Many parents and music students taking private lessons just assume that aural music skill (ear training in music) just comes the more you practice, and that may be true to a certain degree. But your child is never going to master this skill without specific training, which is something that some private instructors can help you with.
But if they do not know why aural music training is essential? Read on…
True musicianship can only come from a deep understanding of the three pillars of music skills: performance, theory, and ear training. This is something most professional musicians understand well and is important for doing well when taking the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM) exams. Read on for more details about why it is essential and what you can do to help your child.
What are aural music skills?
Aural music skills are the brain’s ability to interpret and understand musical elements based entirely on what is only heard (that’s where aural comes in). Combining aural music skills with performance skills and music theory understanding is what makes the best musicians.
Here are some things that those with aural music training can do:
- Hear and sing/playback a melody without written music
- Identify pitch intervals, chords, rhythms, and time from hearing only
- Write down musical elements of a piece from hearing only
- Match pitch and intonation more effectively
- Identify important performance information and stylings from listening
- Hear the quality of sound (timbre) of different instruments
Essential Reasons for Aural Music Theory
#1 Understand what you hear
Without a complete musical understanding that includes aural training, your child’s ability to engage musically is forever handicapped. Without truly hearing what you or those around you are playing, it’s much more likely that you miss wrong notes, bad tuning, inconsistent style, and many other things.
You also won’t be able to understand what it is you hear with theoretical understanding. You may hear a part of the melody, but without ear training in music, you won’t understand that the melody actually doesn’t resolve the piece harmonically, which means you need to play it differently.
#2 Play what you see
It’s a common problem, with young musicians, especially that playing becomes robotic. You see a middle C quarter note; you play a middle C quarter note.
When your ears are more developed, you can hear the music in your head before you even play the notes. This gives you a natural, complete picture of how a phrase fits together with the rest of the piece and enhances your playing.
For vocal students, this is an essential idea. With ear training in music, the vocalist is freed from the over-reliance on the piano corrected their tuning (intonation) which helps them sing better.
Many television singing competitions have judges complaining that their singers are “pitchy.” What they’re really frustrated by is the singer’s lack of aural skill that keeps them in tune.
For pianists and wind players, the same ideas apply but a bit differently. If your child has received consistent aural training, they can look at the music as they play and anticipate where the piece goes, and connect the phrase into a more musical performance.
#3 Accelerate your performance ability
Having a “good ear” can actually help your child learn how to play faster and more efficiently. Your eyes may think they see everything on the page, but there are always times when you make mistakes in what you think you see.
Take this example:
Jimmy’s violin lessons are going well. He’s learning at a quick pace and has a good grasp of music theory and violin performance techniques. His private instructor doesn’t reinforce aural skills, and Jimmy’s parents do not have additional aural music lessons for him.
The violin teacher is going on vacation, so she gives Jimmy a longer piece to learn in the two weeks until the next lesson. He practices it daily as he’s supposed to and gets pretty good at it.
When he comes back, his teacher is frustrated. He missed that there is an accidental (changed note) on one of the lines that repeat and has now learned the piece with wrong notes all over the place. Because it’s become a habit, Jimmy has to work twice as hard now to fix the mistake.
Now imagine this:
Susie plays the violin well and has a good grasp of music theory, performance, and aural music skills. This is because she takes lessons on the violin and with ear training.
When her teacher leaves on vacation for a couple of weeks, she starts to learn the same long piece. As she plays, she misses the same notes as Jimmy, but every time she plays it, her ears tell her something is wrong.
Looking back at the music, she notices she missed the fact that accidentals carry through the measure, and she fixes the problem right there. When she goes back to her teacher and plays the piece, everybody is happy.
And all because her ears had training.
#4 Improve improvisation skills
Improvisation, or the spontaneous creation of music within a set of rules, is a big part of jazz, but it’s also in the classical tradition as well. This is considered by some to demonstrate the height of musical skills and performance. This is because good improvising requires a combination of performance, theory, and aural understanding.
With aural music theory skills, the musician can hear and imagine the melody before they play it. As they play, they can also adapt based on what they hear and understand from the group they’re playing with. Improvising is tough enough as it is, but it’s almost impossible without a “good ear.”
#5 Music is sound!
This may seem obvious, but music is sound. There are dozens of examples throughout music history in all genres of blind musicians who find success only through their ears. This should make it clear how important the skill is to the core of what music is.
Even the most famous deaf musician of all time, Ludwig van Beethoven, supports the importance of aural training. Beethoven spent most of his early and adult life able to hear, so when he went completely deaf by age 46, he understood music and had developed amazing aural skills.
For the rest of his life, Beethoven was still able to compose music without hearing the sound because he heard it all inside his head. Without his aural skill in combination with music theory understanding, we never would have all of his later works, including the iconic 9th Symphony.
For a top-notch music professional’s perspective on ear training, read more on what a professor at Julliard has to say on why ear training is more important than you think.
How to develop aural music skills
Hopefully, now that you realize how vital ear training is, you’re ready to ask, “How do I develop aural music skills?”
As with music theory, you can go about this in different ways. You can:
- Ask the lesson instructor to start teaching it
- Buy and follow a book series
- Read articles and try to learn aural theory on your own
- Download helpful apps and games
- Hire an aural music theory teacher
Of all of these options, the best and most effective way to help is to hire a trained and professional music teacher who is highly experienced in training aural skills.
Yes! This is a real thing, and these people are specially trained to help kids at their specific level to develop aural music skills.
Ear training in music is needed for all musicians regardless of the instruments they play or genre, so this can apply to everyone. Finding a qualified music teacher can really help anyone.
How do I know what level my child should be at?
An aural music teacher can help assess your child’s needs and abilities based on different methods. The best is to find a teacher who is familiar with the various music examination boards. Two of the most well-respected boards are the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM) and Trinity College London.
The ABRSM is an association that offers graded exams and guides for music theory and aural music where private teachers can guide you. With the right materials and pedagogy, a private teacher can help ensure that music students are receiving a well-rounded education in music.
Tests aren’t always the most fun idea, but it gives students a clear idea of what goals and milestones to work towards. Passing these exams also provide motivation and pride in their work, especially in a competitive atmosphere.
When should my child start ear training in music?
The earlier, the better. I’d suggest starting as soon as you start practical lessons.
If your child is already involved in working towards the ABRSM syllabus, they need these skills to prepare for the practical exams. The exams are designed to encompass well-rounded and complete musicianship, so the student’s listening skills with music are assessed.
Warning! Avoid the common mistake many parents make by waiting until a few months just before the exams to start training for their child. Aural skills are just that “skills.” It’s not just knowledge to be acquired; it’s something that needs to be practiced and honed to gain mastery and to become a well-rounded musician.
Here’s an example: I can “understand” the best form for swimming the backstroke, but without practice, the skills will not be there. It’s the same with music. Get your kids in as soon as you can.
Aural music training is an essential part of musicianship, and it’s not one you can just pick up over time. The best way to help take care of this is to find a highly trained private aural teacher who follows the ABRSM guidelines.
Think about these 5 essential reasons why aural music training is vital in your head. Give your child the best chance for musical success.