In the big picture, ear training solves the problem of your ear not being sensitive or intelligent when it comes to music. Here at we often say that ear training is about:

  1. Hearing more detail in music
  2. Understanding what you hear in music

Thinking about it in these terms, the problems that ear training solves are that:

1. You don’t hear much detail in music

To put it another way: music sounds like a bit of a blur, or a mess, to you. You may not even be aware this is the case until you do a bit of ear training and experience the alternative!

Just like a child who is short-sighted may not realise that they could see more clearly until a parent or teacher notices they’re having trouble, a musician may not realise how much musical detail they are missing out on until they hear somebody else commenting on something they simply can’t hear, or haven’t noticed in music.

If you feel like other musicians are aware of aspects of music you just don’t notice, or you’re in awe of how much one of your friends can easily hear when they listen to a song, you are probably experiencing this “blurry hearing” without even knowing it.

Just like getting a first pair of glasses is like a small miracle to a young child with vision problems, a little bit of ear training can sharpen up a musician’s ears in a way which feels incredible and brings a great joy in music.

2. You don’t understand what you hear

Aside from “blurry hearing”, there is simply the challenge that you may not understand what you hear. Perhaps you are conscious of every note in detail – but still utterly unable to find those notes directly on your instrument. Or perhaps you can vividly remember the sound of a pop song’s chord progression – but have no idea what the chords in that progression are.

Ear training connects the sound of music with the theory and understanding which allows you to act on what you hear. It’s not enough to hear music clearly, you must also know what you’re hearing. What it’s called, how it relates to the musical context, and how you can use that in your own music making.

The big example is playing by ear. If you truly understand the notes you’re hearing, it is simply to play them back on your own instrument, either immediately or later from memory. With true aural understanding, the identity of each note is obvious to you. You aren’t simply hearing an attractive-sounding sequence of notes, you are hearing “1, 4, 1, 2, 1”, or “do fa do re do”, or “C F C D C”. It doesn’t matter quite which approach or mental frameworks you use to understand what you hear, it only matters that you have an intellectual understanding of the notes, chords, rhythms, and other musical elements which are hitting your ears.

Musical Fear and Nervousness… Or Confidence and Power

If you suffer from the two problems mentioned above, it can be frustrating and disheartening. You find that you must focus only on the accurate robotic reproduction of sheet music, and feel totally afraid to venture beyond this. The idea of improvising, playing by ear, or writing your own music can seem terrifying – something for “gifted” musicians only, and off-limits to you.

However, through ear training you can conquer each of these problems, and the reward for doing so is significant:

Instead of feeling nervous and fearful about expressing yourself in music,
you can feel confident and powerful.

You hear music in clear, rich, reliable detail, and you fundamentally, instinctively, thoroughly understand what you hear. This is a wonderful position to be in as a musician, and delivers the kind of musical freedom that you can never find without ear training practice.

Similar questions answered on this page:

  • Why do ear training?
  • How will ear training help me as a musician?
  • Why should you bother with ear training?

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