How To Apply Ear Training

Here is an ear training question that also happens to be a common question that is asked by many of my students:

Hi Posido,

A little advice please.. I’ve been using your MP3s to and from work everyday for about 2 months. I’ve got to the stage where I’m pretty much 100% unless I’m distracted or lose concentration… The question is, what do I do now??

I’m a keyboard player and would like this new skill to help me pick out melodies accurately by ear, and also to help me hear the root note of the next chord. However, I’m stuck in my age old trial and error method. Any ideas??


Ear Training Practice Tips That Work

Hi Steve!

I’m glad to hear that you have put the ear training MP3’s into use and are able to recognize intervals almost all of the time.

The next thing I would recommend is to start transcribing simple melodies by ear, or simple melodic lines of songs that you already connect with on an emotional level, or melodic lines while watching TV.

This idea is to start applying your recognition of these intervals toward the actual language of music. That’s one of the best ways to not only pick out melodies by ear, but start hearing those melodies on your own.

One thing to understand is that when you begin to hear melodies, the hearing and emotional aspect should always come first. In other words, when I hear a melody on my bass guitar, I hear the melody first, instead of thinking of a combination of intervals and how they may evoke certain emotions or feelings.

After I hear the melody, my mind’s ear already understands the intervals that make up that melody and I simply play it on my bass guitar.

This type of practice (transcribing simple melodies) is time tested and I’ve done a lot of it. I can say, with first hand experience that it works.

  1. Here is one way to go about practicing melodies (in this exact order):
  2. Hear a 3 note melody in your head.
  3. Sing that 3 note melody out loud.
  4. Use your understanding of intervals to recognize the intervals that make up this simple 3 note melody.
  5. Then play that 3 note melody on your instrument.
  6. What you’ll find is that you are teaching yourself to hear first, then intellectualize later. Getting the notes onto your instrument is the last priority because in all honesty, if you can hear music and understand what you are hearing, it doesn’t matter what instrument you are playing (guitar, bass, piano, etc…) you’ll be able to find the notes and play that melody.

As far as hearing the root note chords, here is a practice that works. If hearing root notes is difficult for you, I recommend simplifying your practice first by isolating single chords, before trying to sing/hear root notes for chord progressions.

  1. Start out by playing 2 notes harmonically.
  2. Immediately sing the lowest note. Don’t try to think about it for too long. Just hear/feel the lowest note and sing it.
  3. Play the same 2 notes harmonically.
  4. Now take your time and hear each note in your head. Isolate each note in your mind. Hear each note individually, loud and clearly.
  5. Now sing that lowest note.
  6. Repeat these steps many times for 3 notes, 4 notes, 5 notes, etc….
  7. This exercise actually teaches you how to isolate the notes you are hearing, especially the root note.

One thing to keep in mind is that the lowest note is not always the root note. The root note actually is the harmonic center of that chord. All notes will seem to gravitate toward that one note.

  1. One way to teach yourself to hear the harmonic center of a chord is to do the following:
  2. Play a chord, such as C Major (C, E, G)
  3. Play a C Major scale (C, E, F, G, A, B, C)
  4. Play the note C and feel how that note doesn’t want to go anywhere. There is no harmonic tension, because you are already at the center.
  5. Play the note D. Hear how that note wants to go down a step and end it’s melodic journey on the note C.

Do this for all of the notes and feel that harmonic tension and learn to feel that one note that just seems to be the harmonic center. That note will always be your root note!

I know this was a lot. I hope what I’m saying made sense and is not too overwhelming. The practices are actually really easy and can be done for a few minutes each day! Good luck!