For many ear training students, music is not their full time occupation, and so musical ear training is something that must be somehow fit in among many other commitments and activities.
Perhaps you are a school student and music is an extra-curricular activity. Or maybe you’re at college, but music isn’t your major. It may be that you have a 9-5 job, and music is a hobby in your spare time.
Even full-time musicians sometimes struggle to make time for ear training and this is understandable. From instrument skills to learning repertoire to group rehearsals to recording sessions, there are plenty of other musical activities to distract you from improving your ears!
However if you want to become an excellent musician and enjoy music in the long term, it is essential that you make time for ear training – whether music is your full time occupation or a part-time pursuit.
Tips for fitting in ear training
It’s not very helpful to just say “make time for ear training, it’s important!” so here are some practical tips for fitting ear training exercises into your schedule:
KISS: Keep It Short and Serious.
Although it is generally best to allocate at least 15 minutes for ear training practice sessions, there is also real value in quick “lightning round” style practice. There are two things which make this work:
- Be Serious: a 3-minute session is only worth doing if you are concentrating fully for those 3 minutes. Don’t waste time dabbling – be serious about short sessions.
- Do It Often: if you replace a daily 15 minute session with mini 3-minute sessions, you’ll need several of them (5-10) during the course of the day to make up for it.
If you follow these two guidelines, mini practice sessions can be very effective indeed, and much easier to fit into a busy day.
If you see ear training as an isolated activity it can feel like a real effort to fit it into your daily schedule. Try instead treating ear training as an essential part of your normal music practice. For most musicians this means their instrument practice, so every time you pick up your instrument, try to start or end the session by working on your listening skills.
This could mean:
- practising interval recognition by playing examples on your instrument
- improvising tunes by ear
- practising working out melodies or harmonies by ear
- active listening to recordings of the pieces you’re practising on your instrument
By integrating ear training into the practice you already do, it stops being “one more thing to worry about” and is instead simply a modification of what already fits into your normal schedule.
Explore passive ear training
Not all ear training requires the help of a tutor, instrument or app. In fact you can train your ears solely by listening, as long as you are paying careful attention, i.e. listening actively.
By adding some passive methods to your ear training toolkit you will find it much easier to adapt ear training to suit your routine, finding moments in your day when you can easily devote your ears and attention to music, even if your fingers are otherwise occupied.
Perhaps the most important factor in planning your ear training is consistency. Be regular about when and how you practice, and you will make fast reliable progress. However, to find a sustainable way to incorporate ear training into your musical life, you must be open to experimenting.
The suggestions above should help you find a way to consistently make time for ear training and enjoy its rewards – even amid the busiest of musical lives!
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