Detecting errors in an ensemble is complicated. If you’re working from a notated score, then it uses both your sight reading and your listening skills. Not only that, but ensembles typically play multiple parts at once, giving us a lot to listen to.
Fortunately, we’ve already worked through the skills you will need—now you’re just putting them together! Here’s what we’ll be using:
- Perception of context (key, meter and tempo)
- Identifying rhythmic cells and other kinds of chunks to verify they are correct
- Sight reading, listening, and practicing internal hearing to compare the score to what we hear
- Directing our attention to different parts of the texture to assess where problems might be
Once we’ve found an error, then we can also use the principles in the previous section to help our fellow musicians (or ourselves!) correct it. As a reminder, those principles are: make sure you’re referencing the context, use the bass to help hear the chord progression and key, and think about which parts have natural relationships.
Goal: Integrate listening and reading skills by comparing sounding music to a notated score.
Before you start: You’ll need to find an error-detection exercise. You can find such activities on the internet with a search for “aural skills error detection practice”—results may include videos and websites. One example is the “find the flaw” exercises at Dr. Cynthia I. Gonzales’s listen-sing.com.
Instructions: Identify any discrepancies between the notated and performed music. If you have difficulty, it may be helpful to scan through the notated music and hear it in your head (or out loud) before listening through the performed version. Then use your “thinking ahead” sight-reading skills to anticipate each note based on the notation before it sounds.
Goal: Integrate error-detection skills into the rehearsal process (the director); practice sight reading in an ensemble (everyone else).
Before you start: You’ll need an ensemble; we recommend a 1- or 2-on-a-part choir; working with singers typically requires the highest level of thinking about context, since singers don’t have the aid of an external mechanism in finding pitches. You’ll also need some music to rehearse; we recommend notated choral or instrumental music with 3–5 independent parts. You may be able to find such music in a sight-singing anthology, but it’d be great if you can check some music out from a score library or find some on IMSLP or CPDL.
- Assign each member of the group to a different piece of music or section of a piece. Each person will act as ensemble director for their assigned excerpt. It will be helpful if everyone has some time to look over their section and hear it in their heads as much as possible. Many people struggle to hear a whole ensemble in their heads, but it is often helpful to work through at least the melody and the bass.
- Each person should take 10 minutes leading the ensemble in sight-reading and rehearsing their assigned excerpt. The director should concentrate on identifying errors in performance, and then offer advice. Since the group is not working towards a performance, you can focus on integrating aural skills into the process rather than teaching the music in the quickest way.
- Once everyone has taken a turn leading the ensemble, engage in self-evaluation or discuss how things went as a group. What skills did you need to bring to bear to identify errors? What were the most productive methods of fixing those errors?