Ear Training: Part One


One thing I’ve been thinking about doing for awhile is developing my own ear training system.  I see it every day on forums, how do I train my ears?

Sometimes people answer with, remember this song if you want to remember a major 2nd or remember this for a tritone.

This is bad advice.  Why? It’s actually training you to SLOW DOWN your reaction time instead of speeding it up.

Requirements of a good Ear Training system:

1)It has to train you to react INSTANTLY. In a real environment you don’t have to sit there and go, “oh that was Jaws or oh that was the same as here comes the bride.”  It has to be, you hear it and you know it immediately, NO CALCULATING.  If it requires any more thought than you saying your own name then you have work to do.

2)It has to train you to hear in GROUPS of notes, not an isolated one note at a time approach, see above.  We hear in Groups of notes, in shapes and contours, and in patterns.  You have to be able to take in multiple notes at once.  One note at a time is once again too slow, that is not the way we process music nor can it be depended on in real time.

3)It eventually has to train you in a variety of timbres, meaning not always just a solo piano.  For now, I’m using solo piano but eventually will get away from that in my method here.  I recommend Transcribing to exposure your ears to Timbre training.  I’ve transcribed everything from piano, saxophone, guitar to trumpets over the years.  I’ve even transcribed full orchestra recordings (Boy, what a work out!)

The audio file to my first installment is down below.

HOW DO I USE THIS?  To start with there are Six groups of three notes.  Each of these is played twice.  They are in scale degrees as follows

1)1-2-3-2-1 (C-D-E-D-C)

2)3-2-1-2-3 (E-D-C-D-E)




6)1-7-6-7-1 (C-B-A-B-C)


What you will notice is that the chord tones of a C major chord are always on the downbeat (C, E, or G in the first one).  While not always the case with every melody or lick, you’ll discover that the majority are built on this framework or idea of chord tones landing on the downbeats.  There are of course an infinite set of melodic patterns available but we have to start with the most common, not rarer ones.

Part of the problem with modern ear training is there’s almost no method.  Just go, figure stuff out and get back with me.  Well what if the recording is from 1950 and it’s out of tune and you can barely hear the instruments over the accompaniment. What if it’s too fast?  I’ve always thought there should be a better way with all of our technology.  It should be more gradual, this thrown to the sharks approach is seriously outdated.  Music should not be reserved only for those that are so gifted that they could transcribe an entire album from an LP played at 200 rpm’s.  A method should start very simple and gradually build until one can hear longer and longer lines instantly.

YOUR GOAL is to internalize the sounds of these groupings so you can recognize them with zero thought.  I recommend playing them on an instrument as well as singing them.


What you want to do is to listen closely for what note the pattern starts on.  You have to start by being able to hear what a 1, 3 or 5 sounds like in the context of a key.  Without that, you won’t be able to recognize the patterns.  This is why at the beginning of the track I play a C-F-G chord change, to establish that key in the ear.  If you are having difficulty hearing which chord tone the pattern starts on I recommend holding a C major chord and singing each of them (1, 3 or 5) until you can recognize only one note.

I personally use solfege to identify scale degrees and I can’t recommend it enough, but you can use numbers as well.

Here is the Audio file:


Next up is an audio file of much longer length that has these all scrambled up.  At first you’ll be frustrated and wonder what am I even listening for? What’s the point of this?

Over time through singing/transcribing and ACTIVE listening to these patterns you’ll learn to recognize them the same as you recognize someones face or a simple color.

Jody Written by:

Professional Musician of 27 years. I've played Banjo and Acoustic Guitar on the stages of Carnegie Hall, The Grand Ole Opry, and The Ryman Auditorium. I've also played in six different countries.


  1. Lynn Vogel

    Hi, Jody.
    Just found your web site and blog. Have already started on the “11 banjo solos you should learn!”

    How to I sign up to receive your new blog postings? Can’t seem to find a place to do this. Thanks.

    • Hey Lynn,
      My site is under construction at the moment, I took the sign up form down, it’s usually on the front page. However, I will manually add your email address in so you get all new notifications.

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