There are many ways you can develop your musical ear, and you can do ear training for each one. It’s up to you as a musician to decide which areas of ear training will help you the most.
Learn more about the different types of ear training:
“Pitch” is how high or low a note is – and Relative Pitch is the pitch relationship between notes in music. Topics such as intervals, scales, chords, and chord progressions all have corresponding areas of ear training which allow you to hear more clearly and understand what you’re hearing.
Intervals are the building blocks of the essential listening skills of music: your sense of relative pitch.
Learning to recognise intervals by ear builds your ability to play by ear and improvise freely.
When multiple notes are played together, it forms a chord.
Chord ear training teaches you to recognise the different types of chord, to better appreciate and understand the harmonies they create in music.
A sequence of chords played one after another is called a chord progression.
Training your ear for the most common progressions used in music makes it easy to play songs by ear, improvise over chords, or write your own music.
If you play a musical instrument it’s good to connect your ear training directly with your instrument practice. Some popular instruments are listed below—but remember that whatever instrument you play, ear training can help you play more fluidly, express yourself more freely, and become a more confident musician.
Many ear training exercises can be easily practised using a standard piano keyboard, in the form of keyboard ear training.
The piano (or other keyboard) is practically a universal instrument—so whether it’s your primary instrument or not, these techniques are well worth learning.
Without a doubt, the most powerful tool for developing your musical ear: your voice!
If you are a singer, you can use singing ear training to improve your tuning and make sight-singing easier.
But you don’t need to be strong singer to benefit from using your voice. All musicians can sing as part of their ear training practice to improve their ear faster.
Audio ear training is all about the sound of music—particularly recorded music, and recordings which have been processed to improve or alter their sound. In the past this was only for serious studio professionals, but these days almost all musicians can and do record for themselves—so audio ear training has become even more important and popular.
All sound is made up of frequencies and the particular frequencies present in a sound are a big part of what gives a sound its character. From a tuba note, to a cymbal crash, or a human voice, the frequencies present are what give the sound its identity.
Frequency ear training allows you to be aware of the different frequencies present in everything you hear, giving you a refined sense of audio quality and a powerful ability to improve audio EQ or fix any problems which arise when recording.
It’s rare for a modern recording to be just that: a recording. In almost every case, some kind of audio effects will have been applied, to improve, mix or otherwise alter the sounds recorded.
With audio effects ear training you teach your ear to both identify the type of effects present, and the details of how those effects have been applied. Essential for controlling your own effects, creating distinctive sounds, and producing great recordings.
More Ear Training Topics
Rhythm is one of the most central and powerful aspects of all music.
Having a good ear for rhythm is absolutely essential to be able to play with good rhythm, and that rhythmic accuracy and sensitivity is often what makes a truly amazing performance. Rhythm ear training lets you hone your natural sense of rhythm to be more sophisticated, reliable, and accurate.
Perfect Pitch, more accurately called “Absolute Pitch”, is the ability to identify a note without reference to any other known note.
Although some people have a strong sense of perfect pitch from a young age, it is possible to acquire this skill with dedicated perfect pitch ear training practice.
Playing music by ear means taking the music you hear (or imagine in your head) and recreating it on your instrument.
This is often the goal of ear training for musicians: being able to play songs by ear, or express the music they hear in their head freely on their instrument. It’s one of the most enjoyable and natural forms of music-making.
This skill comes easier to some musicians than others, but doing specific play-by-ear ear training can quickly improve anyone’s ability to play music by ear.
Transcription means writing down the music you hear. That could be composing with a pencil and paper using traditional music notation, entering notes into your composition software or sequencer, or jotting down your own musical shorthand so you can remember what you heard.
If you struggle with these kinds of tasks, transcription ear training can help you translate what you hear into a written form of your choosing, by closing the gaps between sound, theory, and notation.