You can make ear training something you do once in a while or you can make it part of who you are. That’s the difference between ear training and a listening practice.
Ear training has often been half-jokingly, half-seriously referred to as “ear straining.” And I can understand why if it’s something that you feel forced to do, like doing sit ups. Why can’t washboard abs just come with the package?
But a listening practice isn’t something you have to motivate yourself to do every morning. It’s something you get to do all the time. It’s the equivalent of eating whatever you want, whenever you want… without gaining weight!
Your ears are always on. All you have to do is start paying attention. The world is filled with sounds for you to soak up. Your musical ears are hungry for stimulation. It’s time to give them what they want.
Here’s just a few things you can do to begin your listening practice.
First, just start listening unconditionally. We all daydream, so make these times of subconscious wandering into conscious sound expeditions. You’ll be amazed at all the different rhythms, counterpoints, and natural symphonies you will hear. If you can, close your eyes and just listen to the world around you and inside of you.
Second, think on media. Keep a few things with you at all times: music manuscript and a pen, a recording device, and a tuning fork of some kind. When you hear a note, figure out what it is. Teach yourself. Write a scale or a pattern and imagine what they sound like as you write them. Record rhythms and intervals and whatever else inspires you in the moment. Take a recess into the playground of sound. It will be fun and you’ll learn new things and reinforce what you already know.
Start a sound catalog. In a sound journal, begin to catalog all the different sounds and textures you hear. This will increase your “aural intelligence.” People who live bland lives have about a dozen different words that they use to describe their daily emotions. If you only have a dozen different words to describe what you hear, then it’s no wonder your musicianship is straining. But if you have a rich database of descriptive words in your musical vocabulary, then your experience of sound will be rich and abundant. Grab a thesaurus and your favorite album and have some fun.
Stop for a moment and think about these two musicians. One musician trains their ear for 15 minutes every day or so. The other musician actively listens all the time. Which is a better musician?
Answer: The musician with more aural experience. Go get some!