Ear-training 1: introduction

Ear-training 2 - unlock your ear

Watch the videos first, and then use this training audio

To use this training pack, just play the audio back and aim to get to 100% accuracy. It’s ok to get one or two wrong, but if after a few days of doing your rounds by yourself, you’re getting more than one or two wrong, just keep reviewing it rather than moving on to the next level. Don’t be intimidated by this idea-you’ll see that your accuracy improves rapidly. The test has me playing a note and asking for the fifth below or above, which you need to preferably sing, or at least ‘hear’ in your mind’s ear. Then I play the note, and you compare whether you had it right or not.

Ear-training test audio

Unlock your ear
Why would you want to train you ear and what benefits will it bring you? 
Whether you’re a singer, a guitarist, a pianist, a composer, it is enormously useful developing your ear. When people talk about having a ‘good ear’, usually they mean that they are able to copy melodies well and distinguish clearly what is happening in music.
When you train your ear, or more accurately your aural perception, you hugely enrich what you’re able to get out of listening to music. You are able to perceive much more clearly what is happening inside pieces of music you enjoy. You also cultivate your own musicality. The more you can quickly identify intervals, chords and melodies by ear – and this is a completely trainable skill – the more quickly you can learn new songs whether you’re a singer or a guitarist. You won’t be stabbing around to work out what the notes are; you’ll KNOW what they are, and then it’s just a question of playing them. You’ll also develop your melodic sensibility. You’ll get very good at transcribing – hearing a piece of music and being able to play it back quickly. You’ll get more independent as a musician, confident that you can decipher what’s going on in pieces of music you want to learn, no longer reliant on tab. 
If you can distinguish between two tones when one is higher than the other, you will be able to keep cultivating your ear until you can pinpoint what the distance between notes is, and what the character of more than one note played at the same time.
There are various different approaches to ear-training. The most effective I have encountered works by training one interval at a time, so that you’re really secure with one new piece of information before others are added in. We’re going to start with fifths. An interval of a fifth is the distance between the first note of a major scale the the fifth. When you go from note 1 to note 5 in the major scale, it sounds like the first two notes of ‘Twinkle Twinkle little star’. When you go down from note 5 to note 1, it sounds like the first two notes of the Flintstones theme tune. ‘Flintstones! Meet the Flintstones’ etc. If it helps to think of it this way when you’re using the audio, do.
The videos above go over how you cultivate your ear by using a guitar or keyboard to practice hearing and singing the intervals to yourself both ascending 1 – 5 and descending 5 – 1, ideally singing the ‘spelling’ of the intervals (this will develop your musical understanding too – e.g. ‘E – B, E – B, la – la, la – la, B – E, B – E, la – la, la – la’. Do a few of these before using the training material to get your ear in gear. Then play the audio, pausing if necessary before I play the ‘answer’ and try to ‘hear’ the missing interval in your mind’s ear (sing it too if you can).

A note on musical spelling

Before reading any further, know that you don’t have to perfectly understand how notes fit together in order to use the ear-training material and in order for it to be valuable. Consider this reference material and wider music knowledge, and if it’s confusing to begin with, don’t get stuck on it.
We have 12 notes in the western music system. The letters used to name them are A B C D E F G.
You’ll immediately notice that there are less letter names (7) than there are notes (12). Effectively, some of the notes end up being labelled ‘the note directly below D’ or ‘the note directly above C’. Notes below are called flats, and notes above are called sharps. It’s probably easier to see it laid out visually – the diagram of notes on the guitar below shows you.
To make matters more interesting, you can actually call these in-between notes by two names. Take C and D. You can see they have a fret/note in-between them on the guitar. We can call this note ‘the note directly above C’ – C sharp, C#; or – ‘the note directly below D’ – D flat – Db. To remember which is which you can think of sharp pointing up (the note above) and flat squashing down (the note below).
Generally, when choosing how to ‘spell’ a note, you don’t combine flats and sharps. Stick to all sharps and all flats.  You’ll see below I’ve taken the thin E string and labelled with the flat note names, and the thick E string and labelled with the sharps, so you can see both spellings for the in-between notes. To know what a fifth is from any note, just count five letters up. G is the fifth letter away from C, and G is a fifth up from C. Here is a list:
E – B
F# – C#
G – D
G# – D#
A – E
A# – E# (we need to spell it like this as A – F would be a kind of sixth, not a kind of fifth-as it’s six letters away.)
B – F# (it just is…there are a couple of things to memorise but you’ll get used to them).
C – G
C# – G#
D – A
D# – A#