We continually get interested ear training questions from students on our ear training Crash Course and in our ear training forums. Here are just some of the questions we’ve had over the last month and the advice we gave…

Note: the questions have been rephrased to respect our students’ privacy.

Major vs Minor 3rds

Intervals ear training

Q: I have been training with the Earmaster software but have problems hearing the differences between intervals of minor and major thirds. I feel a little frustrated because I can’t hear the differences. What ideas can you give me to learn these intervals?

A: Don’t get discouraged! It’s very normal to get stuck on certain pairs of intervals as you develop your sense of relative pitch.

We have an article with some tips on major vs minor and some advice for successfully learning intervals here:

Playing Concertina by Ear

Playing By Ear ear training

Q: What is the best way to improve my playing by ear on my English Concertina? I want to reliably play along, adding to the musical effect, and play solos without going wrong.

A: The best place to start would be our Playing By Ear page and the Learn To Play By Ear series of articles. These will help to explain the different aspects of playing music by ear and how you can develop these skills yourself.

Playing Chord Piano Patterns By Ear

Chords ear training

Q: I want to be able to improvise and to “grok” the simple music I am playing on the piano. I’ve seen some patterns (left hand tends to stay in a chord for example, or at least play notes within the chord) and I think ear training is the next step as I am frustrated in not “feeling” the link between what keys I press and what I hear.

A: I would recommend checking out our Playing By Ear page. You might also find our Chord Progressions page useful as learning “chord piano” is the easiest route to satisfying, expressive improvisation, as well as helping you figure out songs by ear and play around with the pieces you already know how to play on piano. I wrote a bit about one way to do this here.

Struggling with David Lucas Burge Intervals

Intervals ear training

Q: I really appreciated reading your own story in the Crash Course. I’m interested to know you got on with the David Lucas Burge “Relative Pitch” course. Would you recommend that to someone like me who although trying to play music for countless years still struggles with distinguishing 3rds and 2nds, majors from minors, etc. How poor is that?!

A: Do me a favour: please don’t for a second feel guilty or inadequate about your listening skills.

Interval recognition takes time to learn, and you need to find the right approach to suit you, which then makes it easy and enjoyable to progress. Of course, some hard work and determination is required, but if you’ve struggled so far I am confident it’s more because you haven’t found the right approach yet, rather than due to any failing on your part.

Although the David Lucas Burge course has its strengths and is a popular choice, many musicians we’ve spoken with (myself included!) found the course got off to a great start – but then once things become more challenging there is no support or any suggested strategies for overcoming the hurdles. This tends to produce a lot of frustration!

Before you go ahead with interval recognition I would encourage you to think carefully about your ear training goals. Intervals are important, but whether they’re the right starting point for your training will depend a lot on your goals and background. Start with this tutorial on planning your training and then this article on setting effective goals.

If you decide intervals are the right approach I would suggest starting from our Intervals page and particularly this article on the different ways to learn interval recognition. Then you can find specific resources on our site to help you start training.

Hearing the Chords in I-IV-vi-V Progressions

Chord Progressions ear training

Q: I’m listening to chord progressions over and over trying to differentiate minor from major. Also finding the 4 chord a bit tricky, doing lots of I V vi IV. Any tips?

A: It can take several weeks to really get the hang of chord progressions and it’s important to follow a logical sequence like this suggested one so as not to overwhelm yourself.

If you haven’t already found them, we have some practice MP3s which might be useful.

For recognising the IV and V reliably, there are some great exercises in our video series by Brad Mavin which help you to listen out for the bass notes ascending or descending. It’s a bit guitar-specific but the concepts can be applied to any instrument.

Tuning a Violin By Ear

Relative Pitch ear training

Q: I’ve been learning to play violin for 3 years, but I can’t hear the notes correctly and can’t tune my violin without the help of a tuner device. I want to train my ear so that I can recognize a note when I play my violin, so I will know that I play a note out of tune, can play along a melody by ear, and tune my violin by myself. What should I do?

A: For note tuning, you’ll want to spend some time on pitch ear training. You can use a digital tuner and your singing voice to improve your pitch sensitivity.

Then to recognise notes and play melodies by ear you will need to work on relative pitch and you’ll find plenty of free resources on our website to help with that.

Recognise Specific Chords By Ear