Piano Lesson: Ear Training

Ear training is especially important if you want to improvise, compose, or figure out song melodies and chords by ear. A good musical ear is an acquired skill, not a gift. And like other skills, it is acquired through practice.

The more we train our ear to recognize this connection, the more we enjoy playing music, because we learn to understand what we are playing. Here are some questions that I am often asked.

Who needs ear training?

All musicians need to train their ear to know what they are playing and to anticipate what they are about to play!

Why train the ear?

Because understanding the sounds we hear will be necessary to:

* Jam with other musicians

* To compose music

* Sing in tune

There are 3 qualities that every good jazz musician should possess:

* a great ear

* a strong sense of time

* has a unique sound.

While there are many different ways to approach these skills, the first two always require a certain amount of practice. Ear can be thought of as a muscle and, to some extent, must be trained as such. Improved ears will lead to better intonation, improvisation, ensemble playing, and transcription skills. With that in mind, here are three great ways to drastically improve your students’ ears, and hopefully their overall playing.

Associating a familiar melody with each interval is a quick way to learn the distinctive sound of an interval. For example, a melodic interval can be ascending or descending. Either way, it’s still the same interval. Now, you don’t want to get confused with interval inversions because a minor 3rd will still be a minor 3rd no matter which note comes up first.

Intervals can be classified as consonant or dissonant. I can tell you that it is much easier to hear the consonance or dissonance of the harmonic intervals than the melodic ones.

Here is a list showing the relative stability (consonance) or instability (dissonance) of octaves up to one octave.

Consonant: Perfect, unison, m3, P4, P5, m6, P octave.

Dissonant: m2, M2, +4. (o5), m7, m7.

Another soft approach is to describe hollow sounds, such as stark and earthy, Indian drones and Scottish bagpipes, or heavy metal rhythm guitars.

Hallow: Perfect unison, P4, P5, P octave. These would be perfect intervals and their inversions.)

Sweet: m3, M3, m6, M6. (third and sixth)

There are now active and passive methods for ear training. A passive exercise would be to play two notes in a row and listen to that interval. Sometimes you will be asked to name the next note.

Harmonic intervals can be drilled in the same way. These types of exercises can be performed with chords or with chord progressions.

Are you familiar with the underlying scales and “Do” mobile music theory?

It is essential that you learn to sing a chromatic scale. Since chromaticism is prevalent throughout modern jazz, this exercise will improve both intonation and students’ understanding of the genre. When singing through the chromatic scale, remember to use sharps going up and flats going down.

Ascending Chromatic Scale:

do, do#, re, re#, mi, fa, fa#, sol, sol#, la, la#, si, do

Do, Di, Re, Ri, Mi, Fa, Fi, Sol, Si, La, U, Ti, Do

descending chromatic scale

do, si, sib, la, lab, sol, sol, fa, mi, mib, re, reb, do

Do, Ti, Te, La, Le, Sol, Se, Fa, Mi, Me, Re, Ra, Do

target tones

Target tones are an essential part of any ear training regimen. They force students to listen not only to the tones of the chords, but also to the surrounding tones. Now, many students can sing a major scale correctly, but have some difficulty selecting specific intervals at random.

Regarding scales and scale degrees, the best way to practice this is by using target tones. Here are some exercises:

C, // C, D, C // E, D, C // F, E, D // C, G, A // B, C, A // B, C, B // C

Ear training leads to better intonation, improvisation, band playing, and overall transcription skills.

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