Ear Training is exactly what it sounds like – training your ears. As a musician you need to use your ears all the time but quite often we don’t think about how important it is to build up your listening skills. If you heard a random chord played in a song, could you identify the type of chord? If you were listening to a guitarist improvise could you figure out what scale he is playing without seeing him play? Unless you have spent the time learning this skill it may seem impossible. In this short article we will look at what ear training is and how it can help you as a guitarist.
Why many guitarists have poor listening skills
We live in a time where there are self-tuning guitars, countless guitar TABs available and guitar tuners for your iPhone. While advances in technology are a good thing that should be embraced, these new advances can limit a guitarist’s development in a very important skill. As a guitar teacher I see it all the time: a new student who has been playing for a few years doesn’t know how to tune their guitar by ear because they only know how to tune it using their guitar tuner. Something as simple as tuning a guitar by ear may not sound very important (and it isn’t really), but the fact that this skill isn’t being practiced means the guitarist’s listening skills wont develop and may cause issues later on.
Now that there are countless guitar TABs available to download within seconds means every time you want to learn a song, you can simply find the TAB online and play it. This is a great advance and we’re all very lucky that all these TABs are available for us, but there is a problem. When you stop trying to figure out how to play something by ear, your listening skills weaken. A large majority of guitarists now don’t even know how to figure out how to play something basic by ear. So what happens when you can’t find the TAB for the song you want to learn? What happens when you join a band and they ask you to learn their songs but don’t provide you with TAB?
What Ear Training can do for you
When you take the time to train your ears, many new abilities and skills appear that you didn’t realize were available before. Here’s a quick list of things you can easily do when you train your ears:
- Figure out chords instantly
- Transcribe music (even music in your head!)
- Improvise over a chord progression without having to ask what key to play in
- Tune your guitar without the need for a tuner
- Become a better rhythm player
- Recognize when your intonation is out
The simple truth is you will become a better musician when you train your ears – not just a better guitarist. There are countless guitarists out there with amazing skills, but very poor musicians because they can’t properly listen to music and understand what is happening on a deeper level.
How to get started with Ear Training
As the name suggests, you can actually train your ears and it isn’t hard. Just like training at a gym, it takes effort over time but eventually you will see the benefits. Before you go through this process and build up your ear skills, it’s hard to imagine what all the fuss is about. But after that first time you can instantly recognize a chord or scale used in a song just by listening to it, you will understand why it’s worth the effort.
There are quite a few different ways you can train your ears. I personally have used three different options: EarMaster Pro, GNU Solfege (free), and Auralia. They all do fantastic jobs and are easy enough to use.
One final reason to train your ears
Guitarists in the distant past used to train their ears because they had no other choice – they didn’t have accurate TABs to tell them exactly what to play. They had to figure everything out by ear. The reality is very few guitarists today actually take the time to develop these skills. That means if you spend the time and effort to develop your listening skills you will be at an advantage. Once you train your ears past a certain level of ability, you will fully understand why it’s worth the time and effort.