Ear Training

Recently I wrote a post about Transcribing (learning a song by ear) and the subject of Ear Training naturally arose.

Our ability to learn songs by ear is aided or hindered by how well developed our ears are. Depending on our genetics and our upbringing we may have a great natural propensity toward being able to hear and recognize the intervals that a melody is composed of, or if you’re like I was at the beginning you’re just TOTALLY STUCK AND DON’T EVEN KNOW WHERE TO START! :rofl:

So for those of us in this latter camp, the question may arise:

Is there anything I can do to train my ear to get better so that I can figure out songs more easily?

Thankfully, the answer is a resounding YES! There are things you can do. No matter where we are in our journey, there is always room for us to grow our ears to be able to hear things better.

The first skill to learn is recognizing intervals, the distance between 2 notes.

In my opinion, the best place to start is to learn the major scale, and to sing the major scale using numbers instead of letters. I introduce this concept in my Scales for Beginners lesson.

You can play this game driving in your car, or walking down the street, or in the shower or just about anywhere (although it can feel kinda embarrassing to do it in front of people, lol.)

You start by sing the scale up and down: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7, 1,7,6,5,4,3,2,1

Then you kinda quiz yourself. Can I sing a fifth?
Try: “1 -5 -1”
Did I get it? Let me check “1,2,3,4,5. 1-5-1” Ok yeah I got it, or I didn’t get it.

You go through this sorta process with ALL the intervals. And then once you can sing from 1 up to a 5 (or whatever interval) then can you sing from 1 down to the same interval an octave lower? This sort of process is a GREAT way to begin to train your ear to recognize intervals.

The next game is to have somebody else play an interval and you have to recognize what it is. The first game a described above is a great primer to being able to play this second game, but all these exercises feed each other. Singing them will help you be able to hear and recognize them, and vice versa.

At the beginning it can be really helpful to have some kind song reference to help. Here’s a few I remember using for recognizing ascending intervals:

Major 2nd - beginning of Happy Birthday
Perfect 4th - beginning of Here Comes the Bride
Perfect 5th - beginning of Twinkle Twinkle
Major 6th - My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean
Minor 7th - Star Trek

I’m sure you could search “Ear Training” or “Ear Training Games” on YouTube and you could find a whole bunch of stuff.

When I studied music at Oberlin way back in the day we had to take classes called Aural Skills that were these kind of ear training exercises:

Site Singing
Interval Recognition
Rhythm Recognition
Chord Recognition
Chord Progression Recognition

If you really want to get serious about this, there is a resource that I’d highly recommend called EarMaster. It looks like they have 2 options: you can pay $3 or $4 a month to subscribe on all your devices, or you can pay a one time fee of $60 to have it just on your computer. BTW - I’m not getting any money from them for sharing this with you.

It’s on EarMaster 7 now, I bought it when it was on EarMaster 5 about 20 years ago, and I spent SO MUCH TIME doing it. It’s actually fun and almost kind of addictive. And it’s fun to see your progress. At the beginning you’re like, “I have no frickin idea. I’m just totally guessing” and then after a week you’re like, “oh I’m actually starting to hear the difference.”

The other thing I love about this resource is you can start SO EASY, just which of these intervals is bigger (which notes are farther apart and which ones are closer together) and it has a built in tutor that once you’re getting the answer right more often than not, it moves you on to the next level.

It has interval recognition, chord recognition, chord progression recognition, rhythm stuff where it plays a rhythm and you have to tap it back on your space bar, and it looks like they’ve added a whole bunch more stuff.

You can literally get thousands of dollars of collegiate level education for $60 or for $50/year depending how you wanna do it. I’m actually considering subscribing. If I could only do it on my computer I probably wouldn’t do it because I’m so busy, but if I could do it when standing in line at the grocery store, I might do it! I’ll let you know if I decide to pull the trigger…

So that’s my introduction to the topic of Ear Training. What do you think? You got any thoughts on the subject? Lemme hear 'em!

Rock on,

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What a great post, @Luke !! I’m going to start using the techniques today!! :sunglasses:

– Slim

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Right on @slim!

Rock on,

So just to follow up, I did go ahead and subscribe to the cloud-based service for $4/month. Figured I’d see if I stick fairly consistently, and if I do, I’ll go ahead and pay 12 months upfront for $36.

I downloaded the desktop app and the app on my iPhone. There’s a place in the top left corner where I put in my email address and password, and I’ve got access, everything syncs, and it tracks everything I do everywhere across whatever devices I use.

As I’d suspected, I have not used the desktop application, but happily I HAVE used the iPhone app EVERY SINGLE DAY since I bought it!

As I mentioned before I spent hundreds of hours with this software like maybe 16 years ago, so it was kind of like reconnecting with an old friend at the beginning, and was initially fun to see how I breezed through the first few rounds of various exercises that were painstakingly slow and agonizing a couple of decades ago. First night I was like “I’ll do 10 minutes of ear training before winding down,” and then 45 minutes later was like, “aw man, it’s LATE!” It’s kinda addictive. LOL.

Just opened the desktop application and looked at the analytics, and it has a record of every time I logged in, what I did, and what my scores were. So I’ve used it every day for the last 6 days, and have spent a total of 3 hours and 20 minutes doing it. :flushed:

I’m pretty sure that will taper. I’ve been sick, so I’ve had more time on my hands than usual. My goal is to stick with it 5-10 minutes a day.

Like learning any new concept or technique, it requires energy, concentration, persistence, patience. There have definitely been moments of feeling EXTREMELY frustrated. But like with anything the key is just let it go, and come back tomorrow and, hey, it’s a little better. Not much…but a LITTLE! And then eventually it’s “I GOT THIS!”

But that part of letting go, not getting frustrated, and being persistent is EASIER SAID THEN DONE. we have to have faith that that’s the magic formula.

So the modules I’m doing in the General are:
Interval Recognition
Chord Recognition
Chord Inversion Recognition
Scale Recognition

and then I’m also doing the Chord Recognition in the Jazz Module (because I love them jazzy chords.)

The GUI is much slicker now, but the basic modules are the same, except I noticed they’ve added a Beginner Course that looks like it has TONS of info, adding even more value to this resource. Here’s a screenshot of the table of contents of the Beginner module:

Well, that’s the update. Anyone else joining me in the journey, please let me know! And I’ll keep you posted whether or not I stick with it.
Rock on,

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Hey just saw another free resource on the EarMaster website that I wanted to share here. I mentioned in my post that it can be helpful to use a song you’re really familiar with to help recognize and interval and gave some example Jaws minor 2nd, Happy Birthday major 2nd, etc…

Well here is a list of whole bunch of songs that contain various intervals to help with memorizing the names of various sounds. So cool!

Rock on,

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Great advise. I use ASD all the time practicing songs with the drums. I’ll try it for the harmonica as well.

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Got the cloud version and it is frustrating and addictive! My pitch matching range so far is about a third, from middle C to E. Arrgh.

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Hey @paddydear welcome to the forum my friend!

So happy to see this post, that I’m not alone in my journey of trying to let go of frustration and “trust the process” of coming back to this every day.

I’m happy to say that I have continued to be working with this (on my phone) on a daily basis. But gosh the frustration sometimes is tough to battle, so I was happy to sense your frustration that I’m not alone!

You’re matching pitch to a major 3rd, that’s awesome my man! Be encouraged and keep up the great work. You are doing that EXTRA work that ordinary people aren’t doing and that’s what’s gonna give you EXTRAORDINARY results if you stick with it for the long haul and don’t give up.

And while I’m telling this to you, I’m telling it to myself too! Keep up the great work. It’s gonna pay off.

(Plus when I’m not so frustrated that I wanna throw my phone on the ground and shatter it into a million pieces, I’m having a lot of fun! :rofl:)

Rock on,