10 Reasons to Start Ear Training Today
Guest post for MusicMelter by Christopher Sutton
As musicians we all dream of having ultimate freedom and confidence in music. The notes just fly from your instrument almost automatically, you have an instinct for what to play when, and the music flows from inside you out into the world, moving your audience in a powerful way.
The reality is that for most of us that is just a dream. No matter how hard we work on our instrument, that "natural" musicality always seems like a "gift" or "talent" that you either have, or you don't.
So what if you don't have that gift?
The good news is: You can learn it.
That dream of ultimate freedom and a powerful natural musicianship doesn't have to remain just a dream. By using a process called ear training you can actually learn the concrete skills you need to unleash your inner musical instinct.
Ear Training 101
Ear training is, simply put, the process of developing your ears for music. It can take many forms and be applied in a wide variety of ways, to suit exactly your own musical interests and ambitions.
It is an age-old process, going back as far as music itself. In the past it was often a dry, difficult activity, associated with studying abstract music theory. Fortunately now in the 21st Century ear training can be fun and easy, closely tied to the music you know and love.
The actual process of training your musical ear can vary from very informal, such as practicing active listening with songs you love, through to very formal, such as practicing with ear training exercises that have you listen to labelled examples of notes, chords and more, until you can immediately recognise them by ear.
You can practice ear training at home with your instrument, in a group with friends or band-mates, or even when you're out and about using MP3s or apps on your smartphone or tablet
Ear Training Benefits
The world of music is wonderfully varied, and that is reflected in ear training. As well as the different types of ear training activity mentioned above, there is also a broad range of skills and topics you can train your ears for.
Here are 10 strong reasons that any musician should consider ear training a core part of their musical development.
1: Ear training hones your musical instinct
We often look at "gifted" musicians and wonder how they seem to just automatically know what notes to play when, or admire how they seem to just understand how music fits together. By training your ears you too can have that deep understanding of what makes music work, benefitting you in the music you hear and play.
2: Ear training lets you play music by ear
Playing by ear is generally seen as a talent you need to be born with, but the truth is it is a simple, logical skill which you can learn step-by-step through ear training. No more being dependent on sheet music or tab, ear training can set you free to hear it, then play it.
3: Ear training helps you to sing in tune
Whether you're a singer or not, every musician should be able to express their musical ideas using their first instrument: the human voice. By training your ears for pitch you can make sure that the notes you sing are always the notes you intended, and perfectly in tune.
4: Ear training sharpens your sense of rhythm
Rhythm can be the difference between sounding like a pro and sounding like a mess. Through ear training you can hone your sense of the beat and complex rhythms, guaranteeing that every note you play is exactly at the right time.
5: Ear training makes it easy to improvise
Musicians trying to improvise typically fall into two camps: those who try to do it "by instinct" and those who try to do it "by pattern". The first group feel free and creative but their progress in improving is incredibly slow and painful. The second group are constrained to certain scales and fretboard patterns which helps them sound good to begin with, but is then very limiting. Ear training provides the ideal best-of-both solution by letting you understand exactly which notes to use in your improvisations based on the music you imagine in your mind.
6: Ear training inspires better song writing and composing
Song writers often get stuck for inspiration, feeling trapped to the scales, chords, rhythms and song-writing tricks they've used before. Ear training can provide endless inspiration by making the connection between any music you can imagine and the notes on the page. Your compositions come directly from the heart: if you can imagine it, you can write it.
7: Ear training lets you enjoy music more
One major side-benefit of ear training is that it helps you to become more aware of the detail in music. Even songs which you already know start to come to life in a new way, as you experience the rich detail in the sound which you were oblivious to before training your ears. For people who love music, this is a major benefit!
8: Ear training makes you a better musical collaborator
Through ear training you become more aware of the various parts of a musical arrangement and how they all fit together. You are better able to express your own part in perfect synchronisation with those around you. This makes you a far better member of any group or band you're part of and your contribution will be much more highly valued.
9: Ear training grows your confidence
Until you experience the instinctive understanding of music which ear training can bring, it can be hard to feel truly confident in music. Any time you're forced to go beyond the pieces or skills you've carefully practiced, you are prone to making mistakes and that can feel scary. As you develop your musical ear, your confidence will naturally develop too, as you know with certainty you can respond well to any new musical situation.
10: Ear training helps you reach your true musical potential
If there's a common theme to all these benefits it's that ear training releases and enhances your natural musicality. Instead of behaving like a robot, playing only the notes you're told to, you take true ownership of the music you play. You are set free to explore and express your own musical ideas.
When you first begin, ear training can seem like a strange and challenging activity. But it truly is the route to real freedom in music, and to your own true musical potential.
About the author
Christopher Sutton is the Founder of Easy Ear Training and Musical U where musicians can discover and develop their natural musicality. Born and raised in London, England, he lives with his wife, daughter, and far too many instruments.