Ear Training — What is it?
“All musicians practice ear training constantly, whether or not they are cognizant of it. If, when listening to a piece of music, a musician is envisioning how to play it or is trying to play along, that musician is using his or her ‘ear’ — the understanding and recognition of musical elements — for guidance.”
- Steve Vai
Ear training is a compulsory subject in music schools of all levels. Specific exercises are meant to help in recognizing complex sounds, such as intervals, chords, or rhythms. These three groups, together with the major and minor system permits to write down with notes any piece of music we hear.
Why is ear training so difficult? Usually it is due to lack of regularity in exercising.
But what does regularity have to do with ear training? — you will ask. The basis for good musical hearing is constituted by practical skills, and these, in turn, require regularity in exercising.
Ear Training — What is it For?
If you like to sing, make music, or play a musical instrument, sooner or later you will need additional skills, like reading and writing notes, create a second voice and sing it or play it promptly, without having to spend long hours on learning. This is what ear training has been invented for: it teaches you how to use sounds and write music as if it were about creating of a structure from toy building bricks. Skills covered by ear training include interval recognition, interval singing, and chord recognition and singing. Important are also rhythmic and melodic dictations, as well as musical memory training.
While putting together a puzzle, no matter if it has 2000 or just 100 pieces, everyone has an individual method. Mine consists of first putting together the frame, then finding characteristic elements, and finally putting together the background which to me is the most difficult part. It is the same while using my hearing. If I want to write down a piece of music I have heard, first I determine its key and meter. Next, I determine the initial sounds, and often I try to find out the final sounds, too. This is the frame of my musical puzzle, and subsequently sound after sound I write down the melody. Familiarity with intervals proves indeed useful, for it enables you to quickly judge the distance between two sounds. Finally I arrange my notes according to the rhythm. I’m done! :-)
Benefits Of Ear Training
Ear training enables you to recognize which two puzzle pieces match. Both puzzles and melodies have a structure. In the first case you make use of your sight — you do it intuitively because since you learn how circle, square, tree or sun look like in your early childhood.
It is not that easy, though, in the case of musical puzzle — usually you become familiar with some of musical structures either at a music school or as a teenager at earliest. That is why it is so difficult. Writing down of a melody without tools provided by ear training is like putting together a puzzle with your eyes closed. If you cannot see, you try to feel with your fingers which piece is the matching one; you make numerous attempts to find the right piece, and when you are lucky enough in the end you do find it. The problem is actually that you have no tools necessary to work more effectively because you cannot see the pattern.
Therefore, I strongly encourage all music fans to exercise their hearing: step by step you can learn to listen consciously, because rules according to which sounds are arranged are really easy.
Through regular exercise sound recognition will become just as easy as color or shape identification.
Give yourself the best chance of becoming the musician you’ve always dreamed of by starting your own ear training today.