When you first start exploring the world of musical ear training, it’s easy to get lost in all the different approaches and conflicting advice out there. From the classical “aural skills” tests (e.g. ABRSM instrument grades), to gospel music “play by ear” tutorials (e.g. Jermaine Griggs of Hear And Play), to interactive games (e.g. Theta Music), the options are endless. And of course we also have our own recommended tools and resources here at Easy Ear Training and Musical U.
There is no one perfect ear training solution – no “one size fits all” – but fortunately, with all the options available today, you have the opportunity to find the perfect ear training approach to suit you – which is why we’re never shy about recommending other sites, products and experts here on EasyEarTraining.com.
I recently had the pleasure of meeting Scott Edwards of EarTrainingHQ.com, one of the leading ear training providers online. I was delighted to find that we share an inclusive and encouraging attitude towards music education and ear training, and enjoyed discussing how our approaches are similar – and how they’re different. So I invited Scott to join us here on EasyEarTraining.com to talk a bit about how Ear Training HQ works, and his top tips for making fast progress with ear training.
Note: Ear Training HQ just released a fantastic “All Access Pass” option for getting access to all their courses. Look out for a full Ear Training HQ review coming soon, but for now suffice to say: we recommend checking it out!
First of all could you please tell us a bit about yourself and your musical background?
Well, my name is Scott and I’m from Melbourne, Australia.
Up until about 17 I was a reluctant musician to say the least. I played the piano as a youngster and switched to the saxophone when I was about 12. I often went to my music lessons begrudgingly and played in the high school bands because some of my friends also did but I was never very enthusiastic.
At 17 I started jamming with some friends on funk and soul tunes and that’s when everything changed. I started practicing constantly and trying to learn how to improvise and play jazz.
I threw away my plans of studying engineering and auditioned to study jazz at university instead.
While I was there I started playing and gigging a tonne but I also developed an almost unhealthy obsession with ear training. As I tamed my wild ears I started focusing more and more on helping others do the same which is how Ear Training HQ came to be.
Over the last few years ear training has practically taken over. I’m playing a little bit, mostly for my own enjoyment and focusing my energy on diving deep into every aspect of ear training and refining my method.
I practiced ear training every day [… ] I started to recognise the occasional note here and there, then complete phrases and eventually I reached my goal of being able to improvise confidently by ear!
Up until I was at university I learned everything from sheet music and I couldn’t hear or recognise a thing. When I made it through the auditions into university I was using my knowledge of scales to make up solos that sounded decent but there was absolutely no connection between my ears and my fingers.
We had ear training classes that I did terribly in, but they didn’t seem to be helping me too much so I started to dive into it on my own. I basically became obsessed. All I cared about was learning to play by ear. By my final year at university I was completely neglecting my saxophone practice in favour of ear training exercises.
This phase lasted about two years. I practiced ear training every day and I cycled through every approach I could find, taking bits and pieces from each one. To cut a long story short, I started to recognise the occasional note here and there, then complete phrases and eventually I reached my goal of being able to improvise confidently by ear!
Ear Training HQ is all about breaking the ear training process down into steps.
I experienced a lot of frustration at times while I was training my ears. And when I looked back on my journey I realised that that frustration came up when I was working on the wrong things. Or sometimes on the right things at the wrong time.
So I’ve focused on breaking the entire process of training your ears down into two linear paths – one focused on hearing music clearly and the other focused on developing relative pitch so you can recognise what you hear.
I’ve found that when you follow the correct sequence with ear training you start seeing results remarkably quickly and it takes the frustration out of ear training.
I’m happy to say that a common thread with our students is speed. That sequence that I just told you about works!
A lot of musicians who have tried a number of different ear training approaches over the years often start with our material and make a huge leap of progress in the first few weeks.
This is an unbelievably rewarding thing to see.
A really surprising discovery has been realising that there’s more to the ear training sequence than I first thought.
I first started with just teaching relative pitch. But I would have some students come back to me who found even the first exercise too challenging. These students were the ones getting really down in the dumps about their ears.
This is when I really started to see that hearing was causing some musicians to struggle with ear training. It didn’t matter what relative pitch exercises they used because they weren’t hearing music clearly and that was holding them back.
Fortunately, hearing is a skill that can be developed just like relative pitch so I started creating exercises that focus on that and built a course for it.
If I’m limited to just 3 they would be:
1. Sing. A lot.
As I mentioned, one of the big surprises for me was discovering that the bottleneck is often a musician’s hearing. As you and I have discussed, singing is without a doubt the best tool for developing your ability to clearly hear each note in music so I recommend that musicians sing as much as possible. Ideally I recommend trying to sing everything you practice – repertoire, scales, transcriptions and everything else. If you can sing everything you play your ears will keep up with your fingers and that’s an amazing place to be.
2. Use a tonality based approach
Next comes relative pitch.
For this I beg everyone to start with a tonality based approach. Whether you choose solfege or scale degrees is up to you, but I firmly believe it’s essential to start with the tonic.
As I mentioned, my philosophy on ear training is all about sequence. There are a lot of approaches that focus on interval training and Easy Ear Training h