How To
Listen Up: How to Train Your Ear
Some musical education can help expand your audio experience and have you hearing tunes in a whole new way.
ear training
November 05, 2007 by Robert Archer

A person doesn’t have to be a trained musician or musicologist to be able to enjoy audio. Still, the skill of listening, from a trained musical perspective, can help foster greater understanding of audio and improve your audio experience. And you don’t even have to be a tried and true “audiophile” to do so.

According to Chris Maggio, a professional, classically trained guitar player and co-owner of Wakefield, Mass.-based Sarrin Music Studios, formalized music education that focuses on ear training and listening will teach song structure analysis. “A music training curriculum develops the ability to hear music so it can be processed in a way to hear a melody line and put it in terms of writeable script,” he explains. “Another aspect is to decipher a harmony and the note within it and how it relates to chords.”

Providing an example, Maggio adds, “Part of ear training, is tempo. The idea of ear training is in being able to take it from what it sounds like and transcribe it onto sheet music or chord progressions. Ear training is an abstract thing. It could be as simple as learning intervals, which refer to the distance between two notes and the relationship between the notes. A typical class may involve a melody on a piano and the starting note. You have to hear the melody and then write it down.”

Maggio says people can learn the fundamentals of listening by examining simple passages within popular music. “I would say they could learn musical dynamics,” he says. “You can hear pitches and chords and how they work. You may not exactly understand everything, but you can hear, for example, the pitch of a drum. A great example is the Phil Collins’ song ‘In the Air Tonight.’ Everyone knows the part of that song when the drums come in and you don’t have to be a drummer to play that on your dashboard.”

Classic songs like “In the Air Tonight,” “Baba O’Riley” by The Who and the opening riff of “Walk this Way” by Aerosmith are memorable, Maggio explains, because of their melody lines. These lines, he says, draw people in and provide a way for people to learn a sense of rhythm and melody.

Maggio advises those interested in learning about songwriting and music to try to learn how to read and write it and, if possible, to learn how to disseminate the tonal differences between instruments. “When you are listening to music,” he suggests, “try to focus on one instrument and listen to it throughout the song. Do this for each of the instruments. Then you can hear changes in the music. Learn to listen to learn what an electric guitar is, an acoustic guitar, the difference between an organ and a keyboard. When someone brings in an Eagles song [for Maggio to transcribe and teach] there could be as many as three or four guitars playing at the same time. I will focus on each line to focus on what each person is doing to break it apart.”

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Robert Archer - Senior Editor, CE Pro
Bob is a dedicated audiophile who has been writing about A/V for Electronic House sister publication CE Pro since 2000.

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