Updated: Oct 15
Sherlock Holmes’ famous words to Dr. Watson can be paraphrased to reference the distinction between sensory perception and observation: You hear, but you do not listen.
The inference is that “seeing” or “hearing” are passive use of cognitive ability, while “observing” or “listening” are active, requiring a heightened level of engagement from the observer or listener but also resulting in a greater acquisition of knowledge.
Music surrounds us everyday. It is on our playlists, radios, ads, score for tv or films, our neighbors’ stereo, yet we seem to have mastered the art of hearing without listening. Listening to music as a pastime differs from listening to music from an academic standpoint. For the music student, training the ear is as crucial, if not more as mastering the instrument or reading the sheet.
Sometimes a musician may find himself required to play a track or piece after only listening to something. This something may be a track or piece off another instrument, any sound he hears while looking for inspiration, a record, a fellow musician at a social gathering, impromptu jamming, or trying to impress a firend by playing their favourite song on the spot. Here, the musician relies not just on his skill on the instrument, but on his ability to process what he has heard and translate the same onto the instrument precisely and effectively. To achieve the same, ear training or developing the ability to listen to music effectively is just as important as the hours with the metronome.
To convert the heard sound into music, all the processing ability of the brain comes into play. This ability is important to those practice the art for reasons stated above and many more.
For students of music, listening to music and analysing it is important. Understanding the system of construction behind the output is an essential quality any musician must possess.
So, when the student turns on the speakers and hits play, the job is not to rock out to those favourite tunes, but to put those grey cells to use. Answer some questions. When you turn off the speakers or remove those headphones, do you know more about your favourite songs? Can you better understand what your favourite artistes and influences did and why and what the result was?
When listening to music, it is important to understand the form of the piece and its elements. For example, most of pop music is in a verse and chorus form. Analysing melody and understanding its phrasing is another important aspect of listening to music. Upon listening to a melody, what is its phrasing? What scale is a melody in? What chord structure is being used and why?
For a student of music, listening to music is not a leisurely activity anymore. It is a part of musical education, and an integral one at that. Incorporating listening to music in a manner that results in productivity and output at every stage of development is necessary for holistic musical development.
So how does a student achieve the ability to listen to and analyse music effectively? Ear training is an important part of musical education. Each teacher or educator or musician has their own style of training oneself as well as what they wish to pass on to students. However, certain common principles do govern the inherent science.
What is ear training? Ear training is the process of connecting music theory (notes, intervals, chords, scales, melodies, etc.) with the sounds one perceives. The more one conditions their ears to identify this connection, the better one gets at playing music, as one begins to understand what one plays and anticipates musical structures.
Both beginners and professionals need to keep their ear in shape in order to know what they (and others for that matter) are playing and to anticipate what they are about to play. This is called improving relative pitch.
This is why ear training is a mandatory course in about 99.9% of all music schools, conservatories and general music courses around the world.
Here are some basic ear training exercises as recommended by various Music teachers and professionals.
Test your hearing-Don’t worry about being Mozart on day one! Start with simple ear training exercises.Ask yourself questions like:
What do you hear? Work on differentiating between low sounds, high sounds, talking, animal noises, machines, etc.
Are the rhythms fast or slow?
Are the sounds loud or quiet?
Where are the sounds located? Are the sounds above you or below?
2. If you find that you have difficulty hearing people speak in crowded rooms, cannot hear high pitches, or have to constantly ask people to repeat themselves, then you might want to test your hearing. Check out the Action on Hearing Loss site for an online hearing test and consult your physician. If you are able to enjoy the music you listen to, that’s a good sign your ears are still strong enough to become an able music-maker! Testing your hearing is a good way to confirm this and let you know if there are any issues to be aware of as you learn music. Test your existing listening skills
3. Start Simple: Learn active listening
Becoming aware of your surroundings like this enhances your aural skills and it’s an exercise you can do every day.
How good are your ears? You might know more than you know! Take a simple Intro to Ear Training quiz and discover your ear training level. From there you can pursue the ear training that you need.
4.Let rhythm guide your learning-
Although people think of rhythm as a “natural” ability, the truth is that your rhythm skills can be learned and improved. Honing your rhythmic skills is often one of the simplest ways to begin your ear training journey. Almost anyone can clap along with a favorite tune!
5.Master the melody-
Improving your musical sense of relative pitch is key to understanding melody and learning how to sing and recognize intervals is a great way to do this.
7.Step up to the harmony
Once you are comfortable with rhythm and melody, have fun with chords.
Chord ear training exercises help you master triads quickly.
8. Have ear training fun with a friend
Music is always more fun with a friend! Rope in your band next time you work on a harmony exercise or turn a night of karaoke into a fun ear training exercise.
9. Connect your ear training with your instrument or singing practice
Apply your new ear training skills to your instrumental or vocal skills. After a few weeks, you will find that your improved ear training has really enhanced your musicianship!
10.Learn about audio-
Ear training as an adult beginner doesn’t just involve rhythm, melody, and harmony. For those involved in music production or performance, learning the difference between different audio effects and how to recognise frequencies are useful skills.
Do you know the difference between reverb and echo? How do you EQ your band’s new demo?
Developing your ear for audio frequencies and effects provides a valuable counterpart to musical ear training.
11. Keep challenging yourself-
Once you have moved beyond rhythm, melody, harmony, or audio effects, continue to challenge yourself. Pick a new area and stretch your ears in a different direction. Learn how to dictate complex harmonic progressions, teach yourself sound synthesis, or compose original music.