Music & Life

Your teenage daughter can rattle off the lyrics to her 320 favorite tunes on her iPod but doesn’t remember you asking her to babysit her younger brother on Saturday night. Your high school senior can improv the sweetest guitar riff complexities by ear on the spot, yet blanks out during the chemistry lecture at school.

What is it about music that imprints a solid memory in adults and teens? Are there ways to use music to improve communication and high school performance? How important is listening? Can music improve parent and teen communication? How important is ear training for young musicians and teens?

Ear training can help teenagers get the most out of music

Music and Teen Identity

What is your teen thinking?

Every parent attempts to answer this question. Try paying attention to your teen’s latest playlist. Listening to music has become a large part of identity in contemporary teen culture[1]. Music helps a teenager define his or her place within society and provides a way to experience emotion in a non-confrontational way. Music helps a teen communicate feelings of love, loss, depression, anger, and fear. Singing the lyrics to a love song can bring up euphoric feelings of romance for a high school crush, or the disturbing lines of a violent tune may put into music emotions your teen is afraid to express directly.

Music often helps define teen social groups. Like-minded high school students will often use clothing and musical preferences to create a very specific group identity. Some examples from the past include Goths, Punk, Emo, and Metal Heads. Each group used music to communicate a specific message about their world view[2]. A concerned parent or school counselor often discovers hidden emotions in their teen by listening to the lyrics of favorite bands or groups. Asking questions like:

  • “What do you like about this song?”
  • “How do these lyrics relate to you?”
  • “Do you like how this song makes you feel?”

can open up the dialogue between teen and adult in a safe way.

Back to Bach

Millions of teens define themselves through musical performance. Ear training benefits young musicians in a variety of ways. For example, ear training benefits your budding guitar player by giving him or her the tools to improvise more complex guitar riffs and communicate with their band in spontaneous ways. Your teenage Neil Peart or Sheila E. hopeful can use ear training exercises to improve rhythm ( Ear training exercises focusing on harmony help budding keyboardists and vocalists improve their overall musicianship.

Composer and brilliant musical educator Johann Sebastian Bach used ear training to teach his young music students. During the Baroque Era ear training was integral to the music education process. Young musicians learned how to “audiate,” or understand and hear music in their mind without any sound present[3]. For example, a music student hears a melody in her head, or a teenage pianist learns a piano etude by ear. During the Baroque Era, illiteracy was high and students did not learn by reading notes on a page. Instead, their musicianship was based on intense ear training focused on learning the music by ear first, then reading the written score[3]. There’s a lot we could learn from this practice!

Tools for you

Find out how to teach your teen about ear training, and learn more about music and teens:

iPhone apps can make ear training fun, easy and portable

1. Fun Ear Training iPhone Apps

Is your teen glued to his iPhone or iPod Touch? Easy Ear Training has fun iPhone apps that make ear training easy for your teen. Try our melody game Step and a Half or the latest ear training tool Chordelia: Triad Tutor. You can even try out interval training for free with RelativePitchLite!

2. Get hip with the music, Mom.

The Teen Music site helps you stay up to dateNot sure who the Neon Trees are? Don’t know Carrie Underwood from Victoria Justice? Check out the latest and fave teen music idols at has a special music video page with free featured videos from the latest teen heartthrobs.

Practice Ear Training with Friends

3. Ear Training with a Friend

Loneliness and isolation are common issues during the teenage years – so why practice music alone? For the high school musician in your life, try the excellent ear training exercises at Jazz Advice that encourage ear training with a partner. These are excellent ear training exercises for the classroom setting.

Introducing Intervals MP3 album for easy interval learning

4. Unravelling Music: Introducing Intervals

For a pain-free and fun way to learn ear training and intervals, check out Unravelling Music: Introducing Intervals. Your teen will love the driving electronic tracks and ambient rock tunes and listening will help them become a better musician.

5. News on Teens and Music Therapy

Parents can find many resources regarding music therapy and teens at sites like the American Music Therapy website and The World Federation of Music Therapy.

There are many ways to encourage ear training and listening in your teen and in yourself. Open up the lines of communication through music.

Share your musical experiences and questions in the comments below!