Ear Training Lessons, pt. 2

Guitar Noises #12: August 6, 2021

Welcome to Guitar Noises, a free newsletter about learning guitar online. For anyone just tuning in, you can read all the past issues in the full archives.

The response to the last newsletter on Ear Training Lessons that Work was positively eye-opening. A lot of shares and likes, plus some some really great email conversations started up with readers who sent me questions and ideas. Obviously ear training struck a chord with many of you and I decided to add a little more to the conversation this week.

In case you missed the last newsletter, there are two series of free lessons I recommend for training your ears. For those seeking an academic approach, I suggest Musical U’s The Ultimate Guide to Interval Ear Training. These free lessons include audio examples and don’t involve memorizing diagrams. It’s worth bookmarking and referring back to as often as needed.

If you prefer videos, I recommend Justin Guitar’s ear training lessons. There are more than twenty videos and the exercises will take up about 10 minutes of your time per day. Following through with daily practice will transform your playing and understanding of music.

You don’t have to pick one or the other. It’s probably best to try both.

Ear training is more than being able to figure out songs by ear. Playing by ear is kind of an added benefit to developing your ability to listen. Ear training is about learning to hear what’s going on in a song in more detail. As you improve your ability to hear in detail, playing with others and improvising guitar parts will be much more fun because it will get easier. If there is an end goal, it’s probably to take a sound that exists only in your head and be able to bring it out on the guitar.

A powerful way to get a jump start on better listening is to combine it with what you already know about music. Better knowledge and understanding of music theory will help you make good guesses about what is going on in a song.

Music Theory Not Required

Music theory is not required in order to play music. But wouldn’t you like to know how to fix things without calling a handyman? Or tune your guitar without taking it to the store and having them to do it for you?

If you love guitar there are no aspects of it you should shy away from. Learn everything you can from every angle you can think of. None of this stuff exists in isolation, it’s all meant to fit together. Knowing just a bit more “theory” will help you hear better.

Music theory isn’t as hard as the name makes it sound. You don’t need to devour textbooks of it either. Once you understand the basics you will have enough tidbits of knowledge to recognize patterns, and those patterns will make it easier for you to figure out what you’re hearing and what you should be playing.

Thanks to music theory, when you’ve worked out what chord is being played, you can easily guess what the next chord is most likely going to be. With practice your brain and ears will start working together. It’s just as essential and radical as getting your left and right hands to work together.

So how much theoretical knowledge is enough? And more precisely, what music theory should you learn?

Here are some lessons from the Guitar Noise archives, which never went out of style. They cover music theory and ear training.

If everything said about theory so far sounds Greek, you may want to look at Theory Without Tears for a general overview of music theory. Follow that up with a trilogy of “basic music theory” lessons. In order they are: The Musical Genome Project , The Power of Three and Building Additions (and Suspensions).

When you’ve covered all that information, you will be ready to move on to the ear training trilogy: Happy New Ear, Unearthing the Structure and Solving the Puzzle.

What does this all cover? Ear training involves learning to recognize intervals, so you need to know what intervals are. Then you will want to work on recognizing intervals by their sound, starting with thirds and minor thirds. You should practice different intervals until they are distinct and recognizable to your ears. After intervals you’ll want to learn to recognize chords. Here we aren’t learning to figure out what chord is being played - but what type of chord. Is it major, minor, suspended, a seventh chord? From there work on detecting the subtle differences between a major key and its relative minor. The lesson series above will teach you how to do all of this.

I know, it sounds like a lot to know, but the more you know the better musician you can become.


Do ear training “methods” work?

Ear training is something you can fumble around looking for lessons on. All that searching and suddenly you’re getting ads for ear training “methods.”

Different things work for different people. But just because one method costs hundreds of dollars doesn’t mean it will work better than researching free options. Like so many things in life, you will get out what you put into it. I highly recommend going with ten to fifteen minutes of ear training exercises every day.

You can gauge your own level by seeing how good you are at guessing intervals, chords, progressions and scales using the site Toned Ear.

Ear training is something that gets better with time and practice. It can also be a short lived skill. If you stop using your ears to figure out intervals your ability to do so will start to diminish.

But that’s okay. Quitting isn’t an option, is it?

If you found it helpful, please share this newsletter. And send me your questions and comments.