How to Practice Ear Training
How to practice ear training is one of the most common problems I encounter with students. It goes without saying that even if you are taking the right ear training course but not practicing correctly, your progress will be slow. This page will discuss how to practice ear training so that you improve at your fastest rate.
Memory is the Key Ingredient
When you practice ear training what you are trying to memorize sounds and their relationships. The key word here is memorize which means using your memory.
Short and Long Term Memory
From practicing both the guitar and ear training I realized that there where two processes, or levels, at work with memory; short term memory and long term memory. I found that if I kept a sound in my short term memory long enough it would eventually go into my long term memory. Years later I read a book called “From Mind to Molecules by Eric Kandel. Mr. Kandel won a Nobel Prize for his research on memory which proved exactly what I had experienced: keeping (in my case) a sound in my short term memory long enough, would then transfer it to my long term memory.
A Real Life Example of How to Practice Ear Training
When I was learning Contextual Ear Training I had a real problem hearing flat 6th in a key center. I would play the classic “Contextual Ear Training” exercise and I could hear all the notes except flat 6th. This went on for months and I was freaked out why this sound was so elusive. Then I had an epiphany. Why not just keep the sound of flat 6th in my short term memory at all times! Not an easy thing to do but I was determined.
Our Amazing Memory
So I thought. I needed to measure how long I could remember the flat 6th sound by playing a drone and seeing how long I could remember and correctly sing flat 6th. I found that after a couple of minutes I forgot the sound so I started a ritual where I sang the flat 6th every 1.5 minutes. After about 15 minutes of this I found I could wait 3 minutes and still remember flat 6th. So then I started singing flat 6th every 4 minutes.
On and on about 10 hours a day; I did this for two weeks. Well I’m happy to report that I can now hear flat 6th 🙂 Pretty extreme I guess, but my point here is the method I used proves that just keeping a sound in my short term memory repeatedly, got it into my long term memory.
How to Practice Ear Training more Realistically
My flat 6th was an extreme problem but I’ve taught this way of of practicing ear training to many students and it works every time. I admit finding this kind of time to tackle a memory problem is not always easy, but do it during a vacation time or over long holidays. How to practice ear training really boils down to many short practice periods throughout the day you can do. The more the better. 5 minutes here 10 minutes there. Practice when you are driving in a car or taking a walk. I used to practice in the shower. You would be amazed at all the time throughout the day that you can listen with your mobile device.
The most important thing with learning how to practice ear training is to remain consistent. Do not under any circumstances miss a day. My teacher (Charlie Banacos) once told me that missing one day of ear training is like missing 3 weeks. Why? You lose the sound that you are building up in your short term memory and then you have to start all over again building up the short term memory so that it will go into your long term memory.
One reason practicing music is so important is it teaches you about HOW your learn, as I’ve described above. This is why it is so important that children are taught music. To read more about that check out this blog post.