If you want real results from your ear training you need to make sure your training is leading towards the musical goals you truly care about. Most musicians fail in their ear training practice because they have either started training without setting any real goals, or they’ve chosen goals that are vague, unsuitable, or just plain boring.

Get this year off to a great start and ensure you get maximum benefit from the time you’ll spend on ear training by setting some MAGIC ear training goals.

What are “MAGIC” ear training goals?

In the world of music we often shy away from goal-setting, seeing it as somehow limiting the natural creativity of musical development. However, just like registering for an instrumental exam motivates and guides you to rapid progress on your instrument, if you want to see your ears improve fast you must set yourself specific timed targets to aim for.

As you decide what to work on in the year ahead, keep this overall process in mind:

  1. Start from our Topics page and spend a while reading about the different types of ear training which can help you as a musician.
    For example: if you play guitar, start with the Guitar page. If you’re a song-writer, check out the song-writing page. Explore widely to get a broad understanding of all that ear training could do for you.
  2. Decide which musical skill you want ear training to help you with.
    Examples: Playing the chords to songs by ear, improvising effective solos, playing well with other musicians, etc.
  3. Identify the ear training exercises which contribute to that skill and plan your training with them.
    The articles on this site will help you connect the exercises to the rest of your musical life
  4. Train consistently according to your plan.

You might also find these FAQs helpful:

Now that you have an overall sense of what you want to accomplish this year, it’s time to add some MAGIC!

In the business world people often talk about “SMART” goals: goals which are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-bound.

That’s all well and good, and keeping it in mind does help you set effective goals – but isn’t music just a little more… magical than the dry world of business?

Are your ear training goals MAGIC?

We’re going to use the acronym MAGIC to make sure our ear training goals are going to be effective. What does that mean? Let’s go through it in order.


M is for Musical ♪♫♬♫♪

This one should go without saying – but in fact it’s often forgotten!

One of the biggest mistakes with ear training goals is that musicians forget to keep them musical. Once you’re immersed in the world of intervals and triads and inversions, it can be easy to work on ear training for ear training’s sake. But this is not a sustainable approach. You can’t let your ear training become dry theoretical exercises or you’ll quickly lose interest.

Ensure that your ear training goals are inherently musical and it will be easier to relate all your ear training practice to the rest of your musical life and you’ll ensure your training stays enjoyable and your motivation stays strong.


A is for Attainable

It’s good to be ambitious and choose goals which inspire you, but you must also make sure those goals are realistically attainable.

You can’t expect to have professional-level ears overnight, but you can make significant progress towards that target. Choose goals which will stretch you but which you think you can realistically reach in the year ahead.

Then construct your ear training plan to get you there step-by-step so that even quite ambitious goals are broken down into easily achievable chunks.


G is for Growth-Oriented

It’s no use choosing random goals which provide only a momentary excitement which quickly fades.

You should think about the big picture: what kind of musician do you dream of becoming?

Then ask yourself what ear training goals will help you grow into that musician.

Set growth-oriented goals like this and every step of the journey will bring you one step closer to being the musician you want to be.


I is for Interesting

The biggest stumbling block most musicians hit with ear training is they lose interest and so don’t keep it up.

Make sure that you keep your goals interesting, as well as the methods you use to practice and reach them.

You need to plan ways to keep your ear training interesting – day after day and week after week – until you reach those interesting goals.


C is for Clear

One of the biggest mistakes you can make in goal setting is to get the general idea of what you want to achieve – and leave it at that!

For your goals to be effective they must be clear. That means detailed, precise and well-understood.

If your goals are vague or too scattered in focus, you will find your ear training wanders during the course of the year and doesn’t reliable bring you closer to them.

Make sure to analyse every goal you set and ask: Could this be clearer? Is it specific? Will I know for sure when I’ve reached it?

Examples of MAGIC goals

Let’s try putting it into practice. Here are some examples of common ear training goals and then how they can be rephrased with a bit of MAGIC…

Example 1

Without MAGIC: I want to play by ear
With MAGIC: I want to play the simple tunes of the folk songs I love by ear on my violin and rarely make mistakes.

Example 2

Without MAGIC: I want to sing in tune
With MAGIC: I want to be able to reliably match pitch with the other singers in my choir and be confident enough to sing a solo in rehearsal.

Example 3

Without MAGIC: I want to produce better songs
With MAGIC: I want to develop my 10-band EQ skills so that I can always tell which frequency band needs adjusting when I’m mixing my next album.

Now it’s your turn. See if you can transform these other ear training goals into MAGICal ones:

  • I want to write better songs
  • I wish I could recognise what scale a song is using
  • I want to play awesome guitar solos

Share your answers—and your own MAGIC goals—in the comments below!