Perception, for composers

Português – Русский

Hello dear friends! As I promised, today I’ll talk about a topic that now a days many ignore: PERCEPTION.

Before all, let’s search in Google a definition for “music perception”:

Music perception is the capacity of perceive the sound waves as part of a music language. Specially involves the identification of sound physical attributes, like volume, tone and pitch (sound perception), but also music elements as melody (melody perception) and rhythm (rhythm perception).

Well, now we have a goal to reach: “perceive the sound waves as part of a music language”. Now we must find a way. But why perception is important, especially for the composer?

More than performer, the composer works with musical ideas that pop into his mind. He’s supposed to have the ability to express such ideas musically (for performance and/or phonograph record) and some for of written notation, mainly to not lose his ideas. Also, after, to register the copyrights for this music and for other musicians to play it too (imagine a composer of a symphony having to play all the orchestra instruments!!!).

Then, he must develop this mastery over musical language and most importantly, over the aural capacity in order to properly express such ideas. The language we learn studying musical theory, that’s the simple part of process, relatively. The hearing we develop with solfege and dictation. A professional composer must have the ability (and the memory) of hearing parallel melodic lines (examples: a Bach chorale, a string quartet, a wind quintet et cetera) and write them down on a paper later; must have this ability well developed because the deadline for jobs are too short. And get stuck in a “trial and error” of what is heard/imagined burns too much time – when any idea is written, you should be sure of it. The changes that may happen later will be acts from specific needs – never by perception error.

The problem is that there are many deaf musicians today, i.e., they don’t hear what others around are playing and, in many cases they don’t hear themselves. Usually, they’re people who only study techniques and theories, and forget that music is the sound, not the black dots on a score. What really matters is the sound effect, not its notation. And in many times, the perception is put aside by these musicians.

“But how to study perception? Especially if I don’t have anyone who pass me dictations?” Easy, let’s run to softwares! At least, at this first moment, they’ll help a lot.

At home, I use EAROPE (image 1) and Auralia (image 2) to train. There are some others, like EarTuner. But these two attend my needs. Both work with recognition of intervals, scales, chords and their qualities (major, minor, augmented et cetera), progressions and harmonic cadences, rhythms… Auralia even has a section dedicated to training of counterpoint, absolute pitch, modulations etc. Both use a system of lessons and progressive levels of learning, and they’re very intuitive in usage. I recommend both.


Image 1 – EAROPE opening screen


Image 2 – Auralia opening screen

Also dictation can be trained by hearing any melody (whether on radio, mp3 player, on home’s window…) and write it down.

But, for solfege, there are many books with scores to be pitchsinged: Bona, Pozzoli, Adler etc. One must search that of your preference and study by it, all of them are progressive too. About solfege in particular, I’d only like to talk of a book especially, such book I think it’s fundamental for every musician; “Rítmica” by José Eduardo Gramani. I transcribe a part of introduction: (my translation)

The rhythm in our traditional education is considered a highly mathematical element; if we can add up 2 + 2, know play a rhythm. This idea, besides representing a partial reality of rhythmic phenomenon, works for it getting far from musical speech, occupying a place of little importance in the study of music.

The objective of this work is try to bring musical rhythm near of its total realization, try to show rhythm as a real MUSICAL element and not merely arithmetic.


The attached exercises were composed having as basic concern to bring out the face of musical rhythm. These exercises aren’t an end but a MEAN, through which much can be developed, mainly the aspects of interior discipline and flexibility of attention adaptation to new types of associations or relations. When the exercise is already being well done it had already ceased to function, because the problemas that hindered its implementation have been solved through internal processes of association and dissociation. The development of these processes is really the END.


Gramani developed this method when realized that musicians were letting rhythm aside, as it were an element purely static and mathematic. As he says in back cover: “Read a rhythm only considering its arithmetic aspect, thinking only in subdivisions, in the pulse, would mean decode letters of a word, one by one, without realizing what term is this, what is it nexus and, even less, what is its importance in the context which it’s in. Unfortunetaly, the sharply technical study that is used in music, especially the Classical, leave us, in practice, starved of works in the field of rhythm focusing not only its metric appearance.”

I highly recommend buying this book because its exercises are fantastic, and very funny to do. Example: In this example, page 36 from the book, you must beat the upper line with the right hand and the down one with the left. Then you switch.

Now, to end this post, when and how to study?

The ideal is to study everyday, at least about 20 or 30 minutes. Let us agree the exercises from Gramani nor from softwares and other solfege books are so long, you see… it’s perfectly possible to study everyday a little bit of everything, without fail. Also is great to schematize the study, creating a schedule saying in what time you do which study. It is easier to control the study and then set goals.

Remember, the more you spend on perception more you will understand what hear and, consequently, will write with more precision.

For the next post, we’ll begin to get our hands dirty! I will talk about two books: Arnold Schönberg – Fundamentals of Musical Composition and Roy Bennett – Form and Design, and will show their exercises. And the solutions I composed.

Great studies! ;P


~ por arssonis em seg, 17/10/2011.

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