Ear Training Guided Tour
I’d like discuss ear training for improvising musicians and what we do over at muse-eek.com.
There are many methods of ear training; some work some do not. We have found that the most popular ear training method i.e. the use of “intervals” will not help you to develop the skills you need as an improvising musician. Instead, we have found that an approach we call Contextual Ear Training will help you develop the skill to hear pitches. This method is based on hearing notes in relation to a “Key Center.” This important distinction will make all the difference in your ability.
First, doing ear training in the right way is absolutely crucial and will determine how quickly you improve. At muse-eek.com we have created many products to help musicians develop great ears. Along with discussing these methods below, we give recommendations on how to work through our products for the best results.
As mentioned we call our method “Contextual Ear Training.” Let’s look at some things involved in this approach:
1. Improvement in ear training comes through listening and singing. Obviously listening is basic but we have found that students improve faster if they also work on singing exercises. Since improvisational and compositional skills come from the same place in our mind, working on singing is extremely useful.
2. In order to improve ones ear training it is necessary to work on two aspects of memory; the short-term and the permanent capacity. Overall you need to first get a sound into your short term memory and then with repetition it will go into your permanent memory. This is why throughout this method we recommend doing the ear training exercises many times throughout the day to build your memory of the sound.
3. Since we believe that you learn in one “context” at a time you will need to change up your “context” in order to use our ear training in the many situations that come up when you are playing music in real time. For instance the exercise in ‘”Ear Training One Note Complete” where you hear a cadence, note and then a pitch is a great exercise but it’s only one of the many ways you might hear a note played that you need to identify. We therefore introduce many other books to change up the “context” so that a student can develop their skills in allthese different “contexts.”
4. In order to make ear training useful in a real musical situation you have to have instant access to it, so speed is important. When doing our ear training exercises we always recommend guessing the first thing that comes into your mind. If you over analyze an answer you will develop a habit of thinking too much which in turn slow down your ear training. It’s best to just react and not “think” too much. Although this might feel like you are just guessing, over time your accuracy will improve. Remember music happens in “real time” so you need an instantaneous reaction in order for ear training to be useful. This is why creating schemes in your head where you count intervals –or whatever– will never work when you are “in the moment” and need to know what notes are being played.
If you purchase a book from muse-eek.com you will have access to the author Bruce Arnold to answer any questions that might pop up as you work. You can find out more information on various aspects of our ear training products by reading our FAQs.
There are two books that we most commonly recommend to begin working on our ear training: (We recommend digital download for all books mentioned in this blog.) You will find the physical copy also available on each page.)
First we have the listening side of the ear training which is contained in the book Ear Training One Note Complete Book which also contains 3 CDs worth of audio. Each CD has the same exercise but is twice as fast because you need to first develop your recognition of each note within a key center and then you need to speed up the process. Many students with prior musical background start with the intermediate level and move up to the advanced level once they get 80% correct answers. The beginning level is of course recommended for beginning music students but also for those who start at the Intermediate level but find the speed is to intense. We recommend listening to the exercises at least 5X a day for 10 minutes; Obviously the more the better.
For the singing side of things we recommend starting with the book Contextual Ear Training. This book contains 300 audio files that have you sing a note after hearing a cadence in a major or minor key. You will then hear the correct answer. This type of exercise can also be found in the Fanatic’s Guide to Sight Singing and Ear Training which we will talk about shortly. The major difference between the Contextual ear training files and the exercises in Fanatic’s Guide is you hear the answer from the audio file while with the Fanatic’s Guide you have to play the answer on an instrument. Obviously hearing the answer from the audio file allows you to work on this singing method anywhere. Again you want to listen to the exercises at least 5X a day for 10 minutes.
Because we always learn in the “context” that we practice you want to diversify the type of exercises you do as soon as possible. We recommend that when you reach around 50% correct answers in Ear Training One Note, you start working with “Direct Application Ear Training Volume One.” Basically you have the same “one note” exercise but now you are doing it with real music. We also often recommend starting the “Instrumental Color Series” which gives you again the same “one note exercise” but is played by another instrument. Again our mind needs to change the “context” by hearing the sound on a different instrument. It’s important to realize that with the “Direct Application Ear Training” you can use your instrument and play along with the tracks. This again gives you another “context” because now you are improvising and playing your instrument while you are doing the ear training. There are also additional Direct Application Ear Training products such as the “Direct Application Book.” and the “Direct Application CDs” which will help you apply the ear training to many different kinds of real time, live situations.
We haven’t yet spoken about doing melodic ear training. When you are getting over 50% correct answers on the Ear Training One Note Complete audio files or the Contextual Ear Training exercises it is time to start the “2 Note Melodic Ear Training.”
Once you are getting around 80% with the “Contextual Ear Training” you can move on to the second singing book Fanatic’s Guide to Sight Singing and Ear Training. You could also add in the “Secondary Dominants” book. This book shows you how to hear chord progressions in one key center which is essential to understanding how you should think and hear music when you are playing. We can’t over emphasis the importance of this book. It’s also a great way to apply the melodic minor ascending scales so commonly used in contemporary improvisation.
Key Note Recognition will be the next level after you are getting 80% correct on the Ear Training One Note Complete Advanced audio files. Because again we are moving to another “context” it can be a tough going for a student, but over time you will get the correct answers.
There are many additional singing exercises in the Fanatic’s Guide to Sight Singing and Ear Training. Most important is the singing exercise found on page 17. Once you have mastered this exercise you can move on to the Key Retention Builder. Key Retention Builder concentrates on improving your short term memory of a key center which is important for working on all the ear training levels that will follow.
When you have completed Key Note Recognition there are a lot of other books to work through. These books will help you to hear chords, melodies and modulations.
1. Ear Training Two Note Complete is the beginning of developing your ability to hear two note chords and developing the ability to modulate.
2. “Melodic Ear Training.” with two or more notes will obviously help to you to identify the notes you hear in melodies and with our graduated study you can slowly build up your recognition skills.
3. Ear Training Three Note Direct Application uses uses the Arpeggiation of three notes to again put the ear training into another “context.”
4. Very commonly we get students who want to sing in choirs. The Lines Volume One: Sight Reading and Sight Singing Exercises is an excellent book for learning part singing.
As you can see this is quite an involved series of books. But we are almost through, and when you have made it this far you aural comprehension will be totally on another plain. Recognizing how you hear chord progressions and how you hear melodies is how you will decide what scales to use when improvising. This is just one of many benefits you will have with this ear training program.
We have created two series of levels after the Ear Training Two Note Series:
1. Ear Training Three Note Volumes containing 5 volumes.
2. Ear Training Four Note Volumes containing 5 volumes.
This completes our Contextual Ear Training offerings. Next we have the Perfect Pitch Training.
“Perfect Pitch Ear Training” is a completely different kind of ear training. You learn perfect pitch on one instrument at a time and in most cases you can learn one instrument in about 2 years of study when you work approximately 1 hour a day.
There are few more things we should mention. One is that your knowledge of music theory gets to be more and more important as you work into higher levels of ear training. We have some books to help students gain a better knowledge of music theory through the use of workbooks that require you to fill in answers to music theory questions. Remember music theory needs to be as quick as your ear training skills so that you can find the note you hear on your instrument in short order. We would recommend the following books:
For other instrumentalists:
We have also created a series of videos to help you understand the whole process of ear training
Our latest creation is a practice tool that combines a metronome with a drone so that you can do ear training as you practice your instrument. This is called the MetroDrone which we highly recommend as a way to practice and improve your ear at the same time.
And of course we haven’t mentioned Rhythm ear training. We have two courses. First we have the Rhythm Ear Training Series that is really unique because along with getting a visual answer to each exercise you get the answer verbally. With this addition you can do rhythm ear training anywhere. We also have a video course called Rhythm Ear Training Video Course which helps you apply rhythm.
Overall the skill of Ear Training in all it’s different aspects is key to becoming a great musician. We have many more products on our website that can help musicians learn. We encourage you to come by and of course email us if you have any questions.