When you’re first starting out, ear training can seem like a strange and pointless activity. If you are studying just to pass an exam (e.g. the “aural skills” section of ABRSM instrument exams, or your music college’s ear training final) then you can easily get bored and frustrated with your ear training progress.

Fortunately, ear training does get easier.

The more you do it the better you get

In a way, it’s as simple as that. You do need to pay attention to the way you approach ear training, and stay true to your musical goals for it to be rewarding. But as long as you are training in the right way you will see continual improvement, and what was once very challenging will become instinctive.

This is probably the best reward from persisting with ear training: you start to feel more “naturally” musical as the ear training lessons become truly ingrained in your musicality.

You learn to train more effectively

Inevitably you must begin training your ears according to somebody else’s methods that they teach you, perhaps even following a set syllabus.

This can get you started, but you will quickly want to dissect that approach and find ways to better tailor it to your own musical self. For example:

  • You might find that you learn well from recorded examples.
  • You might find that singing helps you enormously.
  • You might find that all ear training is wasted unless you have your instrument in your hands while doing it.

Every musician is different!

You must also tailor the course of your ear training to make sure it leads to the goals you’re truly excited about, and that it has suitable milestones along the way to keep you motivated.

By continually refining your own approach to ear training you tailor it more and more precisely to what works for you. Your progress then accelerates, making ear training easier and easier the longer you do it.

It’s easy if you’re getting results

Ultimately what makes ear training feel hard is that you aren’t getting results. If you practice the same thing over and over and never seem to do better in the corresponding test, it’s natural to decide that ear training is simply difficult.

However, it’s actually a sign that your approach is not quite right. For example:

  • Perhaps you have skipped ahead too fast.
  • Perhaps you’re practising something that isn’t quite suitable for your music learning.
  • Perhaps your testing method doesn’t actually reflect the musical skill you’re trying to learn.

To put it simply: if you aren’t making progress, you need to adjust your approach.

That isn’t to say you don’t need a bit of persistence and regular practice, but if your progress has stalled or you find yourself resenting the very idea of training your ears – it’s time for a change.

Once you adjust your approach to one which allows you to progress and see results, you will find that ear training no longer seems so difficult. In time you may even return to the task which frustrated you and find that your recent training has made even that now seem easy.

Ear training is a continual process of teaching your brain and ears to recognise elements in music. This does take time, and will require some persistence. You can expect it to be challenging at times – indeed, that’s a sign that you are pushing yourself appropriately towards your goals.

However, if it begins to feel “too hard”, or you start to wonder if you are capable of achieving those goals, stop and re-assess your approach.

There will be ways to change what you’re doing which allow you to make progress once more, and find ear training easy and enjoyable again.

Similar questions answered on this page:

  • When does ear training get easy?
  • Why are other people better at ear training than me?
  • Should I just give up if ear training is too hard?

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