An Ear for Music - Part II
The foundations of the intonation that we hear is somewhat intuitive, it depends a lot on one's musical exposure. Most western music that we hear all around, is based around the diatonic scale, a musical convention stemming from Greek times. So listening to this, be it popular or classical, these combinations of sounds, intervals and chords will sound 'right' to your ear. If however you listen to a lot of jazz or world music your ear will likely be more attuned to different types of harmonies, hearing sounds that may not even exist in western music.
I grew up in a music filled household, listening to all sorts, from Beethoven to Bob Dylan, Marianne Faithful to the Memphis Jug Band. Family get-togethers usually devolved into a cacophony of irish tunes where someone yelled out the key and after some 'discussion' on the actual name of the reel, everyone would join in , mostly it was great, sometimes not so much. In all I was lucky to be exposed to so much music. But as I mentioned in Part 1, you can practice and train your ear to hear things better.
Practice hearing not just listening. For starters, getting your ear used to the sound of what you are attempting to play. The sound of the harmonies and intervals will become second nature after listening to a piece several times, so that when you play it you know when you are playing it right. It is always helpful to follow the music at the same time, for one thing it increases your concentration on what you are hearing, and it also gives a visual reference for the shape of the music and the intervals between the notes.
As additional training, I have found it very helpful to listen and play (or sing) along with all sorts of different music, on the radio, different EP's or singles that I like. Perhaps start off with the tune, but trying to find the harmonies is a great deal more beneficial. Find a long note that fits with everything else going on, when it no longer fits, find the next one and so on....you have now found the chords changes. Most of the time the most prominent note (probably the one that you found) is the tonic, the base note of the chord, the 3rd and 5th notes will also fit, these 3 notes make up the triad, the basic chord.
After a time the ear starts to pick out these notes more easily, and to eventually predict what the next notes are going to be. As a result, anything that you play, you are anticipating the notes and harmonies, you know where you are going and what it should sound like.
The next and final part will investigate some more practical exercises that should be incorporated into any music practice to actively improve intonation.