Meeting Topic: Developing Critical Listening Skills Through Technical Ear Training
Speaker Name: Jason Corey, Associate Professor, University of Michigan, Vice President, Central Region, Audio Engineering Society
Other business or activities at the meeting: The meeting started with an opportunity for the attendees to provide suggestions for future meetings. Several suggestions were given, including requests to repeat tours of facilities that the section had hosted several years ago.
Meeting Location: Shure Incorporated, 5800 W. Touhy Ave, Niles, IL 60714
A complete video recording of the lecture portion of the meeting may be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y7e8pHLRT4c
The text book and software used for Jason Corey's class can be found here: www.TechnicalEarTraining.com
Jason Corey teaches a class at the University of Michigan on technical ear training and presented a summary of what is covered in the class. He began with an overview and history of technical ear training. The first formal program was at the Chopin Academy of Music in Warsaw, Poland in the 1970's. It was further developed at McGill University (Montreal, Canada) and as part of various tonmeister programs in Europe.
Instead of studying musical elements such as pitch, harmony, and rhythm, technical ear training focuses on tonal balance (EQ), level changes, amplitude envelopes, and the balance of a mix. These skills are key for a recording engineer or live sound mixer. They are also highly relevant for someone who designs microphones, loudspeakers, sound systems, or anything else that must be subjectively pleasing. While critical listening skills can be developed casually over time, systematic training helps develop skills much faster.
Much of technical ear training is focused on timbre. Timbre has a crucial role in pop music to create drama, and to help delineate the sections of a song. While there are several factors influencing timbre, it is largely dependent on the power spectrum of the audio, which can be modified with an equalizer (EQ). By developing critical listening skills for timbre, one can improve his or her accuracy, speed, and sensitivity in identifying changes in timbre.
A significant portion of the lecture was a demonstration of software that Jason has developed over the last several years that helps with timbral ear training. The user can load an audio file and the software will present the original file and an EQ'd version of that file. The user's task is to identify the frequency and magnitude of the EQ curve. Several different exercises are available, some allow the user to preview their answer before committing to it, others require the answer to be made "blind."
Jason also touched on other areas of audio processing and audio quality that could benefit from ear training. These include dynamics (ratio, attack time, release time), reverb (decay time, pre-delay) and distortion (clipping, bit-rate reduction).
Written By: Ross Penniman