Chapter 6 – Internal Hearing and Intonation

A close up of a tuning fork on a music stand.In this chapter, we’ll be working on the connections among sounds in our heads, sounds we make, and sounds we hear, with a focus on pitches. The more we can make these connections, the better our tuning will be, the more we’ll be able to work with music internally, and the more we’ll be able to engage with music as it is happening by reducing friction between hearing, imagining, and performing.

Among sound you hear, sound you make, and sound you imagine, internal auditory imagery—or sound you imagine in your head—is likely the least familiar to you. This sound can be more or less vivid, from a faint shadow of the sound to something so realistic that it almost seems like you’re hearing it out loud. Whatever the quality of what you can hear in your head, we want you to be able to work with this imagery and strengthen it

Of course, the sounds you hear in your head are not actually sounding externally; instead, they are something your brain puts together from memories of sound that it has stored. In the course of the chapter, we’ll work with different methods of cueing this imagery, including subvocalization and instrument-based kinesthetic imagery.

As in some previous chapters, we’ll use the voice quite a bit here. There are three helpful aspects of the voice: it is controlled by the brain with minimal mediation, it is particularly connected to our ability to imagine sound in our heads, and it can slide continuously up and down, so it facilitates thinking about tuning. If your brain-voice connection isn’t really working, you will have more challenges here, but you may be able to get similar benefits from an instrument with the ability to produce a continuous range of sounds, such as an unfretted string instrument or a theremin.

We will also benefit, however, from making connections to non-voice instruments. Such instruments can help vocalists to visualize relationships among notes and help other musicians connect their internally imagined sound to their understanding of their primary instrument to improve tuning. So we will often ask you to go back and forth between your voice and your primary instrument.

Keep in mind the differences between instrument timbres as you do these activities. In particular, it will be difficult to focus on tuning on an instrument with a sharp attack that then quickly gets quieter like the guitar, marimba, or piano. You will likely need to focus your tuning efforts on your voice or another instrument with a more sustained sound that you also feel comfortable with.

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to:

  1. Match a pitch they hear with their voices, thinking about tuning, timbre, and dynamics.
  2. Imagine a tone or short passage of music in their head (“audiate”).
  3. Imagine a desired passage of music based on notation.
  4. Alter imagined music in terms of rhythm, pitch, timbre, and dynamics.
  5. Use internalized physical and knowledge-based models to strengthen internal hearing.
  6. Use internal auditory imagery to improve tuning.
  7. Adjust equal-tempered tuning to other approaches as appropriate to make chords sound in-tune and melodies sound expressive.


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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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