If you’ve done ear training for one instrument and are now starting to learn another instrument you might wonder how to transfer your listening skills from one to the other.

In fact, you don’t need to worry about this. You ear training skills will naturally and automatically help you with your new instrument.

If you have developed your ear for music based on one instrument you have taught your ear general musical understanding – and this is universal, applying across all instruments.

You will find that if you have a strong ear for harmony, for example, that will apply just as much on piano as guitar. Or if you’ve honed your sense of rhythm by playing drums, you will find that naturally comes out when you start playing bass.

There are some things to be aware of though:

Translating Your Ear Training

Ear training teaches you to hear more and understand what you’re hearing. When you change instrument you’ll find you still hear more – but your understanding might need a little “translation” for your new instrument.

For example, you might have learned to reliably recognise intervals when played on the piano. However, the timbre of a guitar is very different and at first you might find it difficult to recognise those same intervals on guitar.

Or if you have studied chord ear training on your clarinet using arpeggios, you might find some mental adaptation is required to start thinking about chords when all the notes are played together, such as on guitar.

Apart from these small translations, you will find your ear training progress is vastly accelerated by having already gone through the process on one instrument. Your ears may not be quite as reliable on your new instrument as your main instrument, but you will be able to quickly bring them up to the same standard with a bit of dedicated practice.

Instrument-Specific Listening Skills

Some ear training exercises are quite specific to a certain instrument. For example, if you have been playing classical piano, then when you begin learning electric guitar there will be a whole world of audio effects ear training to familiarise yourself with. Or if you switch from a fretted bass to a fretless you might find you need some pitch ear training to refine your fretless playing.

Take the time to learn every aspect of your new instrument, including which listening skills are most important and how you can do targeted ear training to develop them.

Goal-Oriented Ear Training

Ear training is most effective when motivated by big, clear, exciting goals. When you change instruments you must stop and re-assess your goals, and then plan your ear training accordingly.

More than likely, the training plan you designed for one instrument will not be appropriate for your new instrument. It would be a mistake to simply continue on without choosing new goals which motivate you and adapting your training to match.

With these points in mind, you should proceed confidently to ear training on your new instrument. You’re at a strong advantage by having already developed your musical ear to a certain degree, and you will find that most of your ear training progress benefits you immediately on your new instrument.

In fact, this is why so many excellent musicians play multiple instruments. They find it easy to take up any new instrument because they need only master the physical side of playing. All the musical understanding, instinct and overall musicianship they need to play the instrument well is already embedded in their brain and ears.

If you have already invested the time to train your ears, you will find it very rewarding to reap the benefits on a new instrument!

Similar questions answered on this page:

  • How do you do ear training on a second instrument?
  • Does ear training help you learn new instruments?
  • Why can some musicians play many different instruments?