Q&A - Hopeless at ear training

Hello David,

I have always had a terrible ear and I feel that it's preventing me from making the most of your method. There seem to be just two sorts of musicians: the ones who can play by ear and the ones who just can't. I strongly feel that ear training is based on natural ability and that someone without natural ability can improve a bad ear but never gain a good ear.

I even purchased a separate course on scale degree recognition and after about 4 months of very intensive training I can fairly accurately recognize the major scale degrees if they are played. But I still can't recognize any of these sounds in an actual musical setting like a song.

After many months of daily ear training, I still don't think I'm any closer to my goal of playing by ear except for being able to get better scores on tests which don't have any relevance to real music.

Can you help me?

David's response:

Hi Nick,

musician struggling with ear trainingThe first thing to realize is that there's nothing wrong with your ear. The truth is that you already recognize every note in every song you hear. If you didn't, then all melodies would sound alike to you. And if somebody played a wrong note, you would never even notice.

Is that truly your situation?

I suspect not. I suspect that if you think about your favorite song right now, you can clearly imagine the sound of every note in that song. For example, let's say that the melody starts on note 5. When you imagine the beginning to this song, you can hear this note in your mind. What that means is that you already know the sound of note 5 perfectly, and you can recall it whenever you want to. You just don't know that you know it. You know the sound by heart, but nobody ever told you that the sound is called "note 5".

And this is exactly what you need. You don't need more random interval exercises. What you need to do is go into the world of music and discover the notes of our musical system in the context of actual melodies.

This is exactly what we do in our Sing the Numbers audio course. I think this is the solution to your problem because finally you'll be studying the sounds in a musical way, through beautiful songs and melodies that were specifically designed to train your ear.

And this exercise becomes a hundred times more powerful if you combine it with the IFR improvisation exercises like Seven Worlds. You need to immerse yourself in this world of sounds. It's important to know the tonal numbers, but it's even more important to experience these sounds as music.

And if you want to give yourself a great head start, I invite you to check out our very popular workshop Ear Training for Musical Creativity. This course will lead you step-by-step through all of the activities I'm describing, and bring them all together into a beautiful practice that I think you'll really enjoy.