Hey, guys. My name is Joanna, also known on YouTube as Just Another Flutist. Do you know that I actually failed my first ear training course in college?

Yes, I was extremely unprepared for it, and I want to make sure that you guys are not in that same predicament. Thankfully, Musical U invited me to make a guest video for you (see below). So today I want to give you five tips on how to prepare for your first ear training course.

1. Get used to singing out loud.

A lot of us who are going into music school probably don’t actually sing out loud very much – besides the vocal majors of course. Whenever possible, instrumentalists tend to hide behind their instrument instead of singing out loud. I know that I am like that, and a lot of my friends are like this as well.

Why do you have to get used to singing out loud?

Ear training courses are not just about listening to music, and being able to identify chords, intervals, etc. You will almost always be tested on sight-singing, as well.

You don’t need to worry about reading and sight-singing right now because your course will teach you how to do it. What I’m telling you is that you need to get used to singing out loud.

I failed my first ear training course because I was so timid about my own voice that I just could not sing anything during my exam.

How do you get used to singing out loud?

Sing in the shower, sing by yourself in your car, sing to the radio. You can go to karaoke with your friends – you could even just line up your stuffed animals and sing to them. That will just get you to feel a little bit more anxious while you’re singing. The idea is for you to desensitize yourself to your nervousness in terms of singing.

2. Learn basic solfege

Solfege is just a system where pitches in the western scale are sung with basic syllables. Basically, do re mi fa sol la ti do is sung as do re mi fa sol la ti do.

It took me awhile before I could sing confidently like that. Ear training courses will actually teach you solfege. But I found that singing the do re mi song from the Sound of Music a lot made it so much easier for me to learn how to sing in solfege when I was actually in the course.

It’s just a wonderfully fun way of learning solfege that will actually stick in your mind, and it will make life a lot easier once you are learning to sing different tunes using solfege.


3. Practice singing intervals

Do re do, that is a major second. Do mi do, that’s a major third. Do fa do, that’s a perfect fourth. Do sol do, that’s a perfect fifth, etc.

You want to start getting used to singing these intervals so that when you start singing the actual sight-singing material in your ear training course, a perfect fourth and a perfect fifth won’t sound exactly the same to you. You want to get used to the subtle differences between the intervals now before you start your course.

I would also add that you want to go backwards, as well. You start at the top of the scale and you practice your intervals going down. Do ti do, that’s a minor second. Do la do, that is a minor third. Do sol do, that’s a perfect fourth. Do fa do, that’s a perfect fifth, and so on. You just want to practice this exercise everyday. It doesn’t actually take a really long time. You can think of it kind of like brushing your teeth:

  • Do re do mi do fa do sol do la do ti do do
  • Do ti do la do sol do fa do mi do re do do

Just make sure you start practicing this exercise on the piano so that you have a guide. If you don’t have a piano, there are plenty of virtual pianos on the internet, so just go Google a virtual piano and practice with that.

4. Practice the basic chord progressions

You want to start with something very simple, just a tonic chord, dominant chord, and then back to tonic. If we’re thinking tonic, it would be the first, third, and fifth note of your scale. In solfege, it would be do mi sol mi do.

I – V

If you were to use all the lovely voice leading rules, and you wanted a dominant chord right after the tonic, you would use the first inversion of the dominant chord, so in this case it would be ti re sol re ti, and then you’d go back to the tonic, do mi sol mi do.

When you watch the video, you’ll see that I actually use my fingers to mimic playing this on the piano. Again, practice these first with the piano because that will teach you where the pitches are supposed to lie.

I – IV – I – V – I

Then when you get bored of that, you can add the subdominant chord. The subdominant chord is the IV chord. Because we are following the lovely voice leading rules, we are going to be using the second inversion of the IV chord, so:

  • tonic: do mi so mi do
  • IV chord, 2nd inversion: do fa la fa do
  • back to the tonic: do mi sol mi do
  • then dominant: ti re sol re ti
  • and back to the tonic: do mi sol mi do.

Then when you get bored of that, try doing it in different keys. Try singing it with the piano, and then try singing it without the piano. When you’re first learning how to sing chords like this it feels very unnatural. It feels really weird. I wish that I had gotten over how weird it feels before I jumped into my ear training course.

In the ear training course, you are actually actively learning these progressions. Having to learn these progressions while you’re still feeling like it’s weird to sing in progressions really hinders the learning process. I would rather you guys get over the weirdness of singing chords now before you get into your actual course.

5. Learn all of your guilty pleasure music by ear

I will play film soundtrack music over and over and over, and I will figure it out on the flute. What does this do? This first forces you to figure out what key you’re in, which a lot of ear training courses don’t even ask you to do. They usually just give you the key before they dictate something to you.

The second thing that happens is it forces you to figure out how the melody is constructed. You will actually be able to start recognizing patterns.

Figuring out melodies by ear will also just help you get over the initial shock of what it’s like to figure out melodies by ear. A lot of us who are not confident in that area of music will often feel like we cannot do it, therefore we shouldn’t touch it. But if you do touch it and play with it before you enter your ear training course, when you are actually sitting there doing your first dictation you won’t be paralyzed by fear that you cannot do it – because you will have already done it for fun.

Many thanks to Musical U for inviting me to make this guest video. I certainly wish that I knew these tips before failing my first ear training course. I hope it helps you out! Now go ahead and line up those stuffed animals and give them your best, “Do a deer, a female deer. Re a drop of golden sun…

Joanna Tse, known as “JustAnotherFlutist” on YouTube with a following of over 20,000 subscribers, is a flutist, online video content creator, and online flute instructor based in Seattle, Washington. Her online videos consist of topical discussions, video blogs, tutorials, and online flute and music theory courses on YouTube and Curious.com. She is also partnered with the Flute Center of New York, and together, they create monthly flute review videos on JustAnotherFlutist.