teaching. We also discussed the affective barrier that inhibits many children, particularly in a western context.
Where to Begin?
Thankfully, as Ronel explains, this is an area where you really can improve by being consistent. Simply sitting at a piano, playing a key and then singing or humming it back at the piano – this is a start. Get in the habit of singing a simple solfege scale up and down every morning. As Ronel reminds us – your vocal apparatus is muscular and you have to actually use it to strengthen it. Perhaps the most important thing that you should be doing to develop your ear is actually listening to great music. Start here.