View Full Version : professional musicians and Ear Training

05-02-2005, 01:47 PM
I'm a beginner in music composition. Do you have any advice for what you wish you learned first or did first?

Also, do you know of any good websites or books/CDs that would help train my ear for notes, chords,... What's the best way to do this?

05-02-2005, 05:56 PM

I too am a beginner in composition - a composition student off at college. I can't offer much sagely advice about composition, but I do happen to know quite a lot about ear training, and I believe that I've found the best way to train! I took two sight singing classes at a community college that were completely absolutely useless, and it taught me that there is, indeed, wrong ways to train your ears. When I got to Berklee I had an epiphany about schools - that Berklee is not so popular because of its location, or faculty, or facilities, or alumni, but because it was actually a good school and knew how to teach its students.

The community college tried to teach me to train my ears by simpling looking at notes and trying to sing them by guessing their relation completely out of the blue. They even had me relate intervals to songs, which is one of the most useless things you can do because its a stupid and uneffective way to learn sight singing. "What are you going to do," my Berklee professor said of this approach, "sing every interval 100 times a day for 5 years? No, that's ridiculous."

You need to learn each scale degree in relation to the tonic. If you are in the key of C and you hear the intervals C to E you should not be thinking, "Oh, that was a major third because 'When the Saints Come Marching In' starts with a major third." - you should be thinking, "Oh, that was the root and then the third." It is so much easier and so much more effective.

How do you train this? if you're on a PC go here: http://home.scarlet.be/~abenbass/fet.html and download the BASIC ear trainer - it is free. Use it for thirty solid minutes a day how the instructions say, and I guarantee it will improve your hearing. 30 minutes is a long time at first I know, but it is only the length of a sitcom, and you will see improvement almost immediately.

Secondly, you need to start singing - it will open up a whole new world of hearing for you. I don't know what you could use for that, because the only good sight singing book I've ever come across is the one they have at Berklee (which is not a legitimate book, it is only available on campus). I highly recommend you start singing solfege, though - go ask on a singing forum.

You may also want to consider buying EarMaster (again, if you're on a PC) - it is a fantastic program and, having used many ear training programs, I can say that it has the best melodic dictation out there. Extremely powerful. Auralia is more popular but is not nearly as good, in my opinion. You can train anything with this program, by the way. Progressions, dictation, scales, chord qualities, etc. Now, this is how to get the most out of EarMaster - download midiyoke and use it to route the sound to EWQLSO Silver or some other standalone piano VST for better sound. You can even screw around and train your progressions using a big string patch sound. That's what i did. I only wish I could still use it! But, alas, i only have Macs nowadays. Oh! And if you use EarMaster still use the Functional Ear Trainer along with it.

Lastly, you may want to look into a book (on Amazon) called "Hearing and Writing Music" by Gorow. It is very popular, has great reviews, and seems to be geared toward the film composer/orchestrator. The author seems to emphasize transcription of real music. The author is a film orchestrator and also offers advice on orchestrating and turning a short hand "composer's sketch" into a full orchestration, etc. Its a nice book - not just for ear training.

I hope you enjoyed the NOVEL that I wrote you. ;)

www.earplane.com is a free site to train your ears but it is not nearly as effective as EarMaster or the Functional Ear Trainer.

Edit: you can download a free 30 day trial of EarMaster, by the way

Stefan Podell
05-02-2005, 06:16 PM
/me pulls out credit card....

05-02-2005, 07:29 PM
I have a small library of Ear Training books/CDs/software, etc as I'm a self-taught guitarist (mostly) whose ear was very under developed.

Composer is right that you need to learn contextual ear training, that is how notes relate to a tonal center. If any resource tells you to learn intervals without relation to a tonal center, then it probably isn't very good.

I also have Mr Gorow's book, but didn't really get much out of it.

Here are the texts I recommend:

"The Fanatics Guide to Ear Training and Sight Singing" and "Ear Training: One Note Complete Method" both by Bruce Arnold

"Ear Training: Volume I Scale Forms through Six Basic Tetrachords"
"Ear Training: Twelve Basic Interval Sounds to Master, Volume 2"
"Ear Training, Capturing the Basic Chord Qualities: A Comprehensive Approach to the Systematic Study of Melodic and Harmonic Structures in Music" - All by Elvo S. D'Amante

"Contemporary Ear training, Volumes I & II" by Mark Harrison

The BASIC ear training software Composer mentioned is also very good and can actually take the place of most of the texts I mentioned. There is also an advanced version, but make sure you master the basic version before moving on.

05-02-2005, 07:49 PM
I STRONGLY recommend David Lucas Burge's stuff... He has a course in perfect pitch and another in relative pitch... both are very thoroughly and excellent... they really do make ear training become second nature... also, the relative pitch course makes sure you know each and every interval/chord/etc. thoroughly... instead of throwing intervals at you and making you guess which one sounds closest, he makes sure you know a P5 like the back of your hand before he gives you that P4... great stuff... however, they are expensive and do take quite a while to complete if you have a stubborn ear...

Also, I want to stress some great advice Composer gave... don't assign tunes to intervals; try instead to just recognize them for what they are...

05-02-2005, 07:57 PM

I have both the perfect pitch and the relative pitch courses. Of the two, the relative pitch course is good. I'd recommend all musicians to avoid the perfect pitch course. Firstly, perfect pitch is not as important as a strong sense of relative pitch. Secondly, adults who do not possess some degree of perfect pitch cannot learn it. I don't care what anyone says and I did learn to differentiate between a few pitch colors, but in the end it's of no value...you have to be born with it.


05-02-2005, 08:25 PM
Also, should you decide to take Gorow's approach to ear training (with an emphasis on transcription of real music) you will find this website useful:


Berklee tries to keep these sites hidden from non-Berklee students, but I'm sure it can't hurt you going there. At the top of the page in the blue text is a link to a large library of music to train your transcription skills. Its real music in many styles, jazz, rock but also (and I'm assuming this is what you're into because most people here are) film score music. They're just short little 15 second to 1 minute segments - but if you follow the Gorow approach this is the best way to train your composer ear. Start with the the dinky little melodies EarMaster creates, then work on these small excerpts then eventually work your way up to transcribing the entire Rite of Spring by ear! :eek:

Edit: Hey, some one go to that site I just mentioned and listen to the cue "The Road" by Hermann - that sounds like James Newton Howard's Unbreakable doesn't it? Now I see where he got his sound!

05-02-2005, 10:04 PM
I'm a beginner in music composition. Do you have any advice for what you wish you learned first or did first?


Piano, Piano and more Piano.

05-03-2005, 01:54 PM
I'm a beginner in music composition...........

Also, do you know of any good websites or books/CDs that would help train my ear for notes, chords,... What's the best way to do this?

I've seen this website being mentioned a few different places.


They claim you can learn perfect pitch with their course. The price is a bit steep at $139 and I've personally never tried it so YMMV. ;)

05-04-2005, 02:58 PM
Composer, that's exactly where I'm at now! I took an introdution to music theory class at a commuity college near me and that's what they were teaching me! to associate intervals to songs I am familiar with! Although they did have me differenciate between the tonic and next note played. I was thinking about going into Harmony 1 now but I wasn't sure if I was ready for that. Maybe I wouldn't need it...
Those programs sound great. I'm going to check them out. I use a PC. I've always been shying away from singing, but I'm going to make myself do it now. I can't tell you how much time you must have saved me! I enjoyed your novel very much!!

and thanks for that Berklee link! I actually make dance and electronic music but I also want to be able to compose orchestral film scores and learn all the different instruments within a orchestra. I love studying different instruments.

And thank you everyone else (Wes37, deathadder79, dubaifox, mhuang) for the great advice! I'm taking piano now and will stick with it!

05-04-2005, 03:10 PM
Great suggestions and thoughts!!

I wanted to add that, knowing all the interval relationships to the tonic is
something you should know wether you want to be a composer, or a jazz pianist. :)
Every musician should know them. You dont even need to read music,
or even mention note names or key sigs. Its all math. ;)

Once you see how the numbers correlate, things open WAY up.