Ear Training

music 105, fall 2014, princeton university

  • ET 106 Transcription final project -

    • Beginners - voice, organ, cello, first 1 minute

    • Intermediate - voice, organ, cello, to 1:30

    • Advanced - all 3 parts, to 0:52

    • Due MAY 18; must submit via email.


  • ET 106 Transcription assignment 2 - Riley Lee: Tamuke, from beginning to 1:05. Due April 17. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED TOOL: Transcribe (free trial available).

Extra singing materials:

The course:

  • ET01 // Diagnostic Exam | Prompt

  • ET02 // Introduction to Ear Training practice + course syllabus

  • ET03 // Chant / Organum

    • Example 1: one voice [ from Kyrie Eleison (Manuscrit du Saint Sépulcre de Jérusalem) – Ensemble Organum ]

    • Example 2: three voices // my transcription

    • More examples for practice

    • Ideas for practice:

      • Matching

        • Listen to chant and sing along.

      • Pitch Memory

        • Listen to chant. Grab a pitch you hear and hum it. Silence and internalize that drone. Notice every time the chant returns to that pitch. If necessary, hum a little again to check. [This will help you learn the 'sol-ness' of sol, the 're-ness' of re. This frees you from relying on accurate step/leap calculation to keep track of where you are.]

      • Phrase Memory

        • Play short sections from recordings and sing them back. Listen again to check. If polyphonic, focus on each part in turn.

      • Orientation in scale / identification of scale degrees

        • Listen to chant and practice orienting yourself in the mode. Listen for half steps. If you're transcribing, you can write what you hear first on a staff with no clef, so all steps are just steps, and then note the half steps.

        • The medieval modes all fall on the white keys of the piano plus an optional Bb, which limits your possible half steps to 3. When you come to a half step, imagine it as E^F, A^Bb, or B^C – that's your hypothesis. Trace the line from there. Assume your hypothesis is correct until you hear any flat other than Bb – revise your hypothesis and continue.

        • Sing back short phrases and apply solfege syllables.

        • Write single lines in the style and solfege them.

      • Visualization

        • Listen to chant. Find the starting pitch on your instrument. Look at your instrument but do not play. Visualize the notes you hear moving across the instrument. Check in from time to time to see if you have drifted, but use this sparingly – if you feel lost, first try to re-orient yourself by finding half-steps.

        • Begin with a single line. Plot a framework of consonant intervals above. Solfege different paths through that framework. Look for good counterpoint: prioritize conjunct linear motion and balance parallel and contrary motion between parts. Drop the written framework and visualize it instead. Sing with a friend (or record yourself and sing along).

      • Transcription

        • Transcribe from recordings without an instrument.

          • Take a variety of approaches. Limit your repetitions. See what you can do quickly. See how long it takes to extract every detail you can. Vary the length of the section you loop. Try rhythms without pitches first and vice versa. Invent your own shorthand.

          • Check your work with an instrument.

      • Sight Singing

        • The Liber Usualis (links listed above) is a giant book of chant melodies dating back more than a thousand years. It's great for practicing solfege, or as a source for counterpoint material.

  • ET04 // Scales

    • Ideas for practice:

      • Pitch Collection Memory

        • Listen to a passage of music – maybe focusing just on the melody – and then sing back the collection of notes you heard, sorted low to high. Check yourself.

      • Identification

        • Begin with the pitch memory exercise. Write down your set on a staff with no clef. (If your set does not make a complete scale, fill in the gaps; they may be clearly implied, or you can mark them as 'ambiguous'). Singing back slowly through the scale, identify which are one, two, (or three) semitone steps. Use Dmitri's chart on the "Scales, Scales, Scales" handout.

          • If you are having trouble identifying the size of the steps, use an instrument to help you measure. Spend some time playing, singing back, and visualizing different scales or scale fragments, focusing on the size of the steps. Also spend some time building the diatonic step (below).

      • Inference of Tonic

        • Listen to a passage of music. Recall a single note you heard and sing a scale down from there until you feel that you have arrived at the tonic. (You should be primed for the scale the music is in; trust your ear.)

          • Measure and complete the scale: count your way back up the same scale to your starting pitch, and then up to the tonic above. (Try applying solfege syllables, but remember: our solfege set so far only models the major mode, so it won't sound right in all cases.) Identify step sizes; identify scale.

      • Building a Diatonic Context
        Singing with a drone can be extremely helpful in any of the following exercises. Try the Online Shruthi Box. Beginners should use it as DO (Sa), or DO/SOL (Sa Pa). For greater challenge, use it as a less stable scale degree (say, RE).

        • Building the diatonic step:

          • Practice a "turn" pattern: sing a note, move one step above, return, move one step below, return. Use different combinations of half and whole step (half above, whole below / whole above, half below etc). Label them as you would find that pattern in the scale:

            • half above, whole below = MI FA MI RE MI // TI DO TI LA TI

            • whole above, half below = DO RE DO TI DO // FA SOL FA MI FA

            • whole above and below = RE MI RE DO RE // SOL LA SOL FA SOL etc. (If singing with drone, position your syllables relative to it as DO.)

        • Building the diatonic scale:

          • From the bottom up. Sing DO, move up two whole steps + one half + one whole to SO, sing DO SO, then complete the scale - two more whole steps + one half.

          • From functional resolutions. Establish DO and sing:

            • MI DO

            • SOL DO

            • FA MI

            • LA SOL

            • RE DO

            • SOL MI

            • as you improve, you'll find that you can create a strong internal diatonic context with just one or two of these.

          • From a changing syllable. Set a single-note drone. Call it DO and build the scale (by singing up and down or singing the functional resolutions). Call it SOL and build the scale (singing down to DO first makes this easier). Pick a syllable at random and build the scale as if your drone were that note.

          • Improvise. Once you have established the diatonic context firmly in your mind, improvise melodies in it. Use solfege syllables. Use a drone at DO or DO / SOL to help feel the unique energy, tension and direction of each step of the scale, and then practice feeling the same without a drone.

          • Sequences. Invent a short pattern (e.g. DO RE MI == 1 2 3). Sing it starting on every scale degree (1 2 3, 2 3 4, 3 4 5...).

        • Rebuilding the diatonic scale. Smart ears can build a diatonic context around any syllable, at any pitch, and can rebuild it around a new pitch quickly. Try this drill to improve your rebuilding speed:

          • Choose a small scale fragment - try first with FA MI RE DO. Sing a pitch at random, call it FA, and sing that pattern down, focusing on the step sizes. Then solidify the scale: firm up DO (sing SOL DO, or TI DO); then sing the whole scale or a few functional resolutions. Pick a new starting pitch at random and repeat.

            • This can be done without absolute reference to your starting pitch; i.e. you don't need to know what note you start on, since this is about hearing relative patterns – so you can visualize the same set of notes each time (I pictured everything I heard in C major for a long time).

            • Or you can use this to practice mental transpositions & learn your keys. Visualize FA MI RE DO in different keys as you choose different starting notes. If you have perfect pitch, try to strengthen your relative muscles by visualizing one key while singing another.

            • FA MI RE DO is a strong pattern to start with because it establishes one half step right away and strongly tonicizes DO. More challenging is to begin with less: try LA SOL, MI FA...

        • Spend most of your time with the diatonic scale. For an extra challenge, get into the minor, acoustic, five, six and eight note scales.

  • ET05 // Diatonic harmony / root position triads / rock harmony

    • Examples for practice:
      All chosen because they have predominantly diatonic root motion in a single major scale.

    • Ideas for practice – transcription:

      • It's all about the bass. Inverted chords are unusual in rock and pop music. The bass note is usually the root of the chord – a D in the bass = a D chord. The bass instrument shows you the root of the harmony.
        Pick a song, and stay with it through the following kinds of practice:

        • Attention. Learn to hear the bass instrument as a 'melody'. Focus on it. Get to know it. If you're having trouble distinguishing it as its own stream, try using the EQ on your stereo to make it louder, or make other parts softer.

        • Extraction. Sing along with the bass part. Pause it after each phrase and sing it back.

        • Abstraction. Learn to listen past the details of the bass instrument for the root. To understand harmony, we want to learn to hear the line the root makes.

          • The bass instrument might play rhythms in quarter and eighth notes. The root of the harmony moves more slowly - usually on the 1, 2 or 4 bar time-scale.

          • The bass instrument will emphasize the root (by playing it more often, and almost always on the downbeat where it changes) but may play other notes for decoration without changing the harmony. When the root moves, the whole harmony changes.

          • The root is like the horizon in a drawing with linear perspective: you usually can see a lot of it, but even where you can't, you can tell where it is because everything is organized in relation to it.

          • Hum the root along with the music.

          • Always check + correct yourself with an instrument.

        • Orientation. Roots move through our familiar diatonic scale (most of the time; always in these examples). All of the skills you practice to orient a melody in the scale apply here.

          • Wait for DO. A root line moves slowly: taken alone, you might wait a while before it sounds unambiguously DO. Practice being patient through the ambiguity, and when you hear it, hang on to it (hum, sing, or find on an instrument).

          • Or you can infer DO from other information. Choose a note of a melody, and sing a scale down from there until you feel arrival at DO. (While this will often work, non-diatonic notes can creep into the melody and confuse the issue. If you're having trouble, try with a different part of the song).

          • As usual, finding half steps can help you too. If the bass moves by half step, it's probably MI^FA or TI^DO.

          • Complicating factors: (especially if you choose your own songs to analyze)

            • Some songs don't spend a lot of time on DO (but it still sounds like DO when you get to it.)

            • If a song spends a lot of time with a root on RE, for example, this can feel like "home"... until you sing the whole scale and get to DO. Same scale, different mode.

            • If you feel "home" on a minor chord, it may be LA. (We'll get into true minor harmony later.)

            • Rock harmony freely mixes major & modes, and sometimes features more than one key in a song.

            • The chord built on that root may bend the scale somewhat - flat sevens, minor thirds where you don't expect them, etc. This can confuse the ear. For example, a I chord sometimes has a flat seven added; normally, this makes it the dominant chord, V, but in rock it can still be I.

            • You'll learn how to sort through all of these cases, but for now, just know you're working in a potentially ambiguous space and not every strategy will work all the time.

        • Identifying scale degrees. Once you can sing the root line and have oriented around DO, you are ready to figure out the other notes of the bass line. Things to try:

          • Hold on to that DO (hum, setting a drone, or with mental visualization).

          • Listen to the root line moving in the song. Each time it moves, sing the scale up from DO to that note and back down, counting steps and attaching solfege syllables. If the root moves too quickly, try waiting for two or three to go by, then pause the song, sing them back, and measure.

          • One challenging part about tracing bass lines is their leapiness. 4ths and 5ths predominate. To strengthen this ear muscle, practice solfegging leaps around the diatonic scale. Make a pattern and sequence it up the scale (e.g. 1-4: DO FA, RE SOL, MI LA... etc) Try 1-4-5, 5-2-4-1, 4-1, and invent your own.

          • Write it down as needed. Add rhythms.

      • Above the Bass – Toward Roman Numerals (triads only)
        Now that we know the root motion, we can figure out the whole harmonic structure.

        • A chord built on DO is a "one chord". RE is a "two chord". Etc.

        • The next step is to determine the quality of the triad: major or minor (diminished chords are very rare in rock harmony).

          • Each numeral has a default setting (arising from the naturally occurring intervals in the diatonic scale):

            • IV and V are major.

            • ii iii and vi are minor.

            • vii° is rare.

          • But that default is sometimes over-ridden in rock music. IV might be a surprise minor, or II is sometimes major. To learn to hear this, practice identifying triad quality.

            • Teoria - Triad Ear Training is good for this. It drills you on root position triads without a diatonic context.

            • To take these drills further, try generating your own diatonic context around each chord it gives you.

              • If it's a major chord, it must be either I V or V, so call the root DO, FA, or SOL.

              • If it's a minor chord, it must be either ii, iii or vi, so call the root RE, MI or LA.

              • Create a diatonic context around that syllable (by singing from your root down to DO, singing the whole scale, singing a few functional resolutions, etc).

              • Sing the notes of the chord with solfege.

        • Complicating factors:

          • Sometimes chords are decorated with 7ths or 9ths or 6ths, or raise the 3rd to a 4th etc. etc. We'll learn to figure that out, but for now, practice hearing 'past' the surface details to the triadic structure beneath.

    • Ideas for practice – harmonic visualization:

      • Begin with a Roman numeral representation of the song. You got here by:

        • Transcribing the song

        • Looking up the chords & translating into Roman numerals

        • Or using some of my examples

      • Write out a chart for the song (example) – with the correct number of bars, and roman numerals of the chords under the places of change.

      • Pretend it's in C. Write the root line in.

      • Build your Lattice of Possibility:

        • Mark out a range that fits your voice comfortably.

        • Over each root change, write in all of the chord tones that fall within your range.

      • While the song is playing, connect the dots: improvise a line by singing from one note of your lattice to another.

        • Sing the same slow rhythm that the root line makes. You're learning to hear the voice leading in the 'background' of the music.

        • First trace the simplest path: start somewhere, and any time you have an option for downward stepwise motion, take it. Leap only if you have no other options. Then pick a new starting note and repeat.

        • Use solfege as much as you can.

        • When you're more comfortable, try improvising more complex paths through the Lattice. Add passing tones.

      • Cover the Lattice and visualize it instead, looking only at the root line and Roman numerals.

      • Do it all in your head.

  • ET06 // More root position triads

    • Materials

        This is a famous collection of harmony exercises used to teach keyboarding and ear training at the Paris Conservatory around the turn of the last century. The legend/lineage goes in brief: Paul Vidal wrote one on the board each class, Nadia Boulanger wrote them down, and then used them to teach hundreds of important musicians of the 20th century including Aaron Copland, Burt Bacharach, Elliot Carter, Philip Glass, Quincy Jones, Astor Piazzola...

      • TEORIA - Harmonic Progression Dictation
        Make sure "Triads" is checked under Levels.

    • Ideas for practice – Vidal Basses (#1-24)
      These offer many opportunities to internalize the mechanics of root-position harmony in its simplest form.

      • Realization on paper
        Write out in four voices, where the bass note is always doubled. Find the most efficient voice leading between each chord while avoiding parallels. Those will be:

        • If the root moves by 4th or 5th, one upper voices holds, two move by step.

        • If the root moves by 3rd or 6th, two upper voices hold, one moves by step.

        • If the root moves by 2nd, all three upper voices move in contrary motion to the bass: two move by step, one leaps a third.

        • Artistic considerations that may trump the above:

          • At a cadence, shifting the chord so the 7-1 is in the soprano is nice.

          • Sequences (like the descending thirds in mm 9-11 of exercise 1) often have a stepwise line in one of the voices; arrange your chord so this line is in the soprano..

          • The Deceptive Cadence (V-vi) should feature 7-1 in the soprano, and in the vi chord the third is doubled instead of the bass.

      • Realization at the keyboard
        Whether or not you play piano, some basic keyboarding skill can really help your mental musical models. It's how I mentally can keep track of four voices at once in exercises like these – my hands do the chord progressions in my mind, and I can check where my thumb is, say, at any time.
        Using the above tips for efficient (and musical) voice leading, work out these exercises at the piano.
        If you want to make it more challenging, play them in different clefs and keys (try C in C#, D in Db etc).

      • Play 3 sing 1
        Once you can play all four voices at the piano, play three and sing the fourth. Use solfege. Then play a different three and sing the new missing fourth. Our goal is to learn to hear the inner voices of chord progressions as melodies.

      • Play 1 sing 1
        You can do this whether you realized this on paper or at the keyboard. Once you're familiar with the progression, go back to look at only the bass. Play the bass line and sing one other voice as you visualize it moving through the chords. Use solfege.

      • Arpeggiation

        • Bottom to top
          Solfege each bass note and then move up through the notes of the triad.

        • Smooth path
          Solfege the first bass note, arpeggiate up through the triad, and then find the nearest note of the next harmony and arpeggiate down. Repeat, always using efficient voice leading between harmonic changes.

  • ET07 // First modulation

    • Class example: Cavalieri In te Domine speravi from Poeme Harmonique

    • Transcribing modulation requires a combination of:

      • Accurate transcription of bass line.

      • Identification of chord quality above the bass. Teoria practice.

      • Logical deduction.

        • A chord that doesn't exist in the original diatonic context suggests a new diatonic context (key).

          • For example, if a chord on DO is minor – since we expect it to be major – we should assume that it is either ii, iii or vi in the new key.

          • Temporary shifts to new key may be ambiguous as to which key. Ambiguity is ok.

          • Shifts to new keys can be disambiguated and reinforced by further diatonic motion consistent with the new key.

  • ET08 // Inventing bass lines

    • The bass line has two jobs:

      • Clearly project root motion.

      • Dance.

    • I'm not a bass player – why is it important that I practice this?

      • A bass line is a line that projects harmony clearly. No matter your instrument, you want to know how to make a line that projects harmony. The bass is a great place to start because it can be relatively simple but requires you to visualize the root motion and the triads that are the essence of a harmonic progression.

    • The Dancing Bass.
      The bass line is an elaborated root line. It's the elaboration that dances.
      Here are some progressive stages of elaboration. [More elaborate is not necessarily better. There are good bass lines at every level of elaboration.]
      Elaborating a bass line:

      • Sing the root line.

      • Apply a simple rhythmic pattern to the root line.

        • The root can leap up and down between two octaves.

      • Turn some of the roots into 5ths (of the chord).

        • This is best done on weak rhythmic positions. In 4/4, on 2 and 4; in 3/4, on 2 and 3; on all off-beats.

      • Introduce the 3rd of the chord in weaker rhythmic positions.

      • Introduce scalar motion.

        • The best place for a scale step is directly into a change in harmony, so that the scale leads to the root of the new chord.

        • Passing tones should be off the beat, chord tones on.

        • A jazz-style walking bass line works like this (in 4/4):

          • Root of the chord on beat one.

          • Beat 4 is a step away from the root of the next chord (whole step, if that's what is in the scale, or half step anytime you want regardless of scale).

          • Beat 2 and 3 connect 1 and 4 with diatonic or chromatic scalar motion (as necessary).

            • OR you can leap to a chord tone on 2 or 3.

          • Optimize within these constraints and you'll find only few number of efficient solutions for each kind of root motion.

      • Leading to the downbeat: (The One vs. the Leading Fill) – not a rule, but a tendency...

        • The clarity of the arrival, to the root, on the downbeat (the "one") is paramount.

        • Bass players often make this arrival stronger by leading to it – with more motion, rhythmic energy, elaboration and variation.

        • The result is often that the bar (or 2 or 4 bar unit) has two poles.

          • The beginning of the bar is simpler: less rhythmic elaboration, more focus on the root, more patterned.

          • The end of the bar, "the fill," is a site of more energy, decoration, variation and improvisation.

        • This is the essence of funk music, but can be observed in many other genres as well.

        • Next-level thinking:

          • The Leading Fill has two contexts: the harmony it takes place in and the new harmony it is going to. The arrival contextualizes that which leads to it, and retrospectively can make notes that don't 'fit' the first harmony make sense.

          • For example: in the progression C to F, the bass might play C Gb F – the Gb is definitely not in either key, but because it leads smoothly down to F, it makes sense upon arrival.

          • Another: I Want You Back (Jackson 5) - think about that first bar: if its C going to F, the bass line is: C..... DEGAF / (F). The A is not a chord tone of C, but it is the third of the F it is going to.

      • Bass lines are usually highly patterned.

        • Once you have found an elaboration of a chord that feels good (probably a 1 or 2 bar phrase), think of that as a template that you apply to future chords.

        • Save major changes in pattern for the song form.

          • For example: a jazz bass player will often play the A section of a song in half-notes (focusing on the root and 5th of the chords) and the B in walking quarter notes.

      • I'm assuming root-position harmony (most rock, pop, jazz, folk music). If a chord is meant to be inverted, the bass of that inversion should be given the most weight.

    • The underlying idea is that the bass reinforces the tonal hierarchy with the rhythmic hierarchy:

      • Chord root on strongest beats.

      • Chord fifth on weaker beats.

      • Chord third on weaker beats.

      • Non-chord tones only as passing or neighbor tones. (Because any note leapt to or from projects harmony).

        Why is the third less important than the fifth? Doesn't the harmony depend more on whether the third is major or minor?
        A good harmonic sound, whether you're in a rock band or an orchestra, is spaced roughly like the harmonic series: large intervals at the bottom, smaller intervals the higher you go. The root and the fifth are the lowest notes in the harmonic series, and so they're the natural terrain of the lowest instruments. Thirds down low can make for muddy chords.

    • Suggestions for practice.

      • Write a chord progression, and sing the root line. When you're comfortable with that, elaborate the line a step (see The Dancing Bass, above). Look only at the chord progression, visualizing the new notes in your head. Repeat. Challenge yourself. When you settle into something you like, write it down.

      • Do the same on your instrument.

      • Write a single bar of a bass pattern and sing it on different scale degrees. Notice how the pattern changes between major and minor chords.

      • Transcribe a bass line from a song you like or one of my examples. Analyze it – how is the root emphasized? Where are the decorations? Which chord tones are used, and on what beats? How are NHTs handled? What parts are patterned and which are more improvised? How does the line lead to the One?

        • Write your own line like it and walk it through some chord progressions.

    • Examples for transcription / analysis:

  • ET10 // Introduction to Score Reading / Conducting / Embodiment

    • Materials for practice:

      • Any music that has a recording and a score can become an endless terrain for practice. Symphonies by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven are a great place to start (and you could spend your whole life on them). If you have a hard time getting excited about this music, try it anyway -- when you really get to know one of these pieces, you'll be surprised at how fun it can be to engage with it (in the ways I describe below). You can get anything on IMSLP, but I do not recommend doing this off a screen. Scrolling is just too clumsy, and you want to be able to stand up and move around. Dover makes decent and super-cheap editions. Everybody should own a couple. Start with Beethoven. Just amazon prime yourself something right now.

      • Other things mentioned below: Bach Chorales in Open Score, Basic Conducting Pattern Diagrams, Clef Transposition exercises.

    • Score Reading has become a specialized training for conductors, but it involves skills that any well-rounded musician should practice.

      • Following a Score

        • Passive vs. Active

          • We often follow scores in a passive way. Our eyes move around the page wherever something catches our attention. Our main challenge is turning the page at the right time, and this we do by waiting for cues. Depending on the score, this can be challenging by itself. In my experience, however, following a score in this way is often boring or frustrating, distracting, and not that illuminating.

          • Following the score actively requires that we generate our own internal pulse in time with the music. We not only read the rhythms but articulate them in some way. We learn to move our attention vertically without breaking our reading of rhythms (and eventually, pitches). We internalize the layout of instruments on the page. We develop our own way of playing along with the score. This takes more work and attention, but it's also more fun, engaged, and illuminating.

        • Things to try:

          • Ta-through

            • Take a page of a score and "sing" through the rhythms of any one part -- you can use a syllable like "ta," or improvise your own verbal scatting. Conduct to keep time.

            • Do the same but jump between parts. Try tracing different paths: go where the activity is, or follow a motive that moves through the orchestra. Guess what the most important lines are. Keep strict time, again by conducting.

            • Put on a recording of the piece and do the same. Use this to engage with the foreground parts, but also to explore inner voices.

          • Sing-through

            • Add pitch. Start by singing one line (use an instrument to get a starting pitch). Then try moving between two lines, then try jumping more freely. Do first without recording, then with.

          • Dance-through

            • I do a kind of combination of conducting and dancing along. When I'm by myself. We probably all do our own version of this. I conduct time -- but in a loose way, playing with different ways to embody the pulse and character of the music. I'm convinced that this isn't just silly play, but the way we can deepen our connection to music on its most fundamental level. It's worth practicing.

            • If you don't know what I'm talking about, here are some ideas to get started. Pick some piece of music with a recording you like and a score.

              • Learn the basic conducting patterns. Diagrams here. Practice just marking time while listening to music. (Don't get too hung up on making these "correctly" - unless you're really going to be conducting, this is just a way to physicalize meter).

              • Change the size and character of this hand pattern along with changes in the volume and character of the music.

              • Follow along with a score so you can anticipate these changes.

              • Start to show more things in your body. Big hits might become punches; downbeats or harmony shifts might be felt in the knees...

              • The conducting pattern is something you can leave and return to ad lib.

              • Combine with the Ta-along - vocalize some things you're hearing.

              • Try physicalizing things in different ways. Show events in your shoulders, in your arms, in your hips, in your legs, in your feet. Instead of showing meter with your hands, do it with a step-touch step-touch (for duple time) or waltz step (for triple time).

              • Once you've really gotten to know the piece, turn off the music and "perform it" with a mix of singing (however approximate), conducting and dancing.

            • For some inspiration, check out Carlos Kleiber. Or Michael Jackson.

      • Reading in open score.

        • This just means reading music where the parts have a lot of space between them. It just takes practice. The classic workbook is Bach Chorales in Open Score. Read them at the piano (Play-Three/Sing-One is a great exercise -- but don't feel bad about starting with Play-Two/Sing-One, or even Play-One/Sing-One. It's really hard!)

      • Reduction

        • Seeing chords.
          Learning to collapse 20+ staves into a single chord takes a lot of experience, but there are shortcuts you can begin practicing now.

          • Look for "chorale" textures. Large patches of slow-moving, on-beat half and whole notes often are a reduction of the harmony already built into the music. It may happen in the winds or strings -- or especially in the 4 horns (in Classical and Romantic era music).

          • Look for bass notes. Keep an eye on the lowest parts of each section: double basses in the strings, tuba or 3rd trombone in the brass, bassoon in the winds. Even if you can't sort out the whole chord above, it will tell you a lot about the music. In music that is mostly triadic, it is often enough to just see the bass note and one note above it to determine the inversion.

          • Sing chords, bottom to top. Pick one verticality and sing all the notes, as if it were a melody. This will require you to compress the pitches -- within a single octave is fine, as long as you keep the lowest note the lowest note.

        • Seeing the big picture.

          • It's as important to learn to ignore things as to be able to see everything... sometimes I like to follow a score while I "squint" -- or whatever the mental equivalent is -- trying to take in instrumentation and density of the whole without trying to sound out individual lines.

      • Transposition

        • A core skill for conductors. Not essential for the rest of us, but still a part of being a well-rounded musician (especially for people with absolute pitch).

        • Because the orchestra has transposing instruments (clarinet, horn, trumpets), for which the written pitch is different from the sounding pitch, a conductor has to learn to read these fluently. They do this by read these instruments in different clefs than they're actually in:

          • Instruments in B flat: tenor clef (read up an octave)
            D: Alto clef (read up an octave)
            A: Soprano clef (read as written)
            F: Mezzo-Soprano clef (read as written)
            G: Baritone clef (read up an octave)
            E-flat: Bass clef (read up an octave)

          • If you're curious about this, the San Fransisco Conservatory has a good explanation here, and exercises for the different clefs.