Ear training or aural skills is basically the ability to hear and identify musical sounds like notes, rhythm, scales, pitch, chord, interval, melody and other musical components. It is the practice of training your ears musically such that you are able to connect it to whatever sound you hear.
If you are a music lover or a musician, whether you just started learning an instrument or have been playing for a while, ear training is important for you; it is actually a part of music theory study. Ear training is important because:
- It boosts your confidence as a musician
- It helps you play better with other musicians
- It helps you tune your instrument (by ear) better
- It makes you know exactly what is happening when you hear a sound or a piece of music
- It enhances your improvisation skills
The reasons are numerous. The fact is that we practice ear training every day of our lives even without knowing it. Audiation is an example of basic ear training. When you listen to music, comprehend it, and reproduce it either by singing, humming, clapping your hands, playing an instrument, tapping your feet etc. when the music is no longer playing or is no longer present, that is audiation! And almost every one of us does it. It is the conscious intentional practice of it that we refer to as ‘ear training’ in this article.
Begin ear training by taking simple exercises. The simplest exercise you can start with is environmental awareness. Learn to connect yourself to the sounds around you: the sound of cars and horns, babies wailing, people chattering, animal onomatopoeias etc. Learn to identify the rhythm of each sound, how light or deep every sound is, or how high or low. You can also start by singing or humming on different keys on an instrument and repeating your singing or humming when the instrument is no longer playing, but still try and maintain the same key you heard on the instrument.
Make sure you are able to hear properly before fully taking on any ear training course or program. When you listen to a wide variety of sounds and are able to both hear them clearly and properly and differentiate each sound accurately, then you can be sure your ears are good to go for your ear training. In the opposite case where you cannot hear properly or clearly, or cannot identify or differentiate what you hear, then you should undergo a hearing test or visit an Otolaryngologist (an ear specialist) as soon as possible, because ignoring your inability to hear and identify sounds correctly may leave you feeling frustrated and discouraged and your aural skills may be ‘impossible to achieve’ as you get to more complex stages of ear training.
To successfully master aural skills, rhythm is a must-have. You must learn how to follow and keep up with beats no matter how they change or vary. Ear training also involves rhythm, so if you are unable to follow, nod or tap your feet to a steady beat, then you have to begin working on your rhythm before anything else.
You can use ear training apps and softwares to develop your aural skills, thanks to the advent of technology. The traditional method of developing aural skills can now be put to rest a bit as you can now have your ear training on the bus, in your kitchen, or anywhere you are. It is really so easy to use ear training apps as they almost all have the same pattern; they play either a note, chord, scale etc. and ask you to identify what you heard. They make it in such a way that the exercises are in levels; you can start out with the easier ones and then proceed to the more complex ones as your aural skills develop.
Learn to identify the melody of a song. Once a song is played, pick put the melody of that song and sing along with it; this will build up your aural skills faster especially as a singer, and it will help you coin out the harmony i.e., the parts (the soprano, alto, tenor etc.) of any song.
When you can identify melody, rhythm and harmony easily, then you will be able to move on to chords without any hassles. Start by playing simple chords over and over and over again and let them be registered in your brain such that even if you’re no longer playing those chords physically, you can still hear them in your head (remember when we talked about audiation?
Get a friend to help you or join you in your exercises. Let your friend give you exercises like playing random chords, notes, scales and asking you to identify them. Ear training is not only for those who play the instrument, as a singer or music lover, you can also take up exercises of identifying musical elements even without being able to play an instrument; that is one benefit of taking ear training exercises.
Push yourself, stretch your ears! Ear training goes way beyond the basic training on musical elements like notes, chords, scales, progressions and so on. Take further classes into intervals ear training, chord progressions ear training, mixing ear training, frequencies ear training, perfect pitch ear training, effects ear training, etc.
There are so many topics and levels of ear training for guitarists, pianists, singers, music producers…everyone! You’ve just gotta explore them all one after another, keep tasking your ears, keep learning and keep growing.
Have you ever taken any ear training exercise? What were your methods/steps used? And how helpful did it turn out? Leave your answers in the comment section below.