When you’re just starting out training your ears, it can be overwhelming. There are so many types of ear training you can do, and the possibilities are as limitless as music itself.
So even once you’ve got clear on your ear training goals you may be left wondering: how long should I spend on this?
There are two answers to this question. Hopefully you’re planning on doing ear training every day, and so there’s a question of how long to do ear training for each day (i.e. how long is an ear training session).
There’s also the question of how long you should plan to train your ears for in the long term: how many weeks, months or years.
1. How long should you do ear training for each day?
The length of your ear training sessions is ultimately up to you but there are certainly some useful guidelines to keep in mind:
- Do at least 10 minutes per day of dedicated ear training practice.
This is the absolute minimum amount of time to maintain your ear training practice and keep your skills sharp.
- Aim to spend 10-20 minutes on dedicated practice, and another 10-20 integrating it with your instrumental practice.
For example you might spend 15 minutes drilling certain types of chord progression, and then another 15 minutes playing through these same progressions on your instrument, or improvising solos over those progressions.
- Don’t over-do it.
As great as it is to spend time on ear training, one of the biggest mistakes you can make is to spend too long in one session. Your ears fatigue, you stop hearing what you should, and you will almost certainly end your session frustrated – all of which makes it less likely you’ll practice again tomorrow! Practice only until your ears start to feel tired or you feel you’re not making progress. Then take a break.
- Try to be consistent.
It is far better in the long term to spend 15 minutes every day than to spend 30 minutes, then 10, then miss a day, then do a mammoth 45 minute session, etc.
The listening skills you develop through ear training build up gradually, and you need to give your brain both sufficient stimulation, and sufficient time to rest, recover and improve. Choose a session length, and try to stick to it day after day.
How long should you practice ear training for in the long term?
The short answer is: you should be doing ear training for as long as you are learning music. For most musicians this makes it a life-long pursuit!
After a few months focusing on one skill (e.g. interval recognition) you may find your skills plateau and you stop seeing real progress. Take this as a sign not that you should stop ear training or do less – just that you should adjust the kind of ear training you’re doing. Find a new way to practice the same topic, or explore a new topic. The great thing is that ear training skills are all very complementary: improve in one, and you’ll find your skills in another improve too! So changing your focus every couple of months can quickly build a very robust set of listening skills.
Do make sure you spend long enough on each skill though. It can be tempting at first to jump between topics, dabbling in each, but not studying any for long enough to really see progress. This quickly leads to frustration.
Explore different topics to choose your focus, and then commit to spending at least a few weeks, preferably a couple of months really honing those skills before branching out to another topic.
Planning out your studies in the long term (e.g. one year at a time) is useful. You’ll almost certainly find things go differently than expected once you get stuck in (some things will prove harder than expected, others easier), but knowing in advance what you’re hoping to accomplish, and how long each period of training will last can help you keep track of the bigger picture of how you’re developing as a musician.
With this kind of rotation of topics, there’s no reason ear training ever needs to become boring or lose its interest for you – even if you’re practising consistently every day.
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