When I first started taking music lessons, I learned to read notes and recognize patterns very quickly. Training my ear, however, did not come naturally to me at all.
Maybe it’s because I’m primarily a visual learner, but I’ve struggled with learning to play by ear and stay in tune.
One of the hardest things I had to do in college was play “Sing That Interval”, an ear training exercise where the professor played a note on the piano and asked me to sing a certain interval above it.
I mixed up my minor seconds with my major seconds, and I had a tendency to accidentally sing a tritone instead of the requested perfect fifth.
I was frustrated and embarrassed, and also at a loss for what to do. My classmates with perfect or relative pitch were a mystery to me…how did they do it, and why couldn’t I? What was wrong with me? Was I tone deaf? (I’m not, by the way. I took a test to make sure).
Eventually I came to the conclusion that I just do not naturally have a great ear, but that doesn’t mean I can’t work to make it better.
If you can relate to any of the above, this post is for you.
Here are seven things that have helped me as I continue to work on developing my ear. Remember, any skill can be improved with patience, practice, and time. Don’t get discouraged – you’re not alone!
1. Start Off Small
If ear training is an area of struggle for you, then one of the biggest mistakes you can make is to try to improve too much too soon.
Overloading yourself with exercises will just leave you tired, frustrated, and discouraged. Trust me, I’ve been there!
The first of my ear training tips is to work on just one goal at a time, such as distinguishing between perfect fourths and perfect fifths. Stick with that goal until you complete it and then go on to the next one.
2. Make it a Habit
When you’re working to improve a skill, consistency is key.
Try setting aside a small amount of time at the beginning of every practice session to work on your ear training goals.
By setting a routine, you’re more likely to stick with it and make long-term progress.
3. Take It Slow
Resist the urge to try to conquer your goals as fast as possible so you can move on to bigger and better things.
Take it one day at a time and enjoy the progress you make, even if it’s not as fast as you were hoping.
Remember, a little progress is better than none!
4. Build on Your Skills
Once you’ve reached a goal, try to increase the difficulty of the next goal just a little bit. For example, once you can aurally distinguish between seconds and thirds, try to learn the difference between major and minor seconds or major and minor thirds. Increasing the difficulty slowly will help you make progress with a lot less stress.
5. Take Advantage of Technology
Sometimes it’s difficult to do ear training exercises for ourselves…we know which of the two notes we are playing is higher, because we’re the one playing them!
That’s where the beauty of technology comes in. There are many free websites and apps that will allow you to set your own ear training goals and track your progress, and they do the work of playing the notes, chords, and intervals for you.
Also, there’s something about seeing “Correct!” flash across the screen when you get the right answer that is very satisfying (I’m just saying).
6. Work with a Friend
One of my best ear training tips is to play with a friend (or a group of friends).
I’ve found that I can pick up on mistakes and improve my intonation much more easily when playing with others than when I’m on my own. Plus, it’s fun!
7. Be Patient with Yourself
Remember, you are making slow but steady progress.
It’s okay that your ear isn’t naturally as good as someone else’s. We each have our own unique set of strengths and weaknesses and we improve at our own pace.
Enjoy the progress you’re making, and don’t worry if you have a bad day. There’s always tomorrow!
What are your best ear training tips? Leave a comment below!