If someone starts whistling a popular folk tune or singing a song that everybody knows, it can be a real downer if you happen to be the owner of a beautiful guitar but can’t play along. “What are the chords?” you ask. But how would anybody know the answer to that just off the fly, especially if they are beginning musicians? Ear training…
Ear training encompasses recognizing the quality of a chord, hearing every note of a chord and recognizing their relationships to one another within a musical scale, and being able to ascertain whether or not those notes are in tune. Advanced ear training enables a student to recognize relationships between entire chords as they move in sequence — as a chord progression — and being able to communicate to others exactly what’s going on harmonically in a passage of music. Such communication can take the form of traditional notation, lead-sheets or a verbal explanation, just as long as the observations in question can help someone else understand the music. One of the benefits of being able to do this quickly and easily, considering that first scenario of the room of people singing a popular tune, is being able to associate the notes of a melody with their corresponding chords. Such “built-in” chordal associations are thoroughly imbued within the Western musical system, and as such are worth recognizing quickly.
Most people don’t listen closely enough to anything to be able analyze it the way musicians with ear training can, making ear training a valuable cognitive skill whose secondary benefits trickle into other endeavors as well, such as reading, math, communication and the ability to focus on details. Like many other skills, ear training is best begun young so that its benefits can more easily sink into the brain.
Ear training is an important skill for any musician. It facilitates critical thinking and increased intellectual awareness and appreciation for the material at hand, but most importantly it enables a musician to quickly and easily play in harmony with others.