What Is Pre-Hearing?

Pre-hearing simply means imagining what you are going to play before you play it. Many musicians rely on motor memory or physical habits to play their music. Music gets easier the more it originates in your imagination, so make pre-hearing part of your routine. Here’s a simple exercise:

  1. Play a C on your instrument.
  2. Imagine a D. (To get it in your ear, you can play the D and then play the C again.)
  3. Sing the D (Any syllable – even humming – will do.)
  4. Play the D.
  5. Repeat 1-4 with other neighboring notes, ad lib. But ONLY play a note once you can clearly hear it in your mind.

I know this seems very simple, but it can get as challenging as you choose to make it. Remain vigilant that you play notes only after you sing them.

Pre-Hearing a Major Scale Starting On Any Note

Many music students get very caught up in learning all their key signatures and fingerings for major and minor scales, feeling like they need to get performance results right away. While approaching scale material this way is important, if we want to develop our ability to play by ear, we need to cultivate the ability to play them by ear, note-by-note. Enter pre-hearing.

You already know how a major scale sounds. Here’s a test: hum or sing to yourself this melody: “do re mi fa so la ti do”. You can start on any note, so try it in a low part of your vocal range. (Many students feel they “can’t sing” because they continue to try singing songs in keys that don’t sit in. comfortably in their voice.)

If you’ve studied music theory, you might have memorized the whole-step/half-step pattern of a major scale. I’m not going to cover that hear, but I’m going to put it a different way: The major scale is all whole steps EXCEPT between mi & fa and ti & do. Those are half-steps. (A half-step above or below any note is the closest note. A whole-step is two of half-steps.)

Here’s the exercise:

  1. Find a note whose major scale you are unsure of. Maybe like an F#. So that F# is do.
  2. Play the F#. Sing it back by singing “do”.
  3. Sing “re”.
  4. Play a whole step above do, which is your re.
  5. Repeat with mi.
  6. On your way to fa, remember that fa is a half-step from mi, so the note you are going to play is the closes note above the note you just played.
  7. Continue to the high do, remembering the half-step from ti to do.

If you choose the wrong note do not beat yourself up. You are still awesome. The note you want will only be a half-step away. Play the correct note and sing and play back and forth until you feel like it is super easy.

This is a slow, meditative exercise. Remember, you are not building instrumental technique with this. You are cultivating your ear and making pre-hearing a habit.

Did You Know?

Pre-hearing is a granular form of mental practice, which has become accepted as highly effective in increasing success with physical and motor tasks as well as in reducing anxiety.

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