If 10 Reasons to Train Your Musical Ear convinced you of the importance of developing a good musical ear for mastering the piano, you may be wondering how to get started. While there are ear training apps you can use, there’s no substitute for a low-technology approach based on the two musical instruments you have at your disposal. “Two? But I only play piano!” Ah…but you can sing too, can’t you?
I’m assuming you’re not completely tone-deaf, which fortunately is rare, though I have met some tone-deaf beginners. If you’re not sure whether you are or not, find a musician with some training, or even better, a good singer, and ask them to listen while you try to sing notes that you play on the piano. If you’re unable to correctly sing a note that you play in your vocal range (a safe vocal range for most women is middle C to the C one octave higher, and for most men from middle C to the C one octave lower), then that’s where you should start. Keep working with someone whose musical ear you trust until you can easily match pitches in your vocal range.
When you’re confident in your ability to vocally match pitches you play on the keyboard, you can begin with two exercises that form the foundation for a strong musical ear:
Exercise: Singing Intervals
An interval is the space between two musical notes (keys, tones, etc.). Use the lowest C in your vocal range as your starting note. Use the notes from the C major scale (all the white keys from your starting C up to the next C) to practice with. Later, you can add chromatic (black) keys, expand the range beyond an octave, and practice singing intervals down from your starting note.
- Play and sing your starting C.
- Point to any white key between your starting note and the next C up.
- Without playing it, sing what you think the note is. (Don’t sing your way up to the note in your mind.) While still singing, play the note to see if you’re right. If not, slowly play the two notes back and forth, singing them as you play.
- Repeat using a different note.
Exercise: Recognizing Intervals
The goal of this exercise is to recognize the interval between two notes played in succession.
Play and sing your starting C.
- Then close your eyes and play a random white key between your starting note and the next C up. (If you occasionally “miss,” don’t worry!)
- Quickly guess the interval between the two notes (there are 8 possible intervals).
- Be sure to say the interval, not the name of the note. By learning the sound of each interval, you’ll more easily transfer your knowledge of the interval to other keys.
- Open your eyes to check.
Do these two exercises a few minutes each day and you’ll improve your musicianship and make the time you spend practicing much more effective. The ultimate reward for developing a good ear is the innate musical confidence that only a minority of musicians ever achieve.