Piano tetrachord ear training exercise

  1. Close your eyes throughout the whole exercise.

  2. Disorient your positioning, move where you are sitting to make this more random.

  3. We are only hitting white keys so don’t go near, or try to feel for the black keys.

  4. Hit one white key.

  5. Play up 3 white keys, and back to the root key, this is the lower tetrachord, listen how it sounds. The speed at which you play them doesn’t matter to much, but a moderately fast tempo is better. Also play each note one after the other, with no sustain pedal, dont hold it like a chord. Play the initial chosen key and 3 white keys down then back to the root key, this is the upper tetrachord, listen how it sounds. So in total we are playing 7 keys. The key you chose randomly with 3 keys on top and 3 keys on bottom of it. The top 4 keys are the lower tetrachord, and the bottom 4 keys are the upper tetrachord.

  6. By the sound alone identify the randomly chosen note, the two tetrachords, and the mode.

The four tetrachords you will be listening for are below. I have noted their structure also. R is for root, W is for whole step for when you have a black key between two white keys, and H is for a half step when there is no black key between two white keys.

  • Major R W W H
  • Minor R W H W
  • Phrygian R H W W
  • Wholetone R W W W

The 7 modes are below. These aren’t their original names they were changed from their original naming scheme but that is for a deeper discussion. If anyone cares to know that, we can talk about it. Let’s just say it will help you better understand why we have this mode called mixolydian that really ain’t quite right as far as giving it that name it is actually the original name of locrian.

  • Ionian
  • Dorian
  • Phrygian
  • Lydian
  • Mixolydian
  • Aeolian
  • Locrian

The notes are pretty straightforward. :grinning:

  • C
  • D
  • E
  • F
  • G
  • A
  • B

So this should help you understand more deeply how each mode sounds, their genetic makeup, and drive you to go further with tetrachords. I would suggest Harmonic Minor next so you can see how easy it is to drift between certain soundscapes like how when Yngwie goes between minor and harmonic minor, or drifting from Phrygian to Phrygian dominant.
You will know exactly what is going on, will have a better aural understanding of the sound, and a knowledge of tetrachords that can be a massive help with music.

I’m sure there’s a good deal of musically interesting information provided here, but I’m not sure it’s being contextualized in a way that’s very useful for someone who isn’t already familiar with the concepts you’re discussing.

Also briefly, I think any discussion of modes in the context of tetrachords should probably address the fact that, regardless of what the nomenclature should or shouldn’t be, the common understanding of such things would make the initial 4 notes of mixolydian and ionian, dorian and aeolian, and locrian and phrygian the same.

This is more for those not familiarized with tetrachords, and those who might not be able to discern between mixolydian, dorian, maybe all of aeolian, the beginning of locrian, and possible phrygian. The placement I have on the upper tetrachord I believe might not be proper terminology. I just simplified it since we are going in blind, so not to have to reach around for keys.

Correct I just always found it odd for that name mixolydian to be used on a scale with major and minor quality. Since lydian is of the tetrachord makeup wholetone and major, further bright.

Sure helps with playing over dominant chords though. :slight_smile:

@bradejensen I was thinking this as I read your post. I’m a theory nerd and I’m pretty into ear training too but I don’t come away from this with a clear understanding of how I can apply this, or why I’d want to invest time in it (I am NOT saying it’s a waste of time, I’m sure it’s quite worthwhile). For example, will it help me more easily know the ‘color’ of certain chords and instantly know what scale/mode I can use to solo over them? Or is this just a general ‘make your ears’ better type of exercise?

BTW, I gave it a try. It’s fun so thanks for sharing! I’m just big on details of application since there are ssssooooo many things we always hear “we ought to be doing to be better musicians”. I’ve got to cherry pick the things with the biggest yield…or concentrate on what’s the most fun lol!

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I dont really know where to go with this to be honest. I started to think about doing permutations of one tetrachord, singing, humming, or whistling them. But never went further than this right here. It is sort of a scratch the surface look into tetrachords from a purely aural perspective to show how the scale sounds, and why it is structured that way. There is a bit more to it, like the harmonic series, and building up by fifths. For an even better understanding of all scales, and once you see how the structure relates to other scales is when you really get a better overall picture of how important tetrachord knowledge can be when creating soloing phrasing lines, and can help simplify scales a bit through better clarification as to what you are really dealing with.

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I guess the only question I have is whether it really does help to understand the scale better aurally speaking, though. For example, one of the characteristics of Dorian that I find most distinctive is the b5 between the minor 3rd and the major 6th. But if I understand this correctly, you wouldn’t see that relationship via tetrachords. Again, not being a jerk (not on purpose at least haha) - just thinking out loud.

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Yes this isn’t the end all be all, this is just a scratching the surface. So yes being able to truly understand dorian would require soloing in that mode over the proper tonic or the right chord to hear it more clearly. Or listening to players that are really experienced in dorian. And yes each note has its characteristic against the tonic. This is to help give these rookies a boost as to what you are dealing with, plus giving a hint as to the flavor you’re trying to hear, and knowing dorian is a minor and a minor tetrachord can’t hurt, it can only help in my opinion. The more you know completes the overall picture.

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Another crazy thing is to try the Phrygian tetrachord on piano then do it on an acoustic or classical guitar. All I hear is that classical guitar was made for Phrygian. You can hear that Spanish flamenco big time compared to Phrygian on piano.

me me I want to know

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After you read this I suggest to you to research it for yourself. And understand why it was changed.

Ionian was Lydian
Dorian was Phrygian
Phrygian was Dorian
Lydian was Hypolydian
Mixolydian was Hypophrygian
Aeolian was Hypodorian
Locrian was Mixolydian

I tried to research it myself last night but everything I tried googling just returned basic lists or explanations of the modes as we now call them.

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In my imagination (scary place for anyone to be, including myself) I see this council full ancient Greek statesmen that meet about this. Some guy in the center plays seven notes on a harp.

Guy with the harp: “And I call this the Lydian mode”
Stuffy council member: " I object!!! This should be called the Ionian mode!!!"
Council in unison: “Agreed”

Guy with the harp: “Very well! Here’s another one I’ve been working on” [Plays seven notes] “I call this the Hypodorian mode!”
Stuffy council member: “I again object!!! This should clearly be named the Aeolian mode!”
Council in unison: “Agreed”

Guy with the harp: “You guys are jerks! Eff you all, I’m done” [Smashes harp on the floor and walks out]

Not only were modes born on this day, but so was Rock n Roll
:fire: :fire: :fire::metal: :metal: :metal: :metal: :fire: :fire: :fire:

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Yeah it’s probably tough to connect the modes as they’re currently used, in tonal music for example, to their usage in Gregorian chants etc. I had an early guitar teacher who swore that the term “mode” was a complete misnomer for application in jazz because of the V-I cadence. Obviously that’s a pretty hard line, and likely pedantic, but it’s illustrative in terms of how perceptions have changed.

Also - lol