EASY EAR TRAINING TAKES THE HARD WORK OUT OF LEARNING MUSIC.
We believe that music can be taught in a fun, easy, satisfying way – but that it almost never is!
The missing piece? Listening skills.
When you focus on developing your ears and your ability to understand what your hear in music, you’ll find you progress more quickly on your instrument and can express your inner musicianship in the way you’ve always dreamed of.
Now modern technology is making this easier than ever, and here at Easy Ear Training we’re inventing new ways to help you tap that vast natural musical potential we all have inside.
The best all-round source of ear training information on the web.— Theta Music Trainer
It’s easy! Simple, for everyone, really.— Neatorama.com
Easy Ear Training is constantly inventing new ways to help tap into your vast natural musical potential.— dlp Music Education
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New to ear training? Listen up!
What is Ear Training?
Ear Training is the process of developing your ear for music. If you love music, and especially if you play a musical instrument or produce music, ear training can help you to develop a musical ear so that you:
- Hear more in the music you listen to,
- Understand what you’re hearing, and
- Have more creative freedom and control to express yourself through music.
People often assume that to have a good ear for music—meaning to play by ear, to write songs, to have perfect pitch, and so on—you need to be born with the “gift” of music. This is not true!
Musical skills are learnable, and even the most impressive and natural-seeming can be learned through dedicated ear training exercises.
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In the past, ear training was a slow process involving tedious repetitive work. Now, in the 21st century, training can be easy, fun and effective by using modern technology to make ear training perfectly suit you and your love of music.
The main benefits of ear training for musicians are that it can give you that “ear for music” that lets you play more freely and expressively, play by ear, write songs, and enjoy music much more. The main benefits of ear training for audio professionals are that it gives you a sharper ear to hear the differences that can improve a mix, add excitement to a song, or let you fix problems directly rather than wasting time guessing at what you’re meant to be hearing.
Ear training is also intimately related to singing. Because the human voice is an instrument that everybody has, it is the most natural and direct way to experiment with the musical listening skills that you practice with ear training. You can use singing to help with ear training, and you can use ear training to help with singing—by improving your tuning and intonation, and helping you with sight-singing.
Who does Ear Training?
There are two main groups of people who do ear training:
- Musicians: From every walk of life all over the world, people who play music, learn instruments, write songs and compose symphonies… all use ear training to improve their ear for music.
- Audio professionals: In all areas of audio, from live concert sound engineers to DJs, recording engineers and studio producers… audio professionals use ear training to hone their sensitivity to the details in sound.
Musicians find that ear training helps no matter:
- What instrument they play – guitar, piano, classical violin, and even singing
- What style of music they like – jazz musicians, rock musicians, classical musicians, folk musicians and church musicians
- What their musical goals are – whether playing by ear, improvising, or simply playing more expressively and accurately
By doing focused exercises for listening skills, a musician can enhance their inner musicality and so improve their craft. That’s exactly why all serious music institutions like Berklee College of Music make ear training a core part of the curriculum.
Audio professionals find that ear training helps whether they are:
- Focused on frequencies – tweaking EQ at the mixing desk or using band filters to improve recordings
- Using audio effects – creating the perfect sound by employing state-of-the-art audio effects
- Troubleshooting audio – with live sound at concerts or in the studio, audio pros need to fix sound problems quickly
By equipping them with the enhanced ears they need to hear the detail, identify problems and areas of improvement, and apply their tools directly to get results, ear training lets audio pros stay at the top of their game. That’s why we call the best of them “Golden Ears!”
Why Musicians Are Training Their Ear
Many musicians start out in ear training because it is an essential part of instrument exams, for example the ABRSM exam aural skills tests. However, these tests are quite limited in what they cover, and are often taught in a very non-musical way! This leads to musicians thinking ear training is just about passing tests and learning music theory.
Nothing could be further than the truth!
Ear training is fundamentally about hearing and understanding music.
Musicians who spend time on ear training do it because it helps them be better at music. You can spend hours practicing guitar or piano and still never be able to play by ear. You can play scales and practice repertoire for hours on end, and still not know how to improvise a great solo or write a moving song.
These kinds of “natural” musical skills rely on your brain and your ear.
By doing musical ear training, any musician can gain these skills.
For example, although it can appear effortless and like a “gift” when the best musicians do it, playing by ear is a learnable skill. By developing your ear for music by dedicated ear training exercises, you too can start to instinctively understand what you hear in music, and play it back on your instrument.
Another example: you may have struggled with melodic dictation, or music transcription in the past. By improving your musical ear with ear training, you can connect the sounds of music with their written form so that music dictation and transcription become easy, natural activities. You can even use clever modern software to help you with your transcription ear training. We have recommendations of the best transcription software for PC, Mac and iOS.
Types of Ear Training
There is a wide variety of types of ear training—just like there is a wide variety of musicians, music-lovers and audio professionals!
Pick a topic in music, and the chances are there is a corresponding form of ear training to help you better recognize, create, or understand it by ear. Your ears are your primary tool in music, and so doing ear training exercises to target whatever area you’re working on is a truly effective way to boost your improvement in that area.
Here are some of the most popular ear training topics:
Pitch Ear Training
Pitch ear training is all about the notes in music, and specifically their pitch: how high or low they are. Every note has a particular pitch, and humans are naturally able to hear this property. Even when you listen to somebody speak, you can hear the pitch of their voice go up and down (important for language ear training, especially for tonal languages like Chinese!)
There are two distinct ways you can tune your ear in to the pitches of notes:
- You can identify them in absolute terms: without any other point of reference.
We call this your sense of absolute pitch or “perfect pitch”.
- You can identify them relative to the pitch of other notes (for example, the note before or after it).
We call this your sense of relative pitch.
You can do absolute pitch ear training and relative pitch ear training. Relative pitch is more important for most musicians, but in fact it’s most beneficial to do a bit of both!
Being “In Tune”
Have you ever worried about whether you’re in tune or not? It’s a point of concern and sometimes embarrassment for a lot of musicians. Nowadays, with electronic tuners, instrumentalists like guitar players don’t need to worry so much about being able to hear if their instrument is perfectly in tune. But it’s still important to be able to recognize whether you’re playing in tune, whether your string bends are pitched right, and so on. Pitch ear training can help develop your musical ear in this way.
There’s also one group to whom the digital tuner is no help: Singers!
If you’re singing in a choir, performing solo, or fronting a band, you need to be able to pitch your notes accurately, and be confident that you’re singing in tune. Even if you’re on backing vocals, or just occasionally want to sing something to express a musical idea, pitch ear training can help you develop your sense of tuning and connect it with your voice so that you always sing in tune.
Interval Ear Training
Interval recognition is where most people get started in ear training. It’s the fundamental skill for relative pitch: identifying one note based on another, by accurately hearing the difference in pitch, which we call the “interval” between the notes.
For example, with interval ear training you can learn to hear that one note is a “perfect fifth” above another note, and if you know that the first note was a C, you can work out that the second was a G. In this way you can work out all the notes in a melody, or figure out chord progressions by ear. Other types of interval you’ve probably encountered in music theory or aural skills tests are perfect fourths, octaves, major thirds and minor thirds.
Intervals are the building blocks of melody and harmony, and so if you want to understand the notes of music, interval training should be central to your ear training practice.
You can improve interval recognition by doing specific interval ear training exercises where you practice hearing the difference between one type of interval and another. Most people will start with a small set of intervals (e.g. just thirds, or fourths and fifths), and gradually introduce the inversions and harmonic forms.
→ Learn more about intervals ear training
Chords Ear Training
Chords are how musicians tend to think about harmony in music: multiple notes played at once. Different combinations of notes will have different characteristic sounds based on the relative pitch relationships between their notes, and chord ear training teaches you to identify these different chord types by ear.
Any chord is a combination of notes above a root or tonic note, and using relative pitch ear training and specific chord ear training exercises you can train your ears to hear what makes these combinations distinctive. Chord recognition like this is useful for playing by ear and writing music, but also just enriches your enjoyment of music by building your harmonic appreciation skills and letting you hear more detail in the music you listen to.
One you’ve mastered recognizing the basic types of chord you can move on to training more advanced chords (like jazz chords) and recognizing chord inversions. These are all a part of relative pitch ear training, so your skills combine and you can actually identify a chord using your ability to identify an interval.
→ Learn more about chords ear training
There are four types of triad chord which are the basis of most commonly-used chord types, so if you’re starting chords ear training, learning to recognize triads is a good first goal. The four types are major triad, minor triad, augmented triad, and diminished triad, and each has quite a different character:
If you want to practice chord ear training, start with triad ear training and particularly learning to distinguish major and minor triads.
Recognizing Jazz Chords
One thing which makes jazz music distinctive is its use of more interesting harmonies than other musical genres, and this boils down to using particular types of chord. Loosely called “jazz chords”, these include seventh chords (which are four-note chords featuring the seventh note of the scale) and extended chords (which add in notes further than an octave away from the tonic).
Ear training for seventh and extended chords, and jazz ear training in general can let you recognize and understand these advanced harmonies in music, and use them in your own composing and playing.
Chord Progressions Ear Training
If you want to learn to play songs by ear, the best kind of ear training to do is chord progressions ear training. A chord progression is just what we call a sequence of chords in music, so if you’re trying to work out how to play the accompaniment of a song by ear, chord progression ear training is the key.
This is another relative pitch listening skill, as you recognize the sequence of chords based on the relationship between each chord and the next chord, or each chord and the key’s tonic. You listen for the interval between each tonic note. Practicing chord progression ear training builds up this kind of relative pitch ability in your ear.
Here’s a surprising fact: a staggering proportion of songs use just three or four chords! That’s why three chord songs and four chord songs are hot topics in chord progressions ear training.
3 Chord Songs
If you’ve ever wondered why so many modern songs sound the same, or why a new pop song on the radio can sound really familiar even the first time you hear it, the reason is: three chord songs. There are three chords which work particularly well together, called the “one” “four” and “five” chords, normally written in roman numerals “I” “IV” and “V”. Doing chord ear training for just these 3 lets you play a huge proportion of popular songs by ear.
If you want to understand what people mean when they say:
- “play a one four five”
- “its a 1, 4, 5 in G”
- “it moves to the dominant, and then half a bar on the subdominant”
.. or you’re looking for the fastest way to improve your playing by ear skills: it’s time to do some three chord song ear training!
4 Chord Songs
Just one notch trickier than three chord songs, you can improve your play-by-ear skills even more dramatically with some ear training for four chord songs. By adding the “relative minor” or “six chord” (written “vi”) even more chord progressions are unlocked. Again, you’d be amazed just how many classic pop and rock songs use just these 4 chord!
There’s a reason they call these the “magic four chords”. Chord progressions ear training with the 1, 4, 5 and 6 chords can keep you playing songs by ear for a very, very long time…!
→ Learn more about chord progressions ear training
Scales Ear Training
Let’s be honest: most musicians dislike scales. They are often simply a dull part of instrument practice and an unwelcome part of instrument exams! But fundamentally a scale is simply the palette of notes you draw on in a particular musical context—so connect the theory of scales with their actual sound (by doing scale ear training) and scales can become a powerful tool in your musical arsenal.
Just like with chords and intervals, there are different types of scales, and scale ear training lets you learn to recognize these by ear. At first you learn to recognize the scale when played up and down in sequence from the tonic, but as you improve your scale recognition skills you can learn to recognize scales when they’re used in melody and harmony too.
If you play an instrument you’re probably already familiar with major scales and minor scales. Use scale training to build on this to more advanced scale types and more versatile scale recognition.
Ear Training and “Playing By Ear”
Playing By Ear is one of the most highly-prized musical skills, and musicians who can play by ear have an unparalleled freedom and enjoyment of music. Despite the popular misconception that only certain musicians are capable of playing by ear, it is a learnable musical skill which depends on your listening skills.
By doing ear training focused on the various aural skills necessary to play by ear, any musician can learn to play music by ear. If you play an instrument you can almost certainly already play some things by ear. Clapping back a rhythm. Singing back a melody you have heard. Slowly working out how to play your favorite song by ear. These are all basic versions of playing by ear, and you can build on them with ear training exercises to increase your ability and play more advanced music by ear.
Many people interpret the phrase “playing by ear” to mean “play songs on guitar without written music”. This is indeed one form of playing by ear, and chord ear training can help any guitar player learn to do this. But it is just one part of a broader set of play-by-ear skills.
→ Learn more about playing by ear
So… are you ready to start ear training?
New to ear training?
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Know what you’re doing?
If you’ve already started ear training and know what areas you need to focus on, we have hundreds of articles, tutorials and exercises that can help you improve your ears further.
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We have over 40 training modules to help you over at our all-inclusive training website, Musical U: