Having good ears should be your top priority when learning to play the bass. If you want total freedom on your instrument, you need to be able to hear and comprehend what you’re hearing. That’s why music ear training is so important, because it solves this specific problem.
I curated 4 of the best ear training exercises to help you become a better bass player and improve your musical ear. And, I’ll share with you the methods that helped me improve my skills as a professional musician.
If you’re having trouble playing songs by ear or learning the sounds of your intervals, chords, scales, and triads, ear training will help and this article is just for you.
Let’s get started.
If you’re short on time, watch my video Effective Music Ear Training For Bass Players. In the video, I’ll break down a harmonic ear training exercise that’ll quickly open up your ears.
What is Music Ear Training?
Music ear training is crucial for music students or anybody that wants to develop their ability to play what they hear. And all great musicians have good ears.
In a nutshell, music ear training is when you train your ears to comprehend sound so that you can play what you hear on your instrument. Being able to play by ear is a musical skill that all musicians should strive to obtain.
How I Used To Practice Ear Training
The most common way to practice ear training is to simply put a name to the pitches you hear that are made up of different sound wave frequencies and then memorize them. This approach is called Rote Learning—memorizing based on repetition.
Rote learning is not the most musical approach and also not the most effective ear training methods. But, it does work.
A popular technique for artists to develop their listening abilities is with ear training exercises, which involves:
- Studying the Pitches: Play a note, interval, or chord many times while assigning the sound its name. For example, play C over and over while recognizing that it’s C. Also sing it to practice. Although this approach didn’t work for me, I’ve met a pianist that actually developed perfect pitch just from doing this her whole life. There were probably other factors involved that aided in her success.
- Practicing the Pitches, Intervals, and Harmony Daily: Because this is memorization work, this practice should be conducted daily for the best results. Test yourself as a way to train and mark your progress. Then, practice which you still haven’t memorized.
- Playing Scales and Singing them: Once you have the individual pitches, begin practicing scale memorization. Play them repeatedly and be able to sing it as well. When starting out, sing each scale degree of the major scale. The major scale has a familiar sound that helps make learning easy.
Ear training is identical to muscular development; therefore, bingeing or cramming won’t make a significant difference. So, continue to practice daily, and you’re sure to see results.
I started out training my ears this way (mainly harmonic and melodic interval ear training) and that’s how I initially learned to recognize intervals and triads and ultimately developed relative pitch. I would play intervals over and over until I had them memorized.
Later on in my career, I learned that there are far more effective ways for internalizing sounds.
While Rote Learning has its merits (and I still do this from time to time), there are more effective ear training techniques that’ll get you playing what you hear more quickly.
Let’s check these out next.
4 Highly Effective Ear Training Exercises
From my experience, context is crucial for internalizing any sound.
The following exercises train your ears within a musical context. This approach will help your ear to recognize sounds more efficiently.
When I changed my approach from studying my intervals in isolation, to hearing them in context, things clicked. Notes started to have meaning for me and I actually remembered them.
Check out these ear training methods that are not your typical traditional ear training exercises and improve your ear more quickly than you’ve ever imagined.
Transcribe & Emulate Approach (Best Ear Training Practice)
Listen. Listen to music. And listen real music a lot. Go straight to the source. This is by far the best way to improve your inner ear.
If there’s a certain sound that you’re after, listen to the musicians that are already doing it. When you transcribe their lines, you’ll learn the vocabulary faster. And, when you emulate their articulation and dynamics, you’ll learn a lot about nuance and hear the differences that makes something sound the way it does. If you sing along too, that speeds up the process even faster.
If I were to recommend an ear training practice that should be prioritized, it would be transcribing music. Instead of interval exercises, transcribe sounds (actual vocabulary). Sure, you can learn a major third interval by repeating it over and over, but if you learn what that interval sounds and feels like in a musical context, you’ll learn it 10 times faster.
For me, I like to use an app called Transcribe, because I can loop parts of a song indefinitely and even change its playback speed.
Start out small and learn a small phrase or one measure daily. Transcribe things that you actually enjoy listening too and approach it with a genuine curiosity. If you have an emotional connection to the music, you will learn it much faster. Plus, you’re going to be hitting that repeat button quite a bit at first. So, liking the music is crucial.
Since there’s context, meaning, and an emotional connection to the sounds that you’re hearing, you’ll ingrain the information very fast.
- Transcribe music that you enjoy listening too.
- Do this daily no matter how small the phrase is.
- Be curious about what you’re hearing.
- Strive to emulate the articulation and dynamics (Ear training is so much more than just learning the notes. Hearing how to play those notes musically is important too).
1-10 Ear Training Exercise (Best Ear Training To Hear The Notes Of A Chord)
Harmonic ear training is one of the best ways to develop your aural skills. Since multiple lines often occur simultaneously in music, this type of practice really opens up your ears. When you can do this exercise, you’ll be able to hear every note in a chord that you heard.
I call this the 1-10 Ear Training Exercise. All you’ll need for this exercise is an instrument that can play chords (preferably up to 10 chord voices at the same time).
I recommend that you use actual chord voicings for this exercise, instead of just hitting random notes on your keyboard. The goal is to identify the type of chord tones you’re hearing.
Here’s how to do this:
- Start out by playing 1 note. Hear that note in your mind and then sing that note.
- Then, play 2 notes at the same time. Hear both notes in your mind and then check yourself by singing these notes.
- Repeat this exercise adding another note each time. Try to see how many notes your ear is able to hear at the same time.
At first, you may only be able to hear two notes at the same time. That’s okay. If you do this exercise for a couple minutes daily, you will be able to increase the number of simultaneous notes that you can hear.
Two Notes Make A Line Exercise (Best Melody Ear Training Exercise)
I call this next exercise the Two Notes Make A Line Exercise. The ability to hear melodic lines that connect chord tones is a crucial skill for improvising and playing melodies by ear.
Here’s how this works:
- Play two notes on your instrument at the same time.
- Sing a melody or phrase that starts on the lowest note and ends on the highest note.
- Play that phrase on your instrument. Find those notes.
- Do the same thing, except this time, sing a melodic phrase that starts on the highest note and ends on the lowest note.
- Play what you just sang.
Intervalic Groove Exercise (Best Musical Ear Training Exercise)
Earlier, I mentioned the importance of context when it comes to learning a sound. Another aspect of musical ear training is to also “feel” your sounds on an emotional level. Having an emotional connection to your sounds is the key to comprehending them instantaneously.
I call this exercise the Intervalic Groove Exercise. By composing grooves or chord vamps that exploit a single interval, you end up developing an emotional connection to the sound. Ultimately, this approach is a way to help you train your ear to learn that sound quickly.
Here’s how to practice this exercise:
- Select an interval that you wish to learn. For example, the interval could be a tritone.
- Compose a groove or a chord progression, where the notes or chords only move in the interval of a tritone.
- Then, jam out on said groove or chord progression.
Benefits of Ear Training
1. Play the Sound You Heard
The height of “true” musical expression is the capacity to play what you hear, that is, to convey the rhythm and harmony that you hear in your musical head. If you’re trying to write a song or want to improve upon a sheet of music, you can’t do this very well if you can’t put what it’s in your head and put it into action for others to hear.
2. Better Ears
Students who complete music ear training hear music differently—they hear the song’s components rather than just the whole. They can concentrate on each instrument more effectively, and it deepens the entire listening experience.
Although the ear isn’t technically a muscle, it grows and becomes stronger with practice. You’ll hear the subtleties of musical textures better and appreciate music more.
3. Improved Vocalizations
There’s little doubt that practicing the tasks in ear training will improve your abilities to regularly pitch in tune since singing coaches assign these activities to their students to aid them with pitching.
However, practicing these exercises frequently will significantly enhance your pitching even if you’re not a particularly good vocalist. With ear training, you’ll strengthen your singing and auditory skills at the same time. After all, who doesn’t want to crush it at a jam session?
Who Will Benefit From Ear Training?
People who practice music ear training rely solely on their sense of hearing to recognize pitches, melodies, chords, intervals, rhythms, and other fundamental musical aspects.
- Musicians who learn instruments, improvise melodies, write songs, play music, and create symphonies—from all walks of life worldwide—need this training to sharpen their musical ears.
- Audio professionals employ training to refine their sensitivity to the subtleties in sound in all fields of audio. For example, sound engineering is a strong career, and better training the ear is crucial to having success in the field. This allows engineers to catch mistakes and know what needs improving in a piece of audio.
Ear training helps audio professionals and musicians stay on top of their game by giving them improved ears to hear the details, identify issues and areas for progress, and apply their tools directly to get results.
Your progress as a successful musician will benefit significantly from the practice of music ear training. However, it is just as crucial as any skill, repertory, or theory to practice. The ear is the glue that binds technique, repertory, and theory into music.
You’ll lack an essential component of making music if you cannot hear the ideas you learn about in music theory come to life in the repertoire you perform with the skills you master.
Without ear training, creating music is like watching a movie without sound; a key element is absent. See how you can take advantage of music ear training by implementing it in your daily routine.
I wish you the best in your ear training journey.
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