4 Ways to Improve your Ears

As a musician your ears are your most important tool. Obviously without them you wouldn’t be able to listen to music in the first place. Having good ears also means that you are far more employable as you can learn songs faster and are more adaptable in musical situations.

Here are 4 ways to work on your ears and develop the active skill of listening.


This is the most obvious way to really improve your ears as a musician. Listening to songs and writing out or memorising the melodies and harmonies of a tune is the core aspect of using your ears. Instead of looking up the chords or tabs online, try to work it out by yourself.

Initially it may take longer but in the long run your ears will improve and it will become faster and faster. It will also help in those situations when you are playing an unknown song or are filling in for an original band where there are no chords or tabs written anywhere.

Do interval training


No, not the one where you work out as hard as you can for a short period of time. I’m talking about playing 2 notes in isolation and guessing the pitch between the two notes. For example if you play a C note and then an E it would be a major 3rd.

Work on all intervals and even intervals greater than an octave if you find staying within an octave too easy.  To assist you, have a reference song for each interval. Star wars is a common one for a perfect 5th, somewhere over the rainbow for an octave. You can find a full list here of songs that may help with this

Look for patterns

Music has many recognisable patterns that make the process a lot easier. For starters, knowing the key of the song automatically eliminates 5 notes in most cases of pop music. Guessing what the next chord will be gets easier with every song you transcribe as many songs use the same or similar chord structures. A funny example of this can be seen here.

Practice hearing tonality


Listening to chords and determining whether the chord is major, minor, diminished, augmented, dominant etc is a good way to build your ears. Listening to every note of the chord at once may be harder but this will allow you to eventually be able to jam with musicians you’ve never played with before of whose songs you’ve never even heard, how cool is that?

If you know the key of the song already this becomes very easy as you can pretty much guess the tonality of each root note based on the key of the song.

So I want to know, do you practice these? Are there more that I should include on this list?

If you want a great resource for aural skills then check out the book below

Aural Skills in Context: A Comprehensive Approach to Sight Singing, Ear Training, Keyboard Harmony, and Improvisation

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