Ear Training – Work Your Ears!

Ear training, as painful as it was during undergraduate theory, was one of my most useful classes, and is an essential skill for a musician on any instrument. For players of brass instruments (especially horn) it is especially important, since one fingering can play about a dozen notes! Knowing how to play the horn technically is incredibly important, but it’s also important to “hear” the notes in your head before playing them, and improving that ability will improve your horn playing immensely!

With that said, I found a great (free) resource to help train your ear: TonedEar.com. While this website won’t fully take the place of undergraduate ear training, it has several different exercises to help you better recognize intervals, chords, and scales. Probably the most useful section of the website for wind and brass players would be its “Intervals” section, where you hear two different notes and must identify the interval between them.

There are also quite a few options to customize the difficulty:

  • You can pick the specific intervals to be tested (from a half step to a M9)
  • You can choose between ascending intervals, descending intervals, or both
  • You can change the speed that you hear the intervals from three different options
  • You can choose to hear the intervals starting from the same note or different notes

Just about the only negative of the “Interval” quiz is that you never see the two notes placed on the staff, even after correctly identifying the interval. If you need a refresher on different intervals, here is what they all look like from middle C:

“Main intervals from C” by Paolo.dL – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Main_intervals_from_C.png#/media/File:Main_intervals_from_C.png

This is not a huge negative, though, and in fact you can select the “Melodic Dictation” mode and while you pick the scale degrees of the notes instead of the interval between them, you do get to see them on the staff.

Everything on this site is pretty nicely done, but here are some of the others that horn (or wind players in general) should try out:

  • Scale quiz – Identifying different types of major, minor, and modal scales.
  • Intervals in Context – You hear a chord progression (I-IV-V-I) and two single notes, and you must identify the scale degree of each of the single notes and the interval between them.
  • The Chords quiz is potentially useful, but I don’t see an option to have the chord rolled until after you’ve guessed it correctly – that option would make this a great resource for identifying various types of arpeggios, but the quiz as-is is still very useful.
  • I honestly wouldn’t worry about the Perfect Pitch quiz – if you can use it to have a few anchor notes (concert F and Bb, for example) that’s great, but solid relative pitch is much more useful than flaky perfect pitch.

The most important thing is to set aside 3-5 minutes per day to do this stuff – this would be (at least for my students) a perfectly good use of a few minutes of practice time, but make sure you start with the “Interval” quiz and keep the intervals simple until you can get a score of 80% or better correct!