What's ear training, do I need it ...?

Everyone in the group generally agrees that one of the most important aspects of playing Jazz is having a "good ear". Here are some suggestions to help train the ear taken from various posts in the group.

I have spent time with the Dave L Burge perfect pitch and it never did anything for me except maybe sharpen my awareness.

However, I did get his relative pitch training course years ago (it was on cassettes back then, now it's on CD's) and I used it while driving - which really helped me a lot. One of the things he does in that course is something he calls "lightening rounds" where he plays intervals very fast and your ear adjusts to hearing the "color" of the interval so you can identify it very quickly (not just intervals, chords and inversions as well).

On the other hand, I think that these days the best bet is to buy an ear-training software package. They are usually under $50 and they are so much more versatile than a fixed set of tapes or even a class, because you can tailor it to your own weaknesses. For example, I found that even when I knew intervals instantly, I had problems with 4-5 note melody dictations where the intervals come in rapid succession. Also, it's a lot less embarrassing to make mistakes in front of your computer than in front of a teacher or a class.

I have used: Earope as well as Music Box and Earmaster Pro.

With regard to ear training, try carrying a set of chromatic pitch pipes in your pocket and testing your self on intervals.

With regard to Relative Pitch and Ear Training, this is a big subject! Check Out Ear Training Links for more information . Ear Training is not just a course you tick done that move on etc, it's like playing the guitar, a lifelong practice, which as you practice you get better! Approached in this way, will enable you to relax into it and give

yourself time! It's not for nothing that music students at college/university often refer to Ear Training class as Fear Training! Part of the reason for this is that Ear Training Courses, IMHO force people to progress at rates faster than their ears often allow and/or the anxiety produced by

constant questioning causes people not to trust their ears. I've seen music students devastated by Ear Training classes and they scramble to recognize what is being played!

So take your time, be patience with yourself and relax whilst working on ear training!

One of the things that helped me (and others) is singing. I try to sing everything before I play anything - and I'm no singer!

For those new to this I recommend the the following simple exercise can get you on the right path:

1. Practice singing the Major Scale using the Solfeggio Syllables giving yourself a reference note. One note only and then sing from there.


Listen carefully for the half step pitches Fa-Me, Te-Do

2. Practice singing the intervals UP and Down, giving youself a reference note:



3. Practice singing from any point in the scale, giving yourself a reference note:

Eg Play Note, Sing La

Another similar thing I learned from guitarist Rick Stone is to:

1. Open a fake book and play the melody to a song you don't know

2. Play the melody in open position only (to avoid memorizing the fingering)

3. Now, while looking at the melody - transpose the song up a 1/2 step in your head - still playing it in open position, so that you don't just slide your finger up one fret. This forces you to become aware of the intervals and modulations.

4. Keep transposing it up in 1/2 steps, always playing it in open position and always reading off the chart in the original key.

For beginners/intermediate players, a great exercise (I think from a Tommy Tedesco column in guitar magazine in the 80s) is very simply to take a melody you know very well, but have never played on a guitar and try to play it. It is surprising how tough this can be sometimes without hitting a wrong note. This is a good test to see if you can actually 'play what you hear'.

Start with stuff as simple as yankee doodle dandy, happy birthday, or the Gilligan's island theme or whatever...

Just try a couple of melodies a day, and that's it. This may not be 'ear training' in the sense of perfect pitch, but it sure develops the sense of intervals and relative pitch...(i.e., what is the interval between the first two notes of the Gilligan tune? etc...)

There has been alot of discussion regarding playing by ear and/or playing without fakebooks, etc.

Players will always tell students to learn tunes but one thing that never seems to be discussed is just how one goes about learning tunes.

As jazz musicians we cannot rely on "finger" memory the way a classical player might. We may be called upon to play tunes that we havent played for a long time.

I would like to start off this thread initially just focussing on tips for learning the melodies to songs.

The first thing about playing by ear is that you can't play something you can't sing.

ALot of times people think they know tunes because they will recognize them if they hear them and even recognize some mistakes if played. But yet if you ask them to sing the tune the will get about

two bars and then get really unclear. They probably know the catchy "hook" part of the tune.

With my students I start them off playing by ear all the songs we learn as kids because those are usually totally clear to us.

Thus "Mary Had A Little Lamb", "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little
Star", "Happy Birthday", etc.

My main instruments are piano and guitar but I teach improvising to people on other instruments and it's amazing how many jazz musicians know all about "Giant Steps" but can't play "Mary Had a Little Lamb" without a book. Of course they can't play "Giant
Steps" either without looking at a book.

So, anyway the first thing is to make a list of these tunes. I'll be posting some lists I have. Others may do the same.

The next thing to realize is that almost all tunes end on the note of the key. So if the tune is in the key of C it
will end on C.

SO then I have people pick out the melodies to all these kids songs in the key of C. Not all will start on C but they will al end on C. Of course once they can really play them in C then the next thing is to play them in all the other keys.

These tunes are almost
entirely diatonic though frankly even standards are for the most part except where they have key changes.

Even my five year old piano students know that each week they are working on a different scale and I will ask them at the lesson to play several songs they know in the key for that

From here, the next thing is to start learning standards that you already can sing, at least to some extent.

This process develops over time and is the first step to gaining confidence in playing without seeing the notes.

I think that most professional jazz
musicians did this when they were kids.

Anyway I'll stop here for now.


The first thing you need when playing the melody of a tune is the starting note. Sounds simple but how do you find it?

Well there is not just one way.

If it's a tune you've
played for a while you might just remember what the note is in some particular key. For example you might just remember that "Stella by Starlight" starts on Bb when playing in the key of Bb. Then you are done. If you're playing the tune in Bb the starting note is Bb, if you are playing the tune
in C the starting note is C. Some people that are very visual will find it easy to just remember what the sheet of music that you first saw if on looked like.

(One note here is... know your major scales. That means in this case to know the notes and what note each degree of the scale is.
For example, the fourth note in the key of C is F, in the key of Bb it's Eb.)

Sometimes you might remember that a tune starts on a particular degree of the scale. For example you might remember that it starts on the fifth degree of the scale. So you remember that "Happy Birthday" starts
on the fifth degree of the scale so in the key of C that would be G.

I have another technique I use which is a little hard to explain but works quite well and is part of a larger ear training regime.

Play a major scale up and down, not too fast. Think of the scale degrees or even
sing the scale as 1-2-3-4...

C D E F G A B C B A G F E D C .
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Then pick any note of the scale and play it.

See if you can hear where that note wants to go.

If you play a B in C major you should hear that it wants to go up to C. This
is the sound of 7 going to 1. You should hear 7 - 1. Or if it goes to resting point after one note then it started on the 7.

If you play an F it should want to either go down or up to C. In other words you should hear either 4-3-2-1 or 4-5-6-7-1. Or , if you hear 5 notes up to 1, then it
started on the 4.

Once you hear in what direction the note wants to go in (up or down), continue singing from that note until it gets to a resting point. The resting point should be the first degree of the scale, or C in this case. You can tell by how many notes it takes what degree of
the scale you started on. Sometimes you will just hear the numbers 6-7-1.

(You could also do all of this with do-re-mi... if you want).

This is a general excercise that is good for ear training though I've never seen it mentioned in any book. It's just something I developed for

Now how does this apply to finding the starting note of tunes??

Think of a tune you are going to play. Suppose it's Satin Doll. Try to start getting an aural idea of that tune. You can sing a few bars out loud or in your head or try and remember a recording of it or
whatever you need to do to get the tune happening in your mind in some aural way.

Then think of the starting note, in an "aural" way. You may do this by singing it or hearing it in your head. Now see if you can hear where the note wants to go.

In the case of Satin Doll you should
hear 6-7-1.

This excercise works well over a period of time so don't be impatient.

Of course you eventually hope that you'll just go to the starting note without thinking about it but these are some ideas that can help you get to that place.


I mentioned
that I would submit some lists of basic "kid" tunes for beginning practice on playing by ear. Please see my earlier discussions on this topic. Remember that initially the idea is to just be able to play the melody in C and once that is clear, play it in all the other keys.

There are lot
of reasons for doing this. 1) Almost all jazz artists and professional musicians I've met started doing this when they were kids. If you didnt then you need to. 2) It gets one into the idea of playing songs that you havent played for a long time. I.e. calling up the old inner CD player. 3) They
are great melodies. 4) You should be able to play what you know.

I havent located my beginning list but I'll try and do some of it from memory. Others are free to add tunes.I'll build a database and post the results from suggestion tunes from others.

The point is to choose tunes
that one is totally clear about. As such depending on our childhood, this list will be different. There are many people on this list that didnt grow up in the USA as I did so they may have a totally different list of tunes they have known since childhood.

So I don't mean learning tunes

on this list that you don't already know. It's just a starting point for playing by ear the tunes you do know.

For college teachers, don't let students graduate without knowing happy birthday!!

ABC song
Aedle Wiese (Spelling?)
Amazing Grace
America (My Country 'Tis of Thee) (God Save the Queen)
America the Beautiful
Are You Sleeping
Auld Lang Syne
Aura Lee
Away In a Manger
Baa! Baa! Black Sheep
Battle Hymn of the Republic
Bicycle Built for Two
Billy Boy
Blue Bells of Scotland
Brahms Lullaby
Bring a Torch
Bicycle Built for Two
Camptown Races
Can Can
Carry Me Back to Old Verginny
Circus Song (Played on Calliope)
Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean
Crusaders Hymn
Danny Boy
Dark Eyes
Deck the Hall
Deep in the Heart of Texas
Do, a Deer (Sound of Music)
Down in The Valley
Dradle Song (Hanukah)
Eeensy Weensy Spider
Eyes/Texas R Upon U
Fairest Lord Jesus
Faith of OurFathers
Farmer in the Dell
First Noel
For He's A Golly Good Fellow
Frere Jacques (Are You Sleeping? Brother John)
Frog Went-A-Courtin
Funiculi, Funicula
Go Down Moses
Go Tell It-Mountain
GodRestYeMerry G
Good Night Ladies
Goodnight Ladies
Happy Birthday
Hark the Sound
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!
Hava Nagila
Holly & Ivy
Home on the Range
Hush Little Baby
I Ain't Gonna Study War No More
I Dream of Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair
I Love Lucy Theme Song
I Saw 3 Ships
I'mPopeye S M
It Came Upon a Mid-n
I've Been Working on the Railroad
Jesus Loves Me
Jimmie Crack Corn
Jingle Bills
Joshua Fit the Battle of Gericho
Joy to the World
Joy to the World
Joyful, Joyful
Leave it to Beaver Theme Song
LetMeCallYou SwtHrt
Lightly Row
Little Pierrot
Lo How a Rose
Loch Lomond
London Bridge
Long Long Ago
Marine's Hymn
Mary Had Little Lamb
Merrily We Roll Along
Muffin Man
My Bonnie
My Old Kentucky Home
Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen
O Come, All Ye Faithful
O Holy Night
O Little Town
O My Darlin Clementine
O What Beautfl Morn
Ode to Joy (Theme for Beethovens Ninth)
ODearWhatCan MattrB
Oh Christmas Tree
Oh Come Emanuel
Oh Danny Boy
Oh, Suzanna
Oh, Where, Oh Where has My Little Dog Gone?
Oh Come-Faithful
Old Folks At Home (Swanee River)
Old MacDonald
Old Macdonalds Farm
Old Rugged Cross
On Top of Old Smokey
Polly Wolly Doodle
Pop! Goes the Weasel!
Rain Barrel
Rakes of Mallow
Red River Valley
Rock My Soul (in the bosom of Abraham)
Rock-a-bye Baby
Row Your Boat
Row, Row, Row, Your Boat
Rudolph Red Nose
Sail Navy
Scarborough Fair
Scotlands Burning
Sentimental Journey
ShallWe GathrAtRiver
She'll Be Comin Round
Shoo Fly
Shortin Bread
Silent Night
Skip to My Lou
Star Spangled Banner
Streets of Laredo
Swanee River
Sweet Bestsy From Pike.
Sweet Betsy from Pike
Swing Low
Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
Take Me Out to the Ballgame
The Blue Bell of Scottland
The First Noel
The Man on the Flying Trapeze
The Stars and Stripes Forever
This Old Man
Three Blind Mice
Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
Wayfaring Stranger
We Three Kings
We Wish You a Merry Christmas
What a Friend-Jesus
What Child Is This
When Irish Eyes are Smiling
When Johnny Comes
When Jonny Comes Marching Home
When The Saints Go
Where has my Little Dog Gone?
While Strolling Through the Park One Day
White Christmas
Yankee Doodle
You Are My Sunshine

In general most tunes have a key signature, yes there may be modulations to other keys, but generally harmony wise the tune starts out in the key makes some harmonic changes and then ends up back at the key.

Our ear hears this journey and hears this journey in relationship to the key.

So lets take a Blues in F:

|F | Bb7 | F | F7 |
|Bb7 | G#Dim/B| F/C | D7b9 |
|Gm7 | C7 | F D7b9 | Gm7 C7|

Harmonically the bass line goes from F to Bb Back to F etc. A good way to start is to play the roots and sing the roots with a backing track.

As our ear
hears the progression in relationship to the key ie. F. Next Sing the tune as a series of intervals from the root F-F, F-Bb, F-F, F-F, F-Bb, F-B, F-C, F-D etc following the progression.

Next just relax and listen to the backing track. Mentally sing the roots with the track.

with the track sing 4 bars, mentally sing 4 bars. etc.

The exercise can be expanded to include other chords tones. But this will get you started.

The goal is to be able to hear that in relationship to the key or Do (Solfege) where the tunes moves harmonically.

The whole

tune is related to F or Do. Yes, there is a relationship between each of the chords but hearing each chord in relationship to the key will get you to hearing how the song "moves".

Next take this method and start to use it with other tunes.

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