So, you want to play by ear? Here are our top tools for practising and improving your play-by-ear skills!

Just joining us? Read this series on learning to play by ear from the start to find out:
Playing by ear

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Melody Tools’s Online Ear Trainer

IWasDoingAllRight - Online Ear Trainer’s Online Ear Trainer lets you challenge your ‘playing by ear’ and sight-reading skills

This online ear training app will automatically create and play short melodies for you. It’s full of configuration options so you might need to do a bit of experimenting to find the best settings for your ability.

But spend a bit of time playing call-and-response games with this app and your melody playing-by-ear skills are sure to improve.

See also our full profile of, previously.

Step and a Half iOS app

We designed our “Step and a Half” app for iOS (iPhone and iPod) to help you move from recognising single intervals to figuring out whole melodies by ear. You can also use it as a complete beginner though, learning each interval as you go.
Step and a Half: Melody Training iOS app
It’s a fun race-against-the-clock game of choosing blocks to recreate the melody you heard. When you’re out and about or want to develop your skills but can’t play your instrument, the Step and a Half game can help you progress.

Harmony Tools

Online chord games from Theta Music Trainer

Theta Music Trainer has some fantastic games for learning to hear harmony and chords better. Try out Chord Drops, Flash Chords, Tone Trees or Phrase Fitter.

If you know your individual chords and want to learn to hear chord progressions you should try out the Speaker Chords (below) or Flash Progressions games.

Sorry, this game requires the Adobe Flash Player and a browser with JavaScript enabled. Get Flash 
If you’ve enjoyed this game, we recommend the full Theta Music Trainer. Theta Music Trainer

Chordelia apps for iOS

Chordelia: Triad Tutor helps you recognise chords by ear
If you’re just beginning to understand the different types of chord (major, minor, augmented, diminished, seventh chords, etc.) then Chordelia: Triad Tutor is a great tool for training with your iPhone. It teaches and tests the core types of ‘triad’ chord you’ll want to start out with. Once you’ve mastered your triads you’ll be ready for a serious challenge from Chordelia: Seventh Heaven.

Rhythm Tools

YouTube Genre Practice

YouTube is a great practice tool for playing by earOne of the best tools for practising rhythm skills is one we mentioned last time: Music videos of different genres on YouTube.

Here’s a suggested approach:


Use Apple's Garageband for rhythm practice
Did you know you can use the free music tool Garageband for Mac OS X to practise your rhythm skills? Learn how in our tutorial.

Rhythm Fireworks is a fun DDR-type game

Flash Rhythm Games

It’s important to learn to recreate rhythmic styles and connect what you hear to the written notation. But as important as those skills is honing your sense of timing, which underlies all rhythmic skills.

There are lots of rhythm games out there, from Guitar Hero and Rock Band games to dance mat games and lighter play-along games like Wii Music.

For online tools to improve your timing, try the DDR-style game “Rhythm Fireworks” or MTV’s “Beat Dat”.

MTV's Beat Dat Rhythm Game helps tune your sense of timing

MTV’s Beat Dat Rhythm Game helps tune your sense of timing

Top Tool #1… Your instrument!

Last, but certainly not least: Your own musical instrument! Whether it’s a saxophone, a piano, a drum kit or your own voice, learning to perform by ear, transcribe music, compose and improvise… all of these benefit enormously from time spent simply playing and experimenting.

As we talked about before, the key to learning to play by ear is: Do it!

The tools above will help you accelerate your progress, and in particular can be useful when your instrument isn’t handy (training on the bus, anyone?!) but they should be seen as accelerators for the core practice routine of actually trying to play by ear.

Use your instrument to practise playing by ear

There are lots more tools we could mention… Don’t forget that iAction is an excellent app for planning your training and making sure you reach your goals. Our Downloads page has some handy training packs for your MP3 player. Many of the sites in our ear training site profiles series provide useful tools for playing by ear. And of course, the grand-daddy of them all, YouTube, has all the music you could need to test your playing by ear skills, from simple nursery rhymes to the latest pop hit.

Coming up next: The training courses we recommend for learning to play by ear, and how to plan out your training. Subscribe by RSS or email to keep up to date!

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