What Is Ear Training?
Ever wonder how some musicians seem to be able to play a song perfectly after hearing it once? Those players have probably spent hours training their ears to make sense of the sounds they hear and convert it into more understandable music theory. By studying the sound of different intervals, cadences, chords and rhythms, you can begin to apply what you hear in your head to the fretboard with more accuracy and confidence. If you want to be a working musician, you will probably be required at some point to learn a lot of songs in a short space of time – having a well-developed ear will speed this process up and make you more employable.
As well as improving your ability to learn songs, ear training will also help you transcribe music (write down in standard notation), and compose original bass parts.
What Is The Difference Between Perfect Pitch and Relative Pitch?
When we talk about people having ‘a good ear’, we are normally referring to someone’s level of perfect or relative pitch. However, there is a difference between the two.
Relative Pitch is the ability to be able to identify a note with reference to another note.
Perfect Pitch is the ability to be able to identify a note without reference to another note.
Not everyone has perfect pitch, but with a bit of ear training, you can develop your relative pitch to achieve the same thing (once you hear the root note).
Where To Start
It can sometimes be a bit daunting when you begin learning a new skill as there is not always an obvious place to start. In these cases, it is best to begin with very basic exercises like the ones below:
Exercise 1: Play single notes and sing them back.
Play a note, listen and internalise the sound and then stop playing and sing the note back. It may feel embarrassing at first, but being able to hear the note and reproduce it will give you a huge advantage.
Exercise 2: Play simple phrases and sing them back.
Using the C major scale as a template, come up with a short phrase and sing them back in time. Start with a group of three notes and slowly add more as you practice.
Exercise 3: Play simple bass lines and sing them back.
Choose a simple bass line you already know or come up with your own. Use different lines to include a variety of intervals and rhythms.
Exercise 4: Play a major scale and sing it back.
You might have to experiment a bit here to find the major scale that suits your range. Once you have it, take the scale one note at a time until you can sing the whole thing accurately.
Exercise 5: Play through a major scale in thirds and sing it back.
It might take you a bit more time to learn this as you will want to focus on getting it under your fingers before you try singing it back.
The trick to developing a good ear fast is to try singing along with anything you come up with. Practising with just your voice and instrument will mean you will notice mistakes quickly and improve fast.