How can I learn to hear the individual voices in polyphony?
Question: What is the right way to learn to hear multiple voicings? I kinda can hear them, but still can't focus on them. So they are not very accurate. And that is the problem. - Daniel

Answer: You mean hearing the separate voices in polyphonic music? Here's one thing that might help, though it would require that you use one of Ars Nova's software programs. Practica Musica, Songworks, and Counterpointer can open music in our online library, which contains about 30 of Bach's chorale harmonizations. They are presented with each of the four voices in a different staff. You can raise or lower the volume level of each staff separately, so you could, for example, make the tenor voice louder until you are able to pick it out while listening. Then try the alto, etc. Changing the volume levels of different parts might help a lot in getting used to hearing the whole thing. It will help to do what we call "Active Listening" with these. That's an activity in Practica Musica and a command in Songworks. In active listening the computer plays the other parts as you tap the rhythm of the part you're concentrating on.

The selections from Handel's Messiah in that library might be good for this, too - our Messiah Singalong program lets you emphasize any voice without fiddling with the volume controls - but those also include orchestra accompaniment and are more complicated. Bach's chorales are kind of the gold standard for studying 4-part vocal writing and are good practice for this sort of thing. Try sticking with just one chorale until you can hear each voice individually, especially the bass and the soprano.

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