I would like to share some ear training exercises I wish I knew 20 years ago.
Hope this helps!
1. Sing along. If you are a musician and you spend countless hours practicing with your instrument please sing every note you play, every interval, melody, scale, arpeggio, chord voicing… every single song you learn and/or every single score you read. This is probably one of the most important exercises any musician should try to do and believe me, it is a game changer. The first weeks might be hard and of course you don´t have to be a good singer, just scatting along with your instrument it will open your brain and ears to a new world where all the music you hear will start making sense in your mind, you will enjoy more listening to music and it will be a easier to pick songs by ear and to improvise with musicality.
2. Play it first then sing it back. This is a bit harder but again, after few weeks it will be easier, start just playing short melodies or intervals and singing them back and then move on to melodies, scale permutations, triads, arpeggios, etc.
3. Play two notes at the same time (any interval) and then listen carefully, separate those two notes in your mind and then sing them back separately, lower to higher and vice versa. Same thing with triads.
4. Listen to music 24 hours a day.
5. Pick songs by ear. Every time you want to learn a new song please don´t go on google looking for the transcription, try to pick all those songs by ear.
6. Use Ear Training Apps. There are tons of them, even free ones will help you recognize intervals, chords, scales, progressions and some other interesting things.
7. Use a metronome and/or drum loops all the time, it will help your tempo and groove.
8. Use metronomes that silence for a bar or two every four bars or so, that will help you control your inner tempo and see if you are a rushing or dragging.
9. Play along with records 24 hours a day. This is the best way to develop tempo, groove and if you try to mimic the articulation and feel of the recording it will help you develop a great detail oriented ear plus a great feel.
10. Record yourself playing or singing and keep tracking to see if you are actually evolving or just getting stuck noodling around with the same old exercises.
11. Listen to the same song and at first try to focus just on the drums, second time focus only on the bass, third time focus on the guitars or keys… focus on the vocals, effects, stereo field-width of the mix, depth of the mix, small details of the production and arrangement, etc.
12. Listen to the same song on every speaker, headphone or earbud you got and pay attention to how the mix translates on every system.
If you are a music producer or sound engineer you probably find that some of the exercises listed before are not what you are looking for but if you ask me, in my opinion, is better to have musical ears, it will help you work with musicians along the way so if you are into recording, mixing or mastering please trust me, musicality always helps and it will open some doors that might be closed right now.
“Trust your ears.” “It’s what sounds right to you.” These are popular refrains that you’ve read in just about every article about choosing microphones, positioning them, mixing or mastering. But if you’re going to rely on your ears to hear and identify the essential features of a well-balanced and professional sounding mix, you may need to train them first. Hearing and listening is not the same thing.
Can you detect the difference between a Telecaster and a Les Paul? A Rhodes and a Moog? Tremolo versus vibrato? Fact is whether you’re a seasoned pro or a beginner, there’s a wide range of resources available to help you develop and fine-tune your critical listening skills.
Critical listening primarily comes from the engineer’s point of view. You’re listening to the physical details of the music – frequency response, dynamic range, tone, imaging, and how instruments are blended together.
Analytical listening is all about feeling and meaning. It’s important to understand that the emotional intention of a musical performance is reflected in the sound.
There are few Apps out there that will help you recognize frequencies, effects like reverb, delays, chorus, flanger… pan placement, volume and levels, MP3 versus WAV and some other interesting exercises. The Phillips Golden Ears challenge is a good place to start.
A more old school approach would be pick one song that you really like and practice your critical listening by paying attention to all these components.
Do all instruments feel like they have appropriate weight in the mix? Are any instruments lost in the mix because they’re overpowered? Are some instruments more prominent then others?
Do instruments sit at various points in stereo field (left to right speakers)? Does the point of interest shift within this field?
Are all frequencies represented somewhat equally? Is there something happening in all frequency ranges?
Do some instruments sound closer or farther away than others? Is there a sense of movement in the mix?
Does the song change over its duration? Most often in recording we use the term dynamics to refer to changes in volume, but we need to consider other dynamic changes such as tempo, time signature, key, or major/minor tonality.
There are two important sides to interest. First is the hook – is there something memorable about the mix? The second, and less thought-about consideration is this: What pulls the listener through the song? When the lead instrument stops playing, what takes over as the focus of the song?
Now do the same thing with one of your songs.
This is just an introduction to the marvelous world of ear training, there are a million exercises out there but these ones are good enough to build a solid foundation.
If you don´t have fun training your ears just don´t do it cause you won´t get any better, you have to feel it and enjoy it, if not, it is just a waste of time but is worth to try.
Let the music do the talking!