We’ve looked at how to learn to play by ear, including some great tutorials and howtos from our guest experts. Today, Rob James reveals a side-benefit of focusing on your play-by-ear skills… A bigger brain!

Learning to recognise and play back notes by ear has many benefits for a musician, but one may surprise you:

Improving your IQ.

The ability to recognise melodies, pitch changes, and overall rhythm changes can lead to improved memory and cognition, as well as better mathematics and language skills. At the same time, learning to recognise notes by ear at an early age can allow children to develop much faster reasoning and intuitive skills than other children. While learning to recognise notes by ear is difficult, its benefits can be significant if you are prepared to put in the time, and to encourage children with musical aptitude to start learning from an early age.

Let’s look at some of the ways that ear training to learn to play by ear can help with brain training too.
Music can help your brain improve

Memory Strengths

One of the key benefits of recognising notes by ear is that you can improve your memory skills. Being able to recall notes, and to identify common melodies can work here with singing lessons to build an understanding of very precise and subtle changes. Getting into good habits for learning notes can consequently translate into a more general ability to remember important information, which can in turn help to boost knowledge retention for taking tests.

Cognitive Strengths

Another benefit of learning notes by ear is that you can train your brain to develop faster, and more complex problem-solving skills. While repetitive, once you have mastered learning notes by ear, your brain will be able to process other problems, and will have developed some general skills, which can allow you to break down pieces of work and information for faster learning.

Improve Your Maths Skills

Musical aptitude, and a natural ability to recognise notes, can have a knock on effect in terms of boosting concentration for mathematics. Similarities between musical theory and mathematics can be found through mental arithmetic, as well as the ability to visualise complex numerical problems, and to know how to rearrange them to solve equations and other calculations.

Here’s a different way to use music to improve maths skills


Learning notes by ear can also help you to boost your IQ by developing a strong ear for languages. This can cover everything from small parts of sentences through to general rhythms and repeated phrases, and can work well with memory retention.

Early Learning Skills

Children who receive music lessons that encourage good ear listening and note recognition can lead to a higher IQ than children that do not receive intensive musical training. Young children are particularly able to process a lot of raw information, and trying to instill these skills at an early age can have significant positive effects.

Intuitive Effect

Being able to recognise notes by ear can ultimately help to encourage intuitive and communication skills, which work on a subconscious level to pick up patterns in music, and can then translate to other areas of life, such as recognition of complex solutions to difficult situations. Repeated practice can also make it easier for these processes to become much more embedded in daily thinking, and can increase the potential for the brain to stay strong at an older age.

As if there wasn’t enough musical motivation to spend time improving your ears, hopefully the hidden benefit of boosting your IQ will persuade you! Go on, do some ear training. It’s the smarter choice.

Rob James is a guitarist, still working on developing his ability to play by ear – and his brain too! He recommends online guitar lessons to complement developing aural skills. In his free time he can be found blogging about guitar tuition, rock history, and the problems beginner musicians face.