Ear Training Exercises: 3 Steps For A Stronger Ear

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Ear training practice is an essential part of being a musician. Despite knowing this, most musicians are slow to develop ear-training strategies and engage in regular ear-training practice.

However, consistent ear training exercises will improve your aural skills, music comprehension, and experiential understanding of music theory.

In this article, I’ll make the case for practicing regularly on developing your ear through ear training practice. We’ll cover the main things you should be able to do with your musical ear (setting up some goals), and then we’ll go over a three-step process for meeting those goals!

If you want to learn a proven method for becoming the best musician you can be, then check out the Learn Jazz Standards Inner Circle.

The Inner Circle is intended for musicians who want to make measurable progress in their musicianship skills and take their musical ability to the next level.

If ear training is a weak point for you, we’ve got courses designed to help you hear lines, chords, and chord progressions and infuse them into your playing, chord comping, and improvisation.

Join the Inner Circle and open your ears!

Ear Training Skills: What You Need To Be Able To Do

Many musicians crave a more intuitive understanding of music. They may understand music theory, but they might struggle to hear intervals, chord qualities, and even chord progressions.

These are all trainable skills, and you can master them!

Countless musicians realize they don’t have perfect pitch, and they assume they can’t develop an incredible relative pitch. But the facts are clear! Through regular ear training, you can learn—

  • How to recognize melodic and harmonic intervals
  • How to recognize triad and seventh chord qualities with extensions and alterations
  • How to identify a chord progression and its constituent chords by ear
  • How to identify the scale degrees in a melody or solo by relating them to the chord progression

By following the three functional ear training steps, we’ll discuss below, you’ll be well on your way to developing these skills.

Before moving on, let’s discuss the differences between perfect and relative pitch.

Perfect Pitch:

Perfect pitch, also known as absolute pitch, is the ability to identify or produce a specific musical note without the need for a reference tone. Individuals with perfect pitch can recognize and name notes without any context or comparison.

Perfect pitch is considered rare and is thought to be partly genetic, although it can also be developed through early musical training and exposure.

Relative Pitch:

Relative pitch is the ability to identify or reproduce musical intervals, chords, and melodies by comparing them to a reference pitch or tonic.

Rather than relying on an absolute reference point, individuals with relative pitch perceive the relationships between notes and intervals within a musical context.

Ear Training Practice Review: Intervals, Triads, Chords, and Chord Progressions

Before learning how to hear the difference between a major or minor triad, you need to know what a triad is. We’re going to spend some time reviewing some music theory fundamentals to give you a refresher and demonstrate how music theory fundamentals are dependent on one another.

You need to know intervals before you know chords, and you need to know chords before you know chord progressions.

In the next section, we’ll discuss what you need to be able to recognize by ear and why. The following aspects of functional ear training are aspirational goals. It’s ok if you don’t excel at them yet. We’ll discuss the best practices for practicing these through exercises later on.

Recognizing Simple Intervals

There are twelve pitches within an octave. These are important to memorize first because intervals and intervallic relationships dictate pretty much everything in Western music theory.

If you can recognize intervals by ear, you can move on to triads and seventh chords.

Ear Training Exercises: All intervals in an octave; C to C
  • Unison: C to C
  • Minor Second: C to Db
  • Major Second: C to D
  • Minor Third: C to Eb
  • Major Third: C to E
  • Perfect Fourth: C to F
  • Tritone: C to Gb
  • Perfect Fifth: C to G
  • Minor Sixth: C to Ab
  • Major Sixth: C to A
  • Minor Seventh: C to Bb
  • Major Seventh: C to B
  • Octave: C to C

Before learning how to recognize chords and melodies by ear, you need to commit these essential intervals to memory. For a more comprehensive exploration of simple intervals, check out our article on ear training fundamentals.

Also, if you are curious about how sound works, check out this great resource on the physics of sound waves.

Recognizing Triads and Seventh Chords

Being able to identify intervals is a prerequisite for identifying chords. After all, chords are a set of specific intervals.

You’ll want to start with identifying triads, which are three note chords. There are four types of triads you need to know:

  • Major Triads: consisting of a root note, a major third, and a perfect fifth.
  • Minor Triads: consisting of a root note, a minor third, and a perfect fifth.
  • Diminished Triads: consisting of a root note, a minor third, and a diminished fifth (tritone).
  • Augmented Triads: consisting of a root note, a major third, and an augmented fifth (minor sixth).

In principle, a triad is a root, a third (major or minor), and a fifth (diminished, perfect, or augmented). Thus, a seventh chord is a triad plus a seventh (diminished, minor, or major).

For the purposes of this article, there are five basic types of seventh chords (though there are more than this).

  • Major Seventh Chords: Major Triad with a Major Seventh
  • Minor Seventh Chords: Minor Triad with a Minor Seventh
  • Dominant Seventh Chords: Major Triad with a Minor Seventh
  • Half Diminished Chords: Diminished Triad with a Minor Seventh
  • Fully Diminished Chords: Diminished Triad with a Diminished Seventh (Major Sixth)

We’ll get more into the process of ear-training exercises with chords at the end of the article.

For more on seventh chords, check out our ultimate guide to seventh chords.

Chord Progression Ear Training

A diatonic chord progression uses chords built from major scale degrees or natural minor scale degrees. When you build triads or seventh chords from each major scale degree (or minor scale degree), you get all the diatonic chords in that key.

Chords in the Key of C major:

Ear training exercise with a short chord progression:  C major diatonic triads

Hearing a chord scale is the first step toward hearing a chord progression.

  • I: C
  • ii: D-
  • iii: E-
  • IV: F
  • V: G
  • vi: A-
  • vii°: B°

Chords in the Key of A minor:

Ear training exercise with a short chord progression: A minor diatonic triads

You’ll also want to memorize the chord scale for the natural minor scale.

  • i: A-
  • ii°: B°
  • III: C
  • iv: D-
  • v: E- (sometimes V7 or E7)
  • VI: F
  • VII: G

For more on ear-training chord progressions specifically, check out our four-step guide to ear-training chord progressions.

BEFORE YOU CONTINUE...

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Hearing Melodies and Identifying Notes Relative To A Tonal Center

Another skill you should strive toward developing is identifying the melodic intervals used in a short melody or musical phrase. You don’t need perfect pitch to recognize what major scale degrees or simple intervals are present in a melody relative to the tonal center.

Identifying notes relative to their tonal center will also help you hear root movements and voice leading when trying to decipher progressions.

Determining the scale degree of each note in a phrase is a matter of recognizing what simple intervals each note is made of.

Transcribing Rhythm

As an aside, I want to also mention the importance of practicing rhythmic transcription. Many musicians focus on hearing harmony and melody but ignore the rhythmic aspect of ear training, which is just as important.

In addition to practicing ear training with intervals, chords, and progressions, you need to also work on transcribing rhythms: quarter notes, eighth notes, sixteenth notes, and triplets.

You can find some jazz rhythm exercises in this article on jazz rhythms.

3 Ear Training Exercises For Hearing, Lines, Chords, and Progressions

Finally, we can dive into the practical way to approach ear training exercises!

The ear-training practice steps we’ll discuss in this section will focus on hearing a major seventh chord, but the process works for more than chords! The practice principles can be applied to any melody and any chord progression also.

1. Listen and Familiarize Yourself With The Subject

It goes without saying that you’ll need to listen to whatever you are trying to learn. Internalizing the subject, whether it’s the relationship between two notes, a whole solo, or an entire chord progression, requires that you immerse yourself in it.

Let’s use a major seventh chord as our example.

Here’s what a major 7th chord sounds like:

There are four notes in a major seventh chord:

  1. Root Note
  2. Major Third
  3. Perfect Fifth
  4. Major Seventh

The key is to get this sound deep in your ear so that when you hear other chord qualities, you can distinguish them.

This exercise track features major 7th chords and arpeggios in all twelve keys in random order. Press play and let the music soak into your brain! Don’t worry about analysis or intervals just yet. This is the passive part of ear training.

Focus on listening.

2. Use Your Voice To Sing Parts of a Maj7 Chord From Different Root Notes

Now it’s time for active practicing! These ear-training exercises will help you develop a more intuitive understanding of what you are listening to.

Your job is to reproduce parts of this major seventh chord using your voice! Conceptually, you can apply this same principle to practicing simple intervals and short melodies.

For the following ear training exercise, we’ll give you the root, and it’s your job to sing up the arpeggio. Move from the root to the third, to the fifth, and finally to the seventh.

The correct pitches will play after a few seconds. If you need more time, you can always pause the track.

3. Sing All The Pitches In A Maj7 Chord

Singing the Root of the Chord

Practice singing the root of a major seventh chord.

Listen to the chord and sing the root. After a few seconds, the root will play.

Recognizing the root is key. Since these are root position voicings (built from the root up), you can start from the root and build up through the intervals you hear.

Singing the Third of the Chord:

Practice singing the 3rd of a major 7th chord.

Listen to the chord and sing the 3rd. After a few seconds, the 3rd will play.

Note that these tracks are in different keys because it’s important to train your ear to re-establish new root notes.

Let’s move on to the next.

Sing the fifth of the chord:

Practice singing the 5th of a major 7th chord.

Listen to the chord and sing the 5th. After a few seconds, the fifth will play.

Sing the seventh of the chord:

Practice singing the 7th of a major 7th chord.

Listen to the chord and sing the 7th. After a few seconds, the 7th will play.

Here is a quiz where you’ll be asked to sing the fifth or the seventh. Give it a shot!

The Inner Circle Has Ear Training Courses To Help You Play What You Hear

If you have difficulty hearing intervals, chords, and chord progressions, and it’s getting in the way of your musical development, check out the Learn Jazz Standards Inner Circle. We have ear training courses designed to help you improve your ear and understand what you are hearing.

Ready to take your musical ability to the next level? Join the Inner Circle.

TAKE YOUR JAZZ PLAYING TO THE NEXT LEVEL.

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TAKE YOUR JAZZ PLAYING TO THE NEXT LEVEL.

We help musicians of all instruments start improvising confidently over jazz standards in as little as 30 days without mind-numbing hours of practice or the overwhelm.

“Jazz music is the power of now. There is no script. It’s conversation. The emotion is given to you by musicians as they make split-second decisions to fulfill what they feel the moment requires.”
WYNTON MARSALIS

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Thanks, and enjoy LearnJazzStandards.com!

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Refund Policy

For play-alongs and eBooks:

Because these are digital downloads, and not returnable, we have a strict no refund policy. All purchases are final and cannot be reversed. Please be sure that you fully understand the product you are purchasing and what is and what is not included. Of course, if you ever have any questions about a product feel free to contact usor visit our FAQ page.

For 30 Days to Better Jazz Playing eCourse

Please make sure you completely understand the product you are buying before purchasing.

14 Day 100% Money Back Guarantee

  • This guarantee lasts 14 days, which completely covers almost half of the course, enough for you to observe its’ effectiveness.
  • We can’t guarantee you will be Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, or John Coltrane in 2 weeks. We’d be suspicious of anyone who could promise that. Becoming a better jazz musician is a process and it requires work.
  • If you’re not happy with the quality of this program…send us an email and showing you did the work. We’ll refund 100% of your money (We’ll even eat the credit-card processing fees) and we’ll part as friends. We believe in the power of this course and so we’ll take responsibility for it.

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OUR PROVEN PROCESS FOR IMPROVISING JAZZ SOLOS LIKE A PRO

Get our FREE “Jazz Improv Made Easy Fast Track Guide” and follow the 3 simple steps for improvising amazing jazz solos.

Jazz Improv Made Easy Fast Track Guide Ebook Cover

OUR PROVEN PROCESS FOR LEARNING JAZZ THEORY LIKE A PRO

Get our FREE “Jazz Theory Made Easy Fast Track Guide” and follow the 4 simple steps that make learning jazz theory easy.

Jazz Theory Made Easy Fast Track Guide Ebook Cover

DOWNLOAD THIS CHORD CHART

Get our FREE "Ear Training Exercises: 3 Steps For A Stronger Ear" chord chart and our entire library of 200+ jazz standards!

Chord Chart

DOWNLOAD THIS CHORD CHART

Get our FREE "Ear Training Exercises: 3 Steps For A Stronger Ear" chord chart and our entire library of 200+ jazz standards!

Chord Chart

DOWNLOAD THIS CHORD CHART

Get our FREE "Ear Training Exercises: 3 Steps For A Stronger Ear" chord chart and our entire library of 200+ jazz standards!

Chord Chart