How to know context when only 1 note is given?

So I’ve recently come across exercises where no context is given (neither the scale or the I chord) other than a single note.

For example, they give you a 5 and tell you to sing a 1.
Or give you a 1 and tell you to sing a 3.

I’ve practiced doing: 1 to 2, 1 to 3, 1 to 4… With only the note 1 as the context, but now I’m trying to do from 5 to 1 with only the 5 as the context and I haven’t been able to get it righ, even though it’s technically the same (in terms of intervals) as 1 to 4, which is something I’m already familiar with.

I know this is only an exercise and isn’t really that important because in a real situation where you’re going to improvise, you’ll have acces to the context in both the scale and the chords, but I still think it’s a pretty good way of practicing and speeding up the process of mastering the major scale.

Do you guys have any recommendation on how to tackle this kind of exercise?
Is it helpful at all or am I just adding extra steps?


@Asuryan As an isolated 2 note exercise I can’t see much point.

‘Sing the Numbers’, with either the specially (& thoughtfully) prepared IFR tracks, or a DIY version seems like a much more useful exercise?

Edit to add: N.B. I’m just a learner, not a teacher.

It doesn’t sound like a Sing The Numbers sort of exercise. I was going to ask if you were using Sing The Numbers for ear training. For me, it was the best way to attune my ear to the lovely sounds of the numbers and their relationships, in a meaningful context. ie not in a “here’s one note, try to sing this other note” out of any context, but as parts of melodic phrases.

@DavidW @mem Yeah, I’m already familiar with sing the numbers, I was just thinking of a way to combining both the IFR method with the intervals method, and I think I found the solution.

I’m getting results by internally singing the scale starting from the note I’m told (for example, singing starting in note 5) and going down (or up in case of notes 6 and 7) all the way until note 1.

Don’t worry about explaining the whole sing the numbers method to me, I’m not confused about that. I’m just trying out theories in order to make more advanced exercises for it.

I’ve been implementing solfége to sing the numbers and it’s going great, but I’m doing an exercise that starts in the 5 and goes up to the 1, and I wasn’t getting good results, but now I do.

@Asuryan A thing that I do do as part of my warm up[1] (after some SOVT exercises[2]) is to sing my natural note then sing up to the top of my comfort zone from there (typically octave then to the 4, or the 5 on a good day, then down to the bottom of my comfort zone, typically the 6 or, on a good day, the 5 below the starting note), then a few bigger intervals (typically including 1 5 & 5 1 & 1 1’ & finishing with a 3 2 1.

That’s done accapella, but while holding & looking at a tuner (typically my ‘natural note’ is a C).

I keep meaning to set up a simple StN for the sequence, but so far it’s not got to the top of the ToDo list.

[1] Typically I do StN while puttng in 10k in my exercise bike. While I’m doing an initial physical warm up of a few minutes at very low resistance I also warm up my vocal chords.

[2] SOVT => Semi Occluded Vocal Tract, i.e. lip trills, tongue trills etc.,

Sounds like you are experimenting with getting an interval (5 to 1) with only note 5 as context. It occured to me that (and you pointed out) that is one element of context, the other is harmonic environment (or scale). Your starting note 5 could be the fifth note of a 1 chord in the 1st HE, the second note in the 4th HE, the root note if the 5th etc. It has a place/sound/feeling in all 7. You could try playing around with this, maybe one environment will really nail the 5 to 1 interval.

My understanding is that with the IFR approach, there is always a harmonic environment to start with. Then you learn to recognize notes by feel within that environment.

You could almost say that you can’t call a note a 5 unless there are already notes in the air for 1 through 7. That’s why the backing tracks are so important in the exercises.

I think IFR ultimately gets you to the point where you could walk into a jam session, play one note on your instrument, recognize where that note is in the current harmonic environment, and start jamming. There’s actually an IFR YouTube video showing that happening.

I’m not saying I personally can do that, but I think the IFR exercises will get me there some day

Agree @hender99 . The idea of “Here’s a 5. Give me the 1.” with those as the only sounds seems almost the antithesis of IFR. IFR is about sounds in context. If I get around to making up that simple StN / FtN for my warm up exercise mentioned it will likely at least have a drone to go with the notes.

@Asuryan I’ve been thinking a little more about your problem, and I think that Exercise 2 from the IFR book is what will really help you. In particular, the PLAY THE MAP and SING THE MAP exercises from Exercise 2.

I play piano, and recently I’ve been doing a variation of those exercises like this. Pick a random note in the left hand and call it note 1 of the major scale. Play that major scale up/down in the right hand while holding the left hand note as a drone. Then point to notes to individual scale notes with the right hand and say what scale number that is, and then sing that note, followed immediately by playing the note to see how close I got. Skip around the scale, don’t just go up/down. Make little melodies.