A Tonescape and Tensions



Now if we took all the songs that fit with one shape, put them in a big pot and melted them together, it might sound something like this:

[start tonescape]

This is a tonescape. You might find this sound a little overwhelming at first, or maybe you’ll find it relaxing.

A tonescape is all the notes of a shape played at once. So this sound represents all the notes that might fit with a song, and all the songs that might fit with a shape.

So in a sense, it also represents your own musical intuitions. Even if you just hear a big blob of sound at first, you can still have a feeling for the anchor [hum], and for some notes that fit with the sound [hum], just like you do with a song.

[stop tonescape]

Working with a tonescape helps you develop these feelings more intentionally. It’s a way to start building an internal instrument, a way to recognize any note you hear, and to play notes clearly in your imagination.

We’ll start by learning to recognize three notes that are part of the tonescape: the anchor, one note higher, and one note lower.

Here’s how it works. Once the tonescape starts, you’ll hear a note, then, after a pause, a little computerized voice will tell you which note it was.

So when you hear a note, try to name it—anchor, higher, or lower—and then the voice will tell you if you were right. Like this:

[demo: “okay, I think that note feels like the anchor…”]

Now, you might find this very easy, or it might be a little challenging at first. But the key is in keeping yourself oriented to the anchor.

The first note you hear will always be the anchor. You want to place yourself at the anchor, and create the feeling that the other notes are tensions, pulling away from the anchor, and wanting to pull back to it.

Now, calling these tensions “higher” and “lower” is a little arbitrary—we could just as well call them “lighter” and “heavier,” or “thinner” and “thicker,” or so on. But “higher” and “lower” suggest a kind of spatial relationship, and this can help you stay oriented to the anchor.

Try imagining that you’re in a space with the anchor at the center, and the other notes above and below, or to the right and left. Place yourself at the anchor, and imagine that the other notes are rubber bands stretched away from you, full of tension, and wanting to pull back. It’s a tension that you can actually feel in your body. And then when you hear the anchor, the tension releases.

So give it a try. If naming these notes feels difficult at first, let go of trying to name them, and just listen to them. Then, when the voice tells you which note it is, you can think, oh, okay, that was the anchor, or higher, or lower, and before long you’ll start to recognize the notes on your own.

If you miss a note, first make sure that you’re oriented to the anchor. Then pay extra attention for the note you missed going forward. See if you can start to recognize that note the next time you hear it.

And remember, if there’s a note you don’t know, you can always just stop and listen, then continue naming the next note you recognize.

Listening in this way is like building a muscle, so you don’t want to overdo it. Try listening regularly, once or twice a day for a short time, just about five minutes, and not for more than fifteen minutes at a time. Pay attention to when you feel yourself starting to get tired, or losing focus, and that means it’s time to take a break.

So experiment with this, and when you feel confident naming each note you hear, that’s when you’re ready to come back for more.

Tonescape Exercises

A Tonescape Alone

Anchor, Higher, Lower