Numerous people have marveled at their friend or acquaintance who can compose a song or just listen to a piece of music and immediately sing it or play it back. However, did you know that anyone, even you, can do this if you have a basic understanding of music and some ear training?
As good as this piece of news is, how exactly can you train your ear? Is there a specific ear training exercise or technique you should do or what? If you’d like to know the answer to these questions, keep reading, and we’ll tell you all our ear training tips.
What Do We Mean By Ear Training?
Ear training is what every musician goes through in music school while learning music to develop a musical ear and become a successful musician.
While some musicians were born with the ability to instantly identify pitches and play music by ear, many were not. As such, they had to analyze the structure of a work, including its melody, rhythm, key, etc., and acquaint themselves with these elements until they could recognize them with practice.
Accordingly, that’s how aural skills came to be and why ear training, in addition to music theory, became extremely valuable to all musicians and composers.
Why Should You Train Your Ear?
In short, ear training allows you to transform the sounds you imagine or hear into actual music that can be heard or played by others.
Moreover, it allows you to better understand music and why a piece was written the way it was, and the different musical elements that make it up, effectively increasing your appreciation of it.
And if that wasn’t tempting enough, you’ll also notice an improvement in your musical skills and intonation (aka playing in the correct pitch without going sharp or flat). Additionally, improvising, tuning your instruments, and playing with others will become so much better and easier.
As such, having a musical ear and building your aural skills are an absolute must for anyone working within the music industry, whether as vocalists, musicians, songwriters, or producers. So, make sure to practice ear training if you want to become an excellent musician.
How Can You Train Your Ear?
Unfortunately, you can’t just develop perfect aural skills overnight or even after a month. Training your ear will take time, effort, persistence until you reach a satisfactory result.
Nevertheless, it can be achieved by devoting a small part of your day to practicing its skills, and with consistent training, you’ll be great in no time, even if you don’t have perfect pitch to help you. So, take a look at the following ear training techniques and start practicing.
1. Practice Pitch Recognition
As we said, you don’t need to have perfect pitch to be able to pinpoint a musical tone.
So while it’s true that absolute pitch is like a cheat card, allowing a few lucky people to instantaneously and miraculously recognize notes, different keys, chords, and more, you can also do the same if you develop your relative pitch.
Relative pitch, opposed to perfect pitch, needs to be built up from scratch. So the first step is to train yourself to identify a particular note, followed by identifying other notes in relation to that original note.
So, pick up your musical instrument and start playing the same note until it’s ingrained in your memory. That note can be anything within your vocal range, but it’s easier if you start with C4.
Then, repeat that note on your instrument, hum it, sing it, and even think it until recognizing it becomes as easy as breathing. Once you can instinctively acknowledge that note, move on to the next step.
2. Practice Interval Identification
There are 12 basic intervals, including minor second, major second, minor third, major third, perfect fourth, augmented fourth, perfect fifth, minor sixth, major sixth, minor seventh, major seventh, and perfect octave. Think of intervals as the spaces between 2 different notes or the difference in pitch between said notes.
To practice interval ear training, start with playing your foundation note, then the note right next to it, and familiarize yourself with how that sounds. So, if your foundation note is C4, play it, followed by D♭, and learn to perceive that sound as a minor second interval.
Then, play your foundational note again, and raise the second note 1, 2, then 3 half steps till you reach the perfect octave interval. A trick to help you memorize and recognize intervals is to associate one with the beginning of a song. For example, a perfect fifth sounds like “Twinkle Twinkle” and so on.
Then, challenge yourself by having someone, or even an application, quiz you to see if you can accurately hear and identify various intervals. Then, once you become adept at recognizing intervals and telling whether two notes fall within an octave or outside it, you’ll be able to play most melodies without difficulty.
3. Learn Your Scales
Many music students despise practicing their scales and arpeggios. However, knowing all the different types of scales can greatly help you not just with your technical skills but the aural ones as well.
Honestly, doing some key signature identification exercises and knowing how to differentiate between a minor and major scale will enable you to create any beautiful melody, harmony, and chord change you want with so much ease. So, learn the circle of fifths, know the scale degrees, and practice to become good at scales.
4. Know Your Chords and Chord Progressions
Unfortunately, telling chords doesn’t come easily for most people as there are two or more notes played at a time. However, if you break the chord down and practice identifying its root note, quality, and other components, you’ll eventually be able to pick out the whole chord.
For instance, to identify the root note, aka the note that the chord is named after and on which the other notes are formed, you should play its chord while accentuating that note more than the others. Then, of course, repeat till you can identify it straight away.
Practice each major and minor chord of your favorite songs and keep training your ear to pinpoint the root notes of both simple and complex chords.
Then, learn to identify its quality, aka is the chord major, minor, augmented, diminished, dominant, etc.? Major and minor chords are usually easy to locate; however, the other chord qualities are a bit harder and require more practice.
After you become capable of recognizing different chords, you should start listening to each and every chord progression and learn how the movement from one chord to another works to create harmonious tunes and sounds.
Now, numerous chord changes exist, from common ones like I-IV-V and I-iv-IV-V to more obscure ones. However, just learning the most used progressions will be more than helpful if you want to be a songwriter or music producer.
5. Put Your Newly-Acquired Skills to the Test
So, now that you’ve learned and practiced ear training fundamentals, it’s time to start applying them. So, listen to a song and start working out its rhythm, melody, chords, and chord progressions. Also, figure out if it’s written based on a major or minor scale and try to play along with it on the piano or any other instrument.
Another way to see how far you’ve come along with your functional ear training exercises is to transcribe music. By doing so, you’ll be able to see your current strengths and weaknesses, and after a while, you’ll be able to predict how a piece of music will go. By then, you’ll be able to compose your own music and even improvise on the spot.
6. Maintain Your Skills
As with any skill, if you stop using it, you’ll eventually forget it. Therefore, it’s imperative you stay on top of your ear training exercises and always make time to practice, and it doesn’t have to be too grand of an affair.
For instance, regardless of how good or bad your voice sounds, just sing along to some songs you listen to on your headphones or follow along on an instrument. Ear training apps are also a great way to help you maintain your new listening skills, and so is practicing with other musicians and teachers.
For a musician, having a trained ear is as valuable a skill as knowing music theory. Generally, ear training exercises are built around five main things: pitch ear training, interval training, chord ear training, and chord progression training.
So, start training the basics, and you’ll improve your ability to hear in an effective way with practice. Eventually, you’ll be able to tell major and minor scales from each other and what key you’re performing in, as well as improve your improvisation and jamming capabilities.