What is "Ear Training"?

What is it and how do we do it?

I think it is such a vague term. Train your ear to do what exactly? It’s like saying “train your body” but for/to do what? Run a marathon, walk up a hill, sprint for a bus, walk up stairs, carry shopping …

To train something we have to specific about what we would like to be able to do with the skill once it is acquired, in order to train it effectively.

So, I’ve decided what specific skill I want to acquire. I want to be able to listen to a melody/simple tune and be able to find the notes on my instrument, without a series of trials and errors. I don’t want to be able to identify a perfect 5th, or play a minor 3rd, but be able to play slowly through a simple melody without looking at sheet music.

That’s it, I’ll let you know how I get on.

I think this is a great goal.
The “sing the numbers” tracks are awesome for that.
Good luck and keep us posted!

Thanks @freddy, well I’ve made a start with Sing The Numbers 1 and 2. No problems here, I’m singing and visualizing where the numbers within the major scale/tonal map each time. I’ve also been playing the little sequences on my instruments. It’s quite easy on piano and guitar, more difficult on flute. I’m less familar with the different fingerings here, but its a lot easier seeing the mapping from number to note on piano and guitar.

Trouble is, I think I’m drifting away from the [sound - produce the sound] mapping to more of a [number - produce to sound] mapping, if that makes any sense. For example, when into a track (and got used to where the numbers are) instead of hearing the sound of a B note and being able to reproduce that sound, I hear a number (say 6) and play the note I have associated with number 6 on my instrument. This is probably helping me in some way, but I don’t think it’s progressing towards my goal.

I’ll experiment a bit more.

If this can help, the “resolution” method helped me tremendously in recognising the “personality” of the scale degrees.
There is a famous and very good mobile app, called “functional ear training” that explains the method.
Basically the app gives you some tonal context by playing a perfect cadence, and plays a note.
Then it plays the resolution to the nearest tonic. Exemple if it plays 3, then you will hear the 3 2 1 resolution. If it plays 7, you’ll then hear 7 1 as a resolution.

Once you’ve heard the different resolutions a fair amount of time, you really begin to hear each note as a particular flavour of an unresolved tone (except for tonic which I personally recognise by imagining a note going away from it, and feeling the desire to go back). So in the end each note has a very distinct personality that you come to feel very naturally regarding how it wants to resolve.

I know this method helped me a lot in recognising simple music on the radio. Maybe you should give it a try.

Taking that question in the more general (philosophical?) sense, to me “Ear Training” is a term encompasing a very broard category of activities, more like “Science” or “Arts”, than “Physics” or “Painting”, let alone “Astrophysics” or “Watercolour”.

Maybe the “Ear Training” equivalent of the “Astrophysics” or “Watercolour” level is things like Interval recognition, scale degree recognition & chord recognition?

In a sense I feel the very name “Ear Training” is perhaps something of a misnomer too, as it’s probably not really the ‘ear’ that needs the training? For anyone who likes music the “ear” already knows it all; the awkward thing is that its knowledge operates at a sub-conscious level.

My take is that “Ear Training” is about learning to make conscious or semi-conscious use of what the sub-conscious already knows about. We do that largely by finding ways to relate the sounds & relationships to other slightly more concrete things through careful, thoughtful, listening.

Now onto the more specific & practical task(s) you’ve identified…

That may seem like a backward step to you, but to me it’s an advance not a regression.

Things may be different on flute, but for me recognising the 6 if a far more powerful concept, because I can take that 6 (& from it, all the other notes in the scale) anywhere on my instrument (keyboard or fretboard). The only absolute (i.e. named) note I really feel I need to know is the 1, & unless I need to pass information to others I don’t even really need that, provided I can find it on my instrument.

I’ve been using Sing the Numbers (StN) for the best part of 3 years and added Feel the Numbers (FtN) when I took “Ear Training for Musical Creativity” in January 2020. Just this week I found that while doing some FtN exercises I was actually feeling the sounds as numbers. Not just recognising & thinking of them them, as numbers, but literally ‘feeling’ them as numbers which is a deeper more subtle thing. For me that felt wonderful. :smiley: It still doesn’t happen all the time, but it’s given me a new level to aim for.

N.B. This is not in anyway meant to be dismissive of other ways of looking at “Ear Training” at either the overall or specific level. I’m just trying to explain how it appears & seems to work for me.

Maybe we should tag David Reed on this? @ImproviseForReal

Thanks @freddy, yes I’m familiar with that app and used it for a while. I agree, it is a good way to get very comfortable with the numbers 1…7 in the 1st Harmonic Environment/World. But I’d like to move on to the other Worlds, and with that familiarity with the numbers I’ve gained so far, be able to work with other notes as the tonal centre.

I agree @DavidW, 100%, we just find that way that works best for ourselves. This is my quest!

Yes, I understand what you’re saying, and perhaps this will be a necessary and useful skill to have, but once that association of note 6 with for example a Bb fingering is made, every time I hear number 6 I just finger Bb, I am no longer feeling how is note 6 relating to the tonal centre for example. I don’t think I 'm describing it very well, but its like it is no longer a relative reference, but an absolute one.

I remember you describing FeelTheNumbers in a previous post, and maybe that is something to try. I’ll play and record a few sequences and try to recognise/put numbers to them on replay. Just hearing notes without numbers and trying to relate them to the background tonal centre.

The IFR book describes the two stage process of sounds in your head to numbers then numbers to notes on your instrument. Maybe I’m mixing these up too much. Don’t know.

Your approach is exactly what I’ve been doing recently, with songs I already know well. Like Christmas tunes, kids songs, camp songs, Beatles songs.

I play piano, and each day of the week I focus on two key centers to do my scales and arpeggios… a key like C and its Tritone F#. Then I pick a simple tune like YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE ( different song each day) and play the melody, or part of the melody, in each of the 2 keys. Then I add in a simple left hand accompaniment for chords. Was awful at it at first… now it’s fun and I hear more relationships

Anyway it’s working for me. Hope you get the same.

I think you’d find that very useful. It is after all essentially your

but in a controlled environment rather than the “out in the wild” experience of trying to do the same with a recording not designed for the purpose. So, it’s a sort of ‘halfway house’ on the road to that goal?

The ‘real’ Feel the Numbers tracks are similar in form to the Sing the Numbers tracks. The notes you’re trying to ‘feel’ are played on a keyboard over a simple but very ‘musical’ backing.

So far as I’m aware the only way to get the ‘real’ Feel the Numbers tracks is to buy the ’ Ear Training for Musical Creativity’ course, in which they are course materials? The tracks, almost, but don’t quite, parallel the set of Sing the Numbers tracks. Some FtN tracks follow similar patterns to the equivalent StN tracks, but I don’t think any are exactlly the same, so you do need to listen, even if you can repeat the StN tracks in your sleep! ;).

@mem You’ve probably already thought of this but I suppose you could achieve something similar by making your own recordings over a backing provided by IFR jam tracks, such as Seven Worlds, or Pure Harmony Essentials? Then you’d have a background that was establishing the harmonic environment in which to feel the numbers.

Just a thought…

I wrote: Things may be different on flute, but for me recognising the 6 if a far more powerful concept,
@mem replied

It occurs to me that @Jelske plays a woodwind instrument (sax) so the same fingering issue will apply, but numbers make sense for her. Maybe she might have something useful to contribute here?

Thanks for the suggestion @hender99, I like the idea of trying the same melody in two different keys a tritone apart. It really makes your brain have to work!

Good idea @DavidW, I’ll give that a try.

Maybe my head is just getting locked into number->fingering mapping.

After having a quick look at the book again, I’m reminded of the two stages: [Sounds in head → tonal map] [tonal map → instrument] I think I need to come up with a way of addressing each stage. Maybe concentrate on using voice, to remove the instrument part.

Thanks all for the great conversation, and a special thanks to @mem for starting it. Since @DavidW invited me to comment, I’ll chime in with one quick observation. First, I think the conversation is fantastic, and I share everyone’s dissatisfaction with the horrible expression “ear training”. This doesn’t even come close to describing what we’re doing in IFR. Honestly, for me all we’re doing is “studying music”. I can’t imagine any sensible way of studying music that doesn’t involve actually listening to the sounds, so the mere fact that we even need a special term called “ear training” shows how far mainstream music education has strayed from the path of genuine learning. Can you imagine having to take a course called “eye training” as part of your painting degree, because in most of your classes you don’t even bother to look at what you’re painting?

So not only is Marie-Elaine’s definition of her goal a major step forward, but it’s also (I think) an essential ingredient in any genuine musical learning. Just like in any art form, all we’re trying to do in IFR is to see our raw materials clearly, get to know them personally, and discover our own way of expressing ourselves with them. Recognizing melody notes by ear is obviously inseparable from this ambition.

But what might not be obvious is how much of the IFR practice is centered on developing this ability. Even the “resolution” method that @freddy described beautifully is ALREADY omnipresent in every “Sing the Numbers” track from the first to the last. Those are not random melodies. Every single melody in that audio course was chosen both for its relevance as an ear training foothold and also for its instructional value as a composing lesson. And just as @freddy has observed, hearing the notes being used for a musical purpose (even if it’s just a simple tension/resolution statement like the melodies from that ear training app) makes it SO much easier to latch on to the meaning of each sound! Imagine how difficult it would be to recognize the words you’ve studied in a foreign language if those words were repeated back to you in random, nonsensical order! Hearing the sounds in a musical context is essential both to understanding them and also to recognizing them.

And the other essential part of this learning process is to explore the sounds creatively in your own improvising practice. So at the risk of sounding like a broken record, really all you need to do is spend a little bit of time each day practicing the IFR program as designed, in addition to all of your other musical activities which you are free to choose and enjoy to your heart’s content.

It’s so important to keep this in mind because all of the other mental states that Marie-Elaine describes are perfectly natural. When I’m improvising on the trumpet, my mind is also moving in a very fluid way between tonal numbers, absolute note names, chord names and symbols, etc. All of this is fine! Studying a map of your neighborhood doesn’t preclude you from noticing the sign posts and the landscape details when you’re actually walking around your neighborhood. So the last thing we want to encourage in IFR is a fear of having the “wrong” thoughts when you’re playing. It’s enough to just keep coming back to your IFR practice for a few minutes a day in order to cultivate enough of the “right” thoughts, meaning an awareness of where you are in the overall key of the music. As long as you’re doing a little bit of that work each day (maybe singing the tonal numbers out loud to force yourself to stay conscious of them), then I can promise you from my experience with literally hundreds of private students that your mastery of the harmonic landscape WILL grow, and that every other perspective you find yourself noticing is ALSO positive, and ultimately all part of a single reality.

Also, please don’t take any of the above as a dismissal or criticism of other ways of thinking about harmony that may be entirely different. I don’t want to have the “last word” on any of these issues. I just wanted to clarify what we might call the “IFR philosophy” so that you can put it in context and decide whether it can serve you or not. And really, the only important point I want to make about that is just to share the tip that just doing Sing the Numbers and (for example) IFR Jam Tracks Level 2: Pure Harmony Essentials every day in a different key on your instrument will make it virtually impossible NOT to master the skill Marie-Elaine has so succinctly described.

Thanks for your input @ImproviseForReal David.

I think a little more immersion in Numbers/Tonal Map is required. So, I’m returning to SingTheNumbers, starting with STN1.

I’m finding it useful to play a track, and while singing I’m writing down the numbers of each phrase. Then I play the track again and try to sing the phrase before the teacher sings it. I think someone had this idea and suggested it on another thread a while ago.

I’ve found a few places on map where I’m having difficulty getting the right pitch, so that is helping me clarify my understanding.

A few observations from my return to Singing the Numbers. There are some note/number combinations I have trouble with, 1-4, 4-1, combos starting on 2 and sometimes 6, occasionally 5 (?) But they are getting better the more I relax and practice.

Also, I noticing I’m starting to remember note/number groups instead of individual notes, pairs and triads, which I guess will be useful when it comes to recognising sequences in tunes.

I hadn’t played much of StN 3, as I’ve only just dipped in Pure Harmony, but I tried the first track and noticed when I was writing down the number sequences I was finding it a bit problematic assigning the numbers to the chords at the transition points. This made me really have to listen to where the chord changes.

All good stuff, and lots to work on.:+1::muscle: