Easy Ear Training students are always welcome to ask for help with their practice, whether as part of our ear training Crash Course or in our community forums. Here are just some of the questions we’ve had over the last month. Do any of their problems seem familiar?

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

Improving as a Singer

Singing ear training

Q: A simple question for you: how can I learn to sing better?

A: There are a number of techniques and exercises which can improve your singing voice. It really depends on which aspects of your voice leave room for improvement!

I’d recommend starting from our Singing page. You might also be interested in our new method for learning to sing.

Singing ear training

Q: I play guitar and sing and I would like to improve my singing. I have 90 minutes daily commute in the car to practice. What exercises are there that I can do that would help me with ear training?

A: It sounds like the best match for you would be our ear training exercise MP3s: Intervals, Chords and Chord Progressions. You can download these and then play them to practice singing and recognising musical elements. The interval ones will be most suitable for singing practice, but singing the arpeggios of the chords would also be helpful.

We also offer our book Ear Training Essentials as an audiobook. This is more instructional than practical exercises, but might be useful to help you plan your training.

Identifying and comparing the different sounds in music

Audio effects ear training

Q: I want some simple guidelines and maybe some practice exercises to help me identify, compare and learn from all the sound effects in music. I am interested in the physics/math, artistic significance and for my own composing and editing.

A: It sounds like you are mostly interested in audio effects, the different processes which can be applied (such as reverb, distortion, phaser) to modify the overall sound of music or instruments. To train your ears to recognise these different effects and their parameters I would recommend that topic page.

You also mention composing and editing so I think you might find our Song Writing and Composing articles interesting. It’s a different area of ear training but quite nicely complementary to the audio side of things.

When it comes to hands-on practice exercises we offer a range of training products and ear training exercise MP3s.

Training for the Studio

Audio ear training

Q: I want to train my ears for studio recording, mixing and mastering. Do you have exercise MP3s for EQ training too?

A: Although not part of our ear training exercises page, we do indeed have plenty of practice clips for audio ear training!

I would recommend working through our two series:

  1. Frequency Fundamentals
  2. Hearing Effects

You will find these provide a variety of sound clips which you can download and practice with.

Difficulty recognising chords by ear…

Chord progression ear training

Q: My ear is improving, but very slowly. I find it very difficult to distinguish between the C chord and Am.

A: Training the ear does take time and persistence – try to stay patient! If you find yourself getting frustrated it might be worth looking at these possible explanations.

If you’re having trouble distinguishing C major and A minor chords, there are a couple of things you could try:

  1. Firstly, if you aren’t already practising interval recognition, this would be worth some time. Learning to hear the individual intervals in chords helps your ear to recognise them more reliably. The major/minor interval distinctions may also help you tune into the major/minor differences in chords.
  2. Since C major and A minor are closely related you might find it helpful to study them in their natural environment rather than isolation. Doing chord progression ear training will introduce you to the hearing C major and A minor as the I and vi chord of the key of C and so help you practise telling them apart in progressions.

Applying Ear Training to Real Music

Ear training

Q: I have been helping my students with ear training and find that the hardest thing is to apply it in the context of performances to make it real rather than being a skill in a silo. Do you have some contemporary music that helps bring it all together?

A: We try to incorporate modern music wherever possible in the articles on our site. For example in our articles on 3-chord songs or our modern interval reference songs.

We also have offer ear training albums which teach intervals and chords using real musical recordings.

Trouble With Intervals

Interval ear training

Q: I have been listening to the interval ear training MP3s every time I travel between work and home for about a week now, and also using your apps and other apps. I am improving, but really slowly.

I still have problems with recognizing semitones and tones, even though I’ve played guitar for more than a decade.

A: Don’t get discouraged if you struggle with tones and semitones. As you’ll see from this FAQ, you are not alone!

I would recommend trying some of the tips in this article and exploring other intervals before returning to tones and semitones later. Having built your relative pitch you may find it easier later on.

In particular, practising with major and minor sevenths (which are the inversions of tones and semitones) might be a nice complementary exercise for you.

Interval ear training

Q: I was working with your RelativePitch app, but I got stuck on major and minor thirds. Specifically, the descending forms seem to elude me completely.

On a bad day I get no more than 50% right, which is pure guesswork. On a good day maybe 80%. I have not experienced this problem with any of the other intervals and believe me, I have really work hard at trying to figure this one out!

Ascending major/minor is easy. Harmonic is harder, but manageable. Yet for some reason, I find the descending major/minor to be impossible!

A: The biggest tip I can give you is: sing! It doesn’t matter if you’re a confident singer or not, the trick is to use your voice to “play around” with the notes you’ve heard. In this case, when you hear the descending interval, you can then sing back the two notes in the opposite order, making it an ascending interval. This can make it much easier to recognise.

As you practice doing this, you’ll start being able to do it in your head (i.e. using audiation) without singing out loud. And over time you won’t even need to do that transformation, you will start recognising the descending interval directly.

Apart from that, there are a few tips which are always worth considering:

  1. Try a different instrument – sometimes another timbre just makes things easier.
  2. Try testing yourself with a different set of intervals. For example, if major and minor thirds are difficult to tell apart, spend some time training with minor thirds and perfect fifths, and then a while training with semitones and major thirds, etc. Mix up the combinations of consonant and dissonant intervals, and intervals of different sizes. Then when you come back to major vs minor thirds you may find you just know each of their characteristic sounds better and can tell them apart.
  3. Don’t let yourself get stuck. Although RelativePitch has a recommended progression of lessons, there is no absolute requirement to complete them in order. Often when you hit a hurdle it’s best to simply move on to other challenges, and return later. The wonderful thing about interval training is that it all builds your core sense of relative pitch, so even practising other interval types can help make it easier when you return to that sticking point later on.

Planning My Training

General ear training

Q: Just a couple of questions!

Is half an hour a day of ear training enough time in order to see results?

Also, is it better to stick to a particular type of ear training until I master it or should I do more than one at once?

A: These questions are fundamental and so they are very important. To answer directly:

1: 30 minutes per day is an excellent amount of time to dedicate to ear training. In fact, many people find their ears getting “tired” after 15-20 minutes of determined practice. But this depends a lot on how varied your training regime is. For example, 30 minutes of interval drills will be exhausting – but a mix of practising intervals, chords, and playing by ear could easily fill 30+ minutes.

Because so many students struggle to find time for regular ear training, my recommendation tends to be: aim for 10 minutes every day. If you think “ear training takes 30 minutes” it often leads to missed sessions and irregular practice as other things take priority.

That said, if you can regularly spend 30 minutes on it, you will see impressive results quickly.

See also:

2: To see progress you’ll want to stay focused. Particularly when beginning a new topic, it will take a couple of weeks before you start to get comfortable with it, so it’s best not to try to juggle too many topics at once. If you’re just starting out I would recommend choosing one topic and sticking with it for at least a month before introducing another one. After that you can be a bit more flexible about how much time you spend on how many topics. But still, focus and regularity are the key to getting results.

See also:

Thanks to all our students for their interesting questions! I hope you, the reader, have found some of the suggestions here useful for your own training.

And remember: if you have any questions of your own you are always welcome to ask in our forums where you can get help from the EET team and other ear training musicians.