Relating Internal Auditory Imagery and Tuning/Shaping on Your Instrument

Throughout this chapter, we have been working on the connection between internal imagery and external sound—both what you hear and what you perform. One of the most important applications of this connection is the skill of setting an intention before you perform. We’ll talk about two important applications here.

First, tuning. Many expert performers—notably, of strings, winds/brass, and voice—say that you absolutely cannot tune correctly unless you can (internally) hear the note you want to sound before you play/sing it. We can start by practicing with single notes, and then move to phrases: first, imagine what you want to hear, then actually make it happen.

Second, shaping. For any instrument, the subtle variations of timing, volume, and articulation that contribute to a more purposeful and beautiful performance will be more reliable, and more effective, if they are internally imagined beforehand.

Activity: Setting an intention

Goal: Practice intentional performing guided by your internal auditory imagery.

Before you start: Choose a piece of music, either for voice or for your primary instrument (which you may want on hand). Find a short passage—perhaps as few as three notes—that you will be able to hear in your head. If necessary, give yourself the starting pitch.


  1. Hear the passage in your head as vividly as possible. Practice and repeat this internal hearing as necessary, making decisions about tuning and shaping, until you feel fairly secure in and happy with your mental image.
  2. Optionally, hear this internal auditory image one more time as you practice making the motions you would need to perform the passage.
  3. Perform the passage, either vocally or on your primary instrument, doing your best to “hear” how your internal image relates to what you’re actually playing.
  4. Compare your internal image to your performance. If they did not match, repeat steps 3–4 until they do.



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Foundations of Aural Skills Copyright © 2022 by Timothy Chenette is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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