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Ear training

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Ear training

Tonal memory

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Ear training or aural skills is what musicians do to improve their ability to identify the sounds of different intervals, chords, rhythms, and other elements of music. Singing plays an important part in ear training, since one must be able hear music in one's head and match pitch before it is possible to sing it reliably. One does not need absolute pitch to succeed at ear training; one goal of ear training is the development of relative pitch.


Interval recognition

Interval recognition is a crucial skill for musicians: in order to determine the notes in a melody, a musician must have some ability to recognize intervals. Some music teachers teach their students relative pitch by having them associate each possible interval with the first two notes of a popular song. Here are some examples for each interval, measured in half-steps (aka semi-tones) from zero (unison) to 12 (one complete octave), along with the name of each interval:

0: Unison: Happy Birthday To You (the two notes of "happy")
1: Minor second: Theme from Jaws
2: Major second: Frere Jacques
3: Minor third: Brahms' Lullaby, the Olympic Fanfare and Theme (heard as the first brass notes in the fanfare) which plays at the beginning of NBC Olympic broadcasts, Somewhere Out There
4: Major third: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Summon the Heroes (the 1996 Olympic theme, heard on NBC during Olympic broadcasts), Kumbaya
5: Perfect fourth: Auld Lang Syne ("Should Auld..."), the wedding song ("Here comes the bride"), or O Christmas Tree
6: Tritone: "Maria" and "Cool", from West Side Story, or the theme from The Simpsons
7: Perfect fifth: Also Sprach Zarathustra (Theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey), Hey There, Georgie Girl, or Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star (between the first and second twinkles)
8: Minor sixth: Scott Joplin's The Entertainer (Main theme after the intro), Across the Stars from Star Wars, or the theme from Love Story
9: Major sixth: My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean, or the NBC theme
10: Minor seventh: Somewhere, from West Side Story
11: Major seventh: a-Ha's Take On Me, or the first and third notes of Somewhere Over the Rainbow
12: Octave: Somewhere Over the Rainbow

In addition, there are various systems (including solfege, sargam, and numerical sight-singing) that assign specific syllables to different notes of the scale. Among other things, this makes it easier to hear how intervals sound in different contexts, such as in different keys, or starting on different notes of the same scale.

Chord recognition

Complementary to recognizing the melody of a song is hearing the harmonic structures that support it. Musicians often practice hearing different types of chords and their inversions out of context, just to hear the characteristic sound of the chord. They also learn chord progressions to hear how chords relate to each other in the context of a piece of music.

Rhythm recognition

One way musicians practice rhythms is by breaking them up into smaller, more easily identifiable sub-patterns. For example, one might start by learning the sound of all the combinations of four eighth notes and eighth rests, and then proceed to string different four-note patterns together.

Another way to practice rhythms is by muscle memory: basically teaching the rhythm to different muscles in the body. One may start by tapping a rhythm with the hands and feet individually, or singing a rhythm on a syllable (e.g "ta"). Later stages may combine keeping time with the hand, foot, or voice and simultaneously tapping out the rhythm, and beating out multiple overlapping rhythms.

Keeping accurate time is a crucial part of rhythmic training. For this task, a metronome is a valuable tool.


Music teachers often recommend transcribing recorded music as a way to practice all of the above, including recognizing rhythm, melody and harmony.

See also

Further reading

  • Essential Ear Training for the Contemporary Musician by Steve Prosser, ISBN 0634006401
  • Ear Training for Twentieth-Century Music by Michael L. Friedmann, ISBN 0300045360

External links

Home | Up | Ear training | Music school | Learning music by ear | Music and movement | Music lesson | School band

Music Sound, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

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