Ear Training Basics

Ear Training Basics
How would you like to be able to write down the melody to a song you hear on the radio? Or write down notes of a new song you’re just composing? As a singer, would you feel better if you could sight-sing?

If you are arranging for different instruments, wouldn’t it save you time if you didn’t have to write the parts at a piano or other instrument, but could hear the parts you want in your head?

If you are recording something that doesn’t sound right, wouldn’t it be nice to hear which part is not fitting in? And to know what other part would sound right instead?

Ear training can supercharge your:

- Singing
- Playing
- Songwriting
- Arranging
- Producing

With a little practice each day, even for just a few minutes, ear training can give you new ears.

Back around 1100 A.D. they came up with a system to teach monks to sing songs in church. It was called solfege. And it basically uses syllables you’re familiar with:


It’s sung to the notes of a major scale. If you start on the note “C,” for example – you would sing that note with the syllable “Do.” Then, move up to the note “D” and sing the next syllable “Re.” And so on.

If you use the notes of a C Major scale you would play (ascending notes):
But you would sing:

With enough practice you will have what they call “a moveable Do.” This is really worth practicing to achieve. Because as long as you know the first note of the scale or key you’re in (“Do”), your ears will give you a road map to all the other notes in the same key.

It’s like having a GPS system in your car that can guide you wherever you want to go, compared to wondering if you're even on the right highway.

But a word of caution. Practice a little bit at a time. Don’t overwhelm yourself.

If you need to spend a week or more on Step 1…good! Get comfortable with it. Take as much time as you need, and only then go on to step 2. If you practice even just a few minutes, but every day, within a month or two you’ll have a new sense of music.

Here are some basic solfege exercises I’ve found really useful…

Step 1: Practice singing:


Step 2: Break this up into two parts, and practice each part separately:


Step 3:

You’ll probably find it easier to practice singing from Sol up to Do:

Sol->La->Ti->Do (ascending),

But easier to sing (backward), from Fa DOWN to Do:

Fa->Mi->Re->Do (descending)

Step 4:

Take the upper 4 notes (Sol->La->Ti->Do), and out of that just practice the top two, singing Ti->Do (ascending), till you get that sound firmly in mind.

Step 5:

Out of the upper 4 notes (Sol->La->Ti->Do), practice the last 3 notes: La->Ti->Do (ascending).

Step 6:

Out of the lower 4 notes, practice Re->Do (descending):

Step 7:

Practice Mi->Re->Do (descending)

Step 8:

Practice taking the lower grouping of notes (Fa->Mi->Re->Do), and pick any two of them. Sing from the lower one to the higher. Then sing from the higher one to the lower.

Step 9:

Practice taking the upper grouping of notes (Sol->La->Ti->Do), and pick any two of them. Sing from the lower one to the higher. Then sing from the higher one to the lower one.

Step 10:

Practice singing any note to any other note.

There you have it. 10 steps to the basics of ear training. Take it slow. Enjoy the process. Don’t go to the next step till you’re comfortable with the one you’re learning.

Did I repeat myself? (Did I repeat myself?) ((Did I repeat myself?)). Yeah. I guess that’s part of the process of ear training – gentle repetition, and learning to listen to yourself.

Good Training.
Good Listening.


Allan Harris
BellaOnline’s Musician Editor

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