Ear training exercises help you to play solos, melodies or whole songs by ear. Making music is even funnier and easier if you can play whatever you hear. But the training itself can be difficult. Check these 6 ear training exercises to find out which training you need & read some tips on how not to give up too soon.
What is a trained ear?
A musician with a trained ear has the skills and ability to identify music intervals, melodies, chords, rhythms only by hearing them. The analogy of playing by ear is writing language when it is dictated.
What does play by ear mean?
Playing by ear means playing an existing piece of music without having it’s sheet by remembering it or by improvising it. Additionally, it means identifying and repeating pieces of music without having a sheet of chords or melody. This ability is not shared by all musicians equally. A consistent practice with ear training exercises can train the ear to identify music by ear, though.
1. Which ear training exercises do you need?
The reason why many people get frustrated by music theory is because they do exercises which are not relevant for them. So find out what do you need your ear for. Do you want to play great solos? Hear chords? Being able to write tabs by ear? Here are the most basic exercise types. Check them to see what you’re looking for.
Here you train to hear the difference between two notes. It’s useful if you want to play melodies and solos by ear. Here’s a track for you to listen to all intervals from the key C. So it’s C-C#, C-D, C-D# etc.
In this track below the intervals with C, E and G are played (so the most basic intervals major third, perfect fifth and octave). Try to repeat the intervals – they will be played and there is a pause for you to sing or play the notes. Click on the track to control if you got them right.
Being able to repeat melodies helps with singing and playing solos in jams. In this exercise the C scale is used. The melody always starts with the key C. Listen to the track below and try to repeat the melody. Sing or play it. Click on the track to see the discription with the “solutions”.
You’ll need this skill to play whole songs by ear. To listen to chords is a bit more difficult than interval training, as there are three and more notes involved. Check out this set of ear training exercises:
Here the chords are played in a different order. Repeat them by ear. Click on the track to see the chords and see if you got them right:
To hear the chord progressions by ear means you can hear the type of chord and it’s tone – which is quite advanced. Take your time to practice this. If it’s too difficult consider going back to the previous exercises first.
In this exercise you’ll hear progressions of the chords C, F, G, and Am. Listen and repeat them. There are 4 progressions in the track. Click the title to see the description with the chords – did you get them all right?
By training this type, you’ll be able to hear which exact notes are played. The skill is useful for jam sessions and improvisation – imagine you don’t have to “find” a note played but you’ll know which it is just by hearing it. Some people say this skill is impossible to train – I think everything is possible if you are willing to commit. You don’t need to be super exact and might not achieve a perfect pitch ever. But practicing this kind of ear training exercises will help you in solos and improvisations for sure.
In this track below the notes C and G are played in different pitches. Try to sing or play the notes you hear. No worries if you hit it wrong: The more you practice, the better you get. After some time you’ll come closer and closer to the right note, which will be useful for making music.
Ear training doesn’t only mean chords and melodies. Rhythm should be a big part of your ear training, too. Repeat simple beats with your drum set, a cajon or just by clapping. Check this amazing track and first repeat the drum rhythm. Then the bass etc.
2. Ear training exercises plan
So now that you know which type of exercise is good for you. Now, “just” keep going and make a plan. Before you start, think of the following:
- What exactly do you want to achieve with this ear training exercises?
- What are your music goals?
- Do you prefer singing, recognizing or playing the ear exercises?
- What time of day will you practice?
- For how long daily? Practice 10-20 daily and you’ll improve soon.
3. Start your daily exercise
- Practice for about 10-20 minutes every day
- Be patient and let your ears rest between your training
- Habits need about 30 days to develop. Keep going and you’ll make it a habit and will get a better “listener” soon
4. Check if the training still meets your goals
- Control if your exercise works. Does it help you with the skills you actually need?
- Change the type of exercise if it is not effective
5. Train your ear by playing with musicians online
Have you ever played in an online session or joined an online musical project? There are all kinds of musical projects recorded where you have no tabs or chords added. You can join the sofasession community to train your ear while jamming and recording with musicians from everywhere. You’ll master your skills while having a fun time with great musicians.
Other useful tools for ear training exercises:
Talented amazing people created many apps and tools with ear training exercises you can use. Here’s a collection we can recommend:
- Pitchimprover: A Web tool to train your ear with phrases, melodies, intervals, and chord types.
- Music theory: Cool ear training exercises for notes, intervals, scales, and chords
- Ear Trainer Lite App for iOS
- Complete Ear Trainer App for Android
Do you want to be a better singer, songwriter and session musician? Read those:
- How to improve your voice in 8 steps
- How to write a song in 10 steps
- What to consider in jam session: 8 tips