Trouble with Ear Training Drills

Trouble with Ear Training Drills

Trouble with Ear Training Drills

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Trouble with Ear Training Drills

Q: I just purchased your Ear Training One Note – Intermediate Level, and have a question concerning your choice of requiring the student to call out the note of the pitch they hear (on the mp3s), rather than its relationship to the key.

I see the drill process going something like this:

  • 1)I hear the note
  • 2)I analyze it to establish its association with the key
  • 3)I determine that it is a major third
  • 4)I cross check it with the scale, and find that is x note.
  • 5)I say the note.

Why is step 4 necessary for a drill that develops relative pitch? It seems to me that it requires either a mastery of the C scale (and by extension, all other scales), or perfect pitch. Why couldn’t the student skip that step, and save the scale memorization for another time?
I can see the student trying to apply this to a different key, determining the relationship to the key, but then getting stuck because they don’t readily know what the corresponding note is…”I know it’s a sixth, but I have trouble knowing what a sixth of B is”.

Perhaps one of your underlying goals is to develop the student beyond relative pitch… I won’t know if I don’t ask. So, why is it necessary to call out the note, and what trouble could there be if they are just calling out the relation to the key?

Thank you

A: Nice to hear from you. You have a few things that aren’t quite right in your process.

  • 1. You hear a key center played via a chord progression.
  • 2. You don’t focus on the root of the key you just assume that the chord progression has established the key in your mind
  • 3. You hear a note
  • 4. You should then instantly guess either what the name of the note is i.e. “G”, “B” etc.. or you could guess it’s relationship to the key “the 3rd”, the “b7”. The version you are working with gives you the note name. There are other versions that give you the degree.check under “Other Ear Training One Note Products.” and look Ear Training One Note with Degrees..

In the beginning you may think it’s best to really sit and ponder what the pitch is but the problem with that is it builds in a habit of thinking to much about the note which slows the process down. Remember we want to you this ear training in “real time” so you need an instant answer so that you build in a habit of giving an answer right away. So obviously you will have more trouble with mistakes this way but when you do make a mistake replay the track a few times so you can get the sound into your short term memory.

If you want to develop your music theory skills I have a few books for this. If you are a guitar player

Music Theory Workbook for Guitar Volume One

If you play another instrument.

Music Theory Workbook for All Instruments

If you worked out of one of these books for 15 minutes a day for a few months. You would most likely have all note names and degrees memorized in all keys. This will put you into a whole new league of musicianship and in the long run will have you playing with better players.

Now with your question about thinking note names or degrees. In the bigger picture you want to know the names of the notes in every key and you want to know what degrees of the scale those notes are in that key. This does require you to build up your music theory knowledge but this is the type of knowledge that a professional musician has at their fingertips so it’s something worth investing time into. Some students don’t want to go down that path and just use their instrument to match the pitch they hear with the ear training. You could do this if you want to completely skip the music theory side of things. But you will also put yourself in a pretty awkward position when playing with other musicians. Because they will reference note names or degrees many times when you are rehearsing so you need this knowledge.

Also keep in mind as you move through this whole Contextual Ear Training Method you will need these note and degree relationships. For instance once you learn how to modulate if you hear a “C” note and it sounds like the 6th then you need to know that the “C” is the “6th” of “Eb.” Then you know what key the song or chord that you are hearing is functioning in. This is a very powerful tool that will allow you to hear highly complex musical situations and know in a split second what key to play in. Imagine hearing chords going by that you don’t know and by playing one note you can tell what key to play in. This gives you a real leg up when playing music you don’t know and is really how musicians that aren’t highly musically educated play by ear.

Just one more thing about your thinking process. With the intermediate CD you are working on if you hear an “E” don’t think of it as an interval just think of it as the sound of the major 3rd. May seem like a small difference but try to get away of thinking of intervals or distance just think the sound of the note in the key and what iit’s degree or note name is.

Also you can limit the number of notes you are working on. Let’s say just start with C,E,G,B. This will help you memorize what the root, 3rd, 5th and th of the key is and what their degrees are. If you do that at least once a day listen to all notes for 5 to 10 minutes just to keep an over context in your mind.

Most importantly be patience. Remember doing it the right way is more important that getting the right answer. Everyone gets this ear training who sticks with it so just listen as much as you can each day in short 5 and 10 minute periods. Once you feel you are getting around 10 or 20 % you should also at in the Contextual Ear Training Singing Method. The combination of both listening and singing will help you improve at a much faster rate and soon you will have much less trouble with ear training.

Also if you are practicing an instrument I would highly recommend you use either the MetroDrone or Jam Tracks Volume One. Either or both of these will help you to hear the relationships that scales and arpeggios have to the key center as you are practicing. This will also help to build your theory knowledge and of course you instant recognition of what pitches sound like in a key center.

Keep in touch and let me know if you have further questions.

Best Regards,


It is also recommended that you read Bruce Arnold’s Blog at his artist site. It contains more discussion of the musical topics found in these FAQs as well as other subjects of interest. You will also find the “Music Education Genealogy Chart” located here which shows you the historic significance of the music education products found on the Muse Eek Publishing Company Website.

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