For the longest time, I thought of every song I learned as its own island. Each new song was a new set of chords to memorize, a new form. No one was there to tell me that, in fact, the same common chord progressions were repeating themselves all the time. I could learn to identify intervals and chord movements to learn a new song really fast, and I could improve my ability to memorize melodies. All with some very simple ear training.
It’s not complicated, but it makes all the difference in the world. Once you start ear training, you hear patterns everywhere.
Can you play your instrument at a high level without ear training? Absolutely. But in that case chances are you’re working on a lot of the same skills without even realizing it.
There’s much to be gained by doing it diligently, and in an organized way.
What is ear training?
Like weight lifting for your musical brain, ear training is a series of exercises you can do regularly to improve your ear. Or, more accurately, improve your brain’s ability to process the information coming through your ears.
Wikipedia defines ear training as follows:
The emphasis is on solely by hearing. Musicians at all stages of development (even 5 year olds) can learn to recognize what they’re playing by ear. It is exactly like learning a new language, and it’s even processed in the same part of your brain as language. Like any foreign language, learn to speak the language of music and you open up an entire new set of experiences for yourself.
Why does ear training matter?
When you can recognize common patterns solely by listening, you vastly improve your chances of recognizing those patterns in the next song you set out to learn. And the next song, and the next one after that. It snowballs – until all of sudden you’re picking songs out of the air with relatively little effort. You don’t have to find questionable or confusing chord charts on the internet. And you don’t have to randomly guess at chords or melodies on your instrument either!
You can absolutely learn to hear what’s going on musically, and recreate those sounds on your instrument of choice.
And perhaps the most amazing part is that you will hear the same patterns everywhere, regardless of what type of music you enjoy.
The benefits of ear training
I can think of so many powerful benefits to ear training. Here’s a few more that immediately come to mind:
- Learn songs faster. Get to the fun part – playing! It will become less and less difficult for you to learn new songs.
- Take the stress away from playing music with others. Have you ever sat down to play with other musicians and felt a little (or completely) lost as to what to do? Ear training will help you understand what you’re hearing in real time and help you jump in faster.
- Improve your songwriting. Know your common chord progressions, and have a catalogue of sounds stashed in your brain. You can play a song that pops into your head very quickly, before you lose that initial inspiration.
Nine times out of ten when a melody or a chord progression gets stuck in my head, I can play it right away. That keeps me focused and helps me finish songs.
Give it a try right now!
Want to get started right away? Good! Here’s a sampler for you from the first in our series of “Musical Mastery Mixtapes” – Ear Training 1. All you need is a piece of paper, a pencil and your ears.
These exercises are played constantly at East Mountain Studio, and they’re helping our students grow every single week. Work through these one level at a time, and your fluency in the language of music will explode. You’ll be hearing things you never knew were there.
- Hearing the Changes - Level 1 East Mountain Studio 6:37
- Face The Bass - Level 1 East Mountain Studio 5:53
- 2nds and 3rds NERDS - Level 1 East Mountain Studio 4:09
- Musical Simon - Level 1 East Mountain Studio 4:38
A final word
When you really make a habit of including some ear training in your practice routine, you open up so many doors to enjoying music on a deeper level. You’ll find you have an easier time learning new instruments, new songs, and new styles of music. It’s quite addicting once you get started! I promise you’ll be hearing intervals, chords progressions and rhythms everywhere you go.
In short, it shrinks the seemingly limitless musical world to a much more manageable size. That means more freedom for you to relax and just play.