Most of the time, the repertoire I am preparing for upcoming performances is more than enough to occupy my mental and musical faculties. However, when work comes in fits and starts, and I find myself without a project for a moment, I practice my musicianship skills. I’ve found different texts useful for different tasks and goals and will give a short summary of my favorites below.
This book by Lars Edlund is a classic of atonal, interval-based learning. It starts off with melodic exercises consisting entirely of seconds and fourths, then adding fifths, then thirds, and moving further on into more complex structures. In addition to the melodies written expressly for the text, the book includes many examples from the orchestral, chamber, and vocal repertoire. Preceding the melodic exercises, Edlund includes several 3- or 4-note examples of the most difficult intervallic combinations involving the new interval. I’ve found Modus Novus to be exceptionally good for working on troublesome intervals in a musical context.
Wege zur Neuen Musik
While not as substantial or encyclopedic in scope a book as Modus Novus, I find the exercises quite useful, and it is sold in low and high voice versions. The melodies tend to be a little more mechanical and sequential, but are good for getting intervals in your ear on their own. My favorite parts of the book are the two voice exercises (bring a friend!) and the large section of exclusively vocal excerpts from the repertoire, ranging from Berg and Schönberg to Feldman and Ligeti. Sometimes it just feels better to be singing real music while working on your musicianship!
Elementary Training for Musicians
Paul Hindemith’s perennial text is a kind of all-purpose torture device for the masochistic musician. I’ll write about its excellent rhythmic exercises in an upcoming post; for now I’ll focus on the pitch-based aspects of the text. Unlike the other two texts listed here, Hindemith focuses on tonal (or at least diatonic) sight-singing. The rhythmic aspects of his melodic exercises are always interesting, with lots of across-the-beat accents and sequences. If you need a tune-up on more melodic and tonal reading, this is a very useful text.
Of course, it’s often useful to take excerpts from the literature and turn them into vocalises and ear training exercises. I’m currently working on a piece by Luca Lombardi that isn’t too difficult, except for one wide ranging and angular melodic line on a single syllable. I’m writing it out into my notebook in various forms and transpositions to use as a vocalise while I get the intervals clearly in my ear.