A Tonescape and Tensions


Tonescape Exercises

A Tonescape Alone

Anchor, Higher, Lower


Imagine you could take all the music that fits with a single shape, put it into a big pot and melt it together into a kind of music soup. It might sound something like this:

[tonescape starts]

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

A tonescape is the notes of a shape, played at the same time. It represents all the notes that might fit with a song, and also all the songs that might fit with a shape.

So you bring your musical intuition to the tonescape, just as you would to a song. Even if you only 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 in a song.

[tonescape stops]

A tonescape helps you develop these feelings more intentionally. It builds your internal instrument, so you can start to recognize any note you hear, and also to hear notes clearly in your mind’s ear. Developing this connection between your inner and outer musical worlds makes a profound difference in your playing, singing, and listening.

So 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 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:


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, stretched 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 it, or to its right and left. Then 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 to you. It’s a tension that you can actually feel in your body. And 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 you start to feel lost, you can always just stop and listen, then continue naming once you hear a 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 once you feel confident naming each note you hear, that’s when you’re ready to come back for more.