It’s very important to make ear training a vital part of all of your singing practice. This is how you improve your musical ears as a singer.
“Ear Training” may sound dry and difficult – but it doesn’t have to be!
Ear training is anything you do to improve your ear for music
That means there are plenty of ear training exercises which can help you as a singer, and they might not even feel like “work”!
Here are four essential ear training exercises you should be doing if you want to develop your musical ear and become a better singer.
The first is the most simple: active listening. This means changing the way you experience music from hearing to listening.
“Hearing” means just letting the music hit your ears, be half-ignored, and maybe entertain you a little. This is how most people experience music most of the time.
As a singer you should be more ambitious with how you relate to music. Instead of just hearing it, try to actually listen. That means not doing other tasks at the same time. It means paying 100% attention. It means listening closely and trying to pick apart the music with your ear.
This kind of “active” listening is a fantastic way to develop your musical ear in a light and fun way which you can practice any time there is music available to you.
Don’t be fooled! Though it’s simple and unstructured, this truly is one of the best ways to grow your musical ear. It will benefit your musical memory, your discernment of pitch, your appreciation of timbre, your awareness of harmony, and so much more.
Pitch Skills and Singing in Tune
Singing in tune is vital for being a good singer and pleasing listeners with your voice. You probably don’t need to be reminded of the last time you heard someone singing out of tune and instinctively cringed in discomfort! Or perhaps you’ve even had people tell you that you’re “off-key” or “out of tune” yourself?
In any case, accurate pitching is essential for singers. Being able to produce a strong note which is steady in pitch is fundamental to everything else you’ll do as a singer.
Being able to sing in tune depends 100% on being able to hear in tune. That means using your ears to judge whether notes are too high or too low.
Pitch ear training is the process of refining your ability to judge pitches in music. Spend some time training your ears for pitch and your voice will rapidly improve.
Relative Pitch Skills and Pitch Leaps
Relative Pitch is your ability to judge how far apart notes are from each other. Obviously this relates very closely to (in fact is dependent on) the Pitch skills mentioned above! However, it’s a different skill set.
Relative pitch for singers is about knowing how far apart two notes are when you need to transition from one to the other. This might be a great big leap like an octave, or just smaller steps between notes in a melody. Either way, you need to instinctively understand these distances in your ear.
Ear training for intervals or solfege (do, re, mi) can help you refine your sense of relative pitch. This will in turn make it much easier for you to judge those vocal leaps accurately and reliably, and so sing better.
Audiation: hearing music in your head
The fourth big skill to talk about is audiation. Simply put, audiation is the act of hearing music in your mind. This could be a song you know well, a melody you’ve just heard, or even imagining yourself singing something you’re about to sing.
This mental practice can have some seriously beneficial effects on what you project once you begin to sing. The basic idea is: Sing in your head, study the notes, match pitch, and gain confidence doing so. This both improves your accuracy (including the pitch and relative pitch skills mentioned above) and boosts your confidence. The more confident you become, the easier it will be for you to perform for others when the time comes.
Although this practice is “imaginary” it is truly effective. You might be surprised how much practice is required to accurately and vividly hear detailed music in your head! But it is a fun skill to practice, and (as some teachers remind their students when talking about audiation) until you can imagine yourself performing perfectly, the chances of you actually doing it are pretty small!
Use audiation as a way to train your ears and musical imagination, and your singing voice will benefit directly.
As you devote time to singing practice, make sure you devote time to ear training too. Your ability as a singer depends heavily on the musical ears you are equipped with. Develop this through ear training and you can become more musical, more proficient and more confident as a singer.