You need to develop many essential skills to move forward as a musician.
- good technique on your instrument
- a great rhythmic feel
- knowledge of stylistic interpretation
- reading music, chord charts, tab
- the know-how to arrange music
- an understanding of basic recording technology
- “working” your equipment [synth(s), effects, software]
- promoting your music
- people skills (band members, managers, at venues)
But your most prized possession as a musician is:
First of all it is essential to protect your hearing at all cost. I hate to break the news to you, but no, you won’t automatically have Beethoven’s musical skills by becoming deaf like him. Use ear plugs in loud locations (concerts, gigs, rehearsals) – it’s the smart thing to do.
However, there’s more to hearing than registering sound waves via your eardrums.
You need the ability to analyze and interpret the incoming sound. That’s what ear training is for. It helps you develop the skill of understanding what your ears are hearing.
Functional Ear Training
One of the best ear training methods I’ve come across is functional ear training. Instead of learning to recognize the sound of individual intervals, with functional ear training you focus on learning the specific sound of a note in the context of tonality.
What do I mean by specific sound?
Let’s listen to a C chord followed by a C note. Notice how stable and resting the C note sounds. The identical C note is then played after a B chord.
How come the same C note can sound so different?
Simply put, the C note plays a different role in the key of B major than in the key of C major. And with the different function goes a different sound quality as well. It’s your job to learn to recognize that difference in tonal character.
Now the big question is: how do you do that? Do you just listen to music and hope that those characteristics jump out at you? Should you just sit down at the piano and play individual keys over and over again trying to memorize their sound?
No, because fortunately there’s a better way.
Step 1 – Download the Functional Ear Training Software
Head on over to Alain Benbassat’s site, then download and install the free Functional Ear Training software.
Step 2 – Follow the Tutorial
Unlike the previous versions this new V2 software is a cross-platform Adobe Air application and there’s no additional set-up required. No MIDI sound card settings and initial options to deal with.
You can get started immediately and the built-in tutorial section explains the functional ear training method step by step. It’s interactive with concise explanations and corresponding sound examples.
For example, here’s screen #11 of the method explanation.
Step 3 – Repeat
Don’t just rush through the initial explanation screens. Spend some time with the preliminary exercises. Let them sink in. Repeat them often. Especially if this is your first time practicing functional ear training exercises. Trust me, it’s an investment of your practice time that really will pay off big time.
Step 4 – Customize Your Practice Sessions
When you feel like you have mastered Part I, it’s time to get into a practice routine using the Practice Lab. Here’s where you can fine-tune and develop your ears.
Choose what you want to focus on and tweak the settings:
- which key
- major, minor or random
- how often (if at all) the cadence gets played to help you establish the tonality
- how many questions
- which notes and chromatics to include
- the labeling of the notes – letters, numbers or solfege
- small or large tone range
As you can see lots of options to customize your practice sessions.
Tune Your Ears with Functional Ear Training!
I highly recommend you get started with your own ear tune-up through functional ear training. It has made a tremendous difference in how I hear music. Treat it like a game where you shoot for a result in the 90-100% range. When you score consistently in that range for a few days in a row it’s time to move on to more difficult settings.
Just make sure that you don’t tire your ears – keep your functional ear training sessions short. 10 minutes is all you need.
Before you head on over to Mr. Benbassat’s site and download the Functional Ear Trainer software, make sure to subscribe to this blog, because I plan on writing additional articles about functional ear training.
If you’ve found this post helpful please share it on Google+, Facebook, StumbleUpon and Twitter. Also, stop by again to leave a comment and let me know how your practicing with the functional ear training software is working for you.