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!
Dana Jordan says
I had a teacher who would call it taking a “sound bath.” But, the other side to it, is a direct need to see what your hearing.
One of the advantages beginning students have today is, a lot of music books contain a CD. If a student actively listens to a piece of music, with the score in hand, that student’s destiny will be that of a better musician.
Graham English says
Cool visual: sound bath. 🙂
I totally agree. It’s an advantage to combine as many senses as you can when learning. I hope that beginning musicians really consider learning how to read and write music. It’s not that difficult and it can really help your total musicianship. Combine reading and writing and active listening, and you’re moving fast!
Thanks for the comment, Dana.
I was wondering if there was anyway to train ourselves to have perfect recal of a piece of music. Like we hear a piece of music and we could hum the whole thing without outside help.
Is there anyway that we can train ourselves so that we actually remember exactly what we heard? Rather just some wishy-washy/shadowy version that our brain makes?
There must be some way we can make the sound inside our head as clear and distinct as what we previously heard.
I guess it’d be like photographic memory but for music?
can this be developed? If so, How?
Graham English says
Craig, I don’t know for sure if this can be developed or not. But wouldn’t it be awesome if it could? My opinion is that it really depends on the source music you wish to memorize. If it’s a 32 bar melody, then I believe that you could strengthen your memory and pitch skills to recall it after one listening. But the minute you add another voice to the mix, it gets exponentially harder. Another consideration is if you plan on recalling the melody in perfect time. Or are you allowed to think about it?
I’ve studied lots of memory courses, including one by Dominic O’brien, a world memory champion. But nothing I’ve come across makes me believe that I could listen to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and recall it perfectly after one listening in real-time. The study of autistic savants, which I’ve written about in Foolish Wise Ones, lends the most support to an idea of perfect recall. Steven Wiltshire can recall visually with astonishing detail. And musical savants can recall pieces of music. But it’s a physical impossibility to reproduce an entire symphony in real-time. One doesn’t have enough hands to reproduce the musical content. But does the complete symphony exist perfectly in the mind somewhere? I’m inclined to think so. Professor Allan Snyder would probably agree.
But given the impractical nature of pursing perfect recall of symphonies, I think it’s a worthwhile endeavor to improve not only pitch recall, but melodic recall and harmonic recall and rhythmic recall and whatever other musical recall you can dream up. Check out the World Memory Championships Tools and Techniques and tell me if you find anything useful there to help you in your quest. And I imagine you could start training yourself right now in incremental steps by memorizing 1 bar of musical content, then 2 bars, etc. You would have to measure your progress though to know if you’re improving.
It’s a great comment, Craig. Thanks. 🙂
Dana Jordan says
Pardon me gentlemen…
I think what Graham is trying to say is, that there is no “Soundbite” answer to your question. (Pun intended) One of my best music teachers taught me that,”If a learned musician wants to get better, you have to go back through ‘Music 101’, the basics if you will.” It is one of the reason I love teaching beginners – I am always in a state of getting better.
As for anomalies – check this 4 year old accordionist – How does he remember the lyrics and button accordion riffs?
i think some day i could get this. stil im trying
my problem is not geting away from logical mind.
some times i can feel the pitch of C but i could’t
hang on it.if any body like to help me pls pls