Sing the Map and Transposing

Hey everyone! I’ve been using IFR book and the jam tracks for a while now and had a lot of success with them. Lately I’ve decided to finally dig in deep with singing the numbers and being able to sing and improvise with just my voice, so the connection is even deeper when playing my saxes. But I have a question about transposing. I play alto and tenor sax, Eb and Bb. Let’s say I learn and get really comfortable with F major, or G dorian when exploring the seven worlds, and I learned both of those on tenor sax. How would I then apply that to the alto sax? Like for G dorian, the 2 3 4 5 6 7 1 2, do I have to learn that again but using the scale it would be on alto (D dorian), and then sing those numbers? That seems like it could get confusing. I’m just wondering the best way to balance things out. Or is the purpose of singing the numbers just to get familiar with the sounds and feel them, and less about mapping them to the instrument?

I look forward to learning and contributing here! Thanks so much for putting this method together, it really is fantastic and effective.

(Edit: I meant to say D Dorian, not C Dorian. Whoops!)

For me, the numbers are not notes (F#, C), the numbers are how the sounds feel when I hear them in a context, against a tonal centre, and interacting with each other.

Try to get away from simply equating numbers with notes, and experience “how does 2 sit with 4 in the 1st world”.

Your knowledge of chords, scales and all that theory will always be with you. IFR will give you different tools, and an enjoyable way to learn to use them.

To your specific question, with IFR transposing comes with method. The 2nd harmonic environment/world (Dorian) is the 2nd world, with 2 as the tonal centre, regardless of key. Imagine you didn’t know any note names, picked up your instrument, play any note at random and thought “ok, this is 2 and I’m in the 2nd world, where can I go now?” and see what happens.

BTW welcome to the site, and to the IFR community.

Hi mem, okay so it is basically like David describes it in the book. You are getting to know the sounds, and how they feel. Just trying notes to numbers probably isn’t nearly as helpful, as actually knowing what they sound like. So that makes absolute sense.

Right the key doesn’t matter, because a 2 will still sound like a 2. I think I’ve got it now. So transposing is actually not nearly as complex as I thought. When you approach it that way.

Thanks! I look forward to contributing here.

Hi @HardBopJazzMan and @mem, here’s one additional way of thinking about it that might help. In IFR we are not studying or trying to develop perfect pitch. “Perfect pitch” refers the ability to identify the exact frequency of a note. So for example, hearing a note out of the blue and knowing that it’s an F#. I’m not disparaging that ability or its pursuit, but we need to be clear that this isn’t what IFR teaches at all. In IFR, what we are learning to notice is what’s called the harmonic function of each note. Simply put, that just means learning to recognize each note relative to the key of the music.

The reason why we focus on becoming aware of these sensations is because everyone already has this ability. The classic example I always use is the singing of a familiar melody like Happy Birthday. If I were to play that entire melody for you on the piano, intentionally playing just one wrong note during the melody, you would recognize that instantly. You would recognize that this isn’t the sound you were expecting. What this shows is that you can HEAR the difference between each of the seven notes of the major scale. Each of these notes already affects you differently, and these are the sounds from which melodies are made. And as you know, you would recognize the melody to Happy Birthday no matter what key it’s played in. So the absolute names of the notes DON’T MATTER. What your ear is actually recognizing is the sound of each note relative to the key of the music.

This is why we don’t even bother mentioning the keys of the audio exercises in Sing the Numbers. The key of the exercise isn’t the point. Any of those audio exercises could be sung in any key. And we purposely move the keys around so that your ear doesn’t get attached to one particular key. Again, we’re not trying to develop perfect pitch. Our goal isn’t to recognize a note as F# or Bb. Our goal is to recognize the sensations of notes 1, 2, 3, etc., and these are the sane in any key.

So how does this map to your studying of the second harmonic environment? Here’s how:

  1. In your Sing the Numbers practice, go to Sing the Numbers 2: Seven Worlds and spend lots of time with the audio exercises in the Second Harmonic Environment. Don’t even worry about what key those exercises are in. Just focus on the sound and sensation that each note gives you, and learn which tonal number corresponds to each one of those beautiful sensations.

  2. In your improvisation practice, then go to IFR Jam Tracks Level 1: Seven Worlds and again go to the lesson on the Second Harmonic Environment. As much as possible, practice in all 12 keys.

I totally understand if some keys are more familiar to you than others. But you can already see the problems and confusion that arise from spending too much time in one key. Then you want to go to another key and you’re not even sure how your knowledge carries over. For this reason, you should practice the discipline of playing in all 12 keys for at least part of your time. It doesn’t have to be a lot of your time, and you don’t have to become equally fluent in all 12 keys (although pretty soon you will be). At first, it’s perfectly fine for you to continue to enjoy your favorite keys most of the time. But at least once a week, pick an odd key and build the major scale in that key. Then put on the IFR Jam Track for the second harmonic environment in that key, and just experience improvising with those notes for 5 minutes. That’s all I’m asking for. Five minutes a week is all it takes to maintain your clarity about this basic idea that all of these sounds are available in any key.

And a nice side benefit is that little by little, you’ll be chipping away at that difficulty of the unfamiliar keys. :slight_smile:

It would be nice to have Sing the Numbers phrases written somehow so I could sing them it in different key and exactly same backing track but in different keys.

I initially wanted the Sing the Numbers phrases written down, so I did it myself. Each phrase on a different line of notebook paper


With that written down, I could do a few things…

A. Imagine better where I was on the tonal map while singing along

B. Sing the exercise by myself at the piano in different keys with a constant beat on the tonal center in my left hand.

C. Flip the exercise by singing the phase on the track before Mireia does, and having her confirm I got it right

Hi @Flynn, welcome to the community.

Yes, there are endless ways you can play with the Sing the Numbers tracks. Like @hender99, I too have been through the tracks writing down the phrases on a piece of paper and then using this for a number of little exercises I’ve made up.

Exploring the materials yourself is all part of the learning process. And, although we might think it would be nice if additional stuff were provided for us, creating stuff yourself is much more useful.


Hi! Yes, transcribing is great practice. In this case it seems like my brain is looking for new learning material and this means I hit another plateau ) Time to rethink my practice schedule.

Have you considered trying out using technology to adapt the existing tracks? I’ve successfully used Transcribe! (the ! is part of the name) to make slower versions of IFR tracks[1]. Transposition (up to 3 octaves!) is another feature of Transcribe!, though it’s not one I’ve tried using so I can’t quote personal experience.

Other transposition software is available…

Just a thought…

[1] Actually that was with a couple of ‘Feel the Numbers’[2] tracks rather than Sing the Numbers, but the idea is the same.

[2] In case you’re not familiar with them, the ‘Feel the Numbers’ tracks are part of the “Ear Training for Musical Creativity” course. They use the same listen & respond approach as StN, but what you listen to are tones rather than sung numbers; you respond by singing the relevant numbers.

Maybe ‘Feel the Numbers’ is that ‘new learning material’ your brain is looking for?