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What is Ear Training?


Ear Training is different from simply hearing music as a background to whatever else you may be doing. Hearing background music is a passive activity that doesn't require any involvement by the listener. Ear Training is a method of actively listening to musical sounds and learning to identify that music in a meaningful way.

Now, the possibilities to combine different musical sounds and create new music are infinite. But, the building blocks of music, the basics, are all the same and never change. These are the things we study in Ear Training.

We will learn to identify:

  • Intervals
  • Scales
  • Melody Fragments
  • Chords


  • Chord Progressions

Each of these musical elements are combined in different ways to create music, and the more familiar you are with each one of them the better you will be at recognizing them in actual music. And you will also be better at using them in your own music.

What is musical sound?

What makes "musical sound" different from ordinary sound? And how do we know the difference?

Musical sound has four very distinct characteristics. Pitch, intensity, duration and timbre.


Frequency is the number times a sounding body vibrates per second. We describe frequency in terms of cycles per second (CPS), also known as Hertz (Hz). Higher frequencies are notated in kilocycles or kilohertz. (1 kHz = 1000 Hz)

The more regular the sound vibrations are; the easier it is to recognize their pitch. When the sound vibrations are irregular the sound source makes a sound, but not a pitch. High pitches have a high frequency, and low pitches have a low frequency. So, a pitch with a frequency of 4400 Hz or 4.4kHz is higher than a pitch of 440 Hz

It has been generally agreed that:

A regular vibration at a frequency of 440 Hz produces the pitch A.

A 440Hz

A regular vibration at double the frequency 880 Hz produces the pitch A an octave higher.

A 880Hz

A regular vibration at half the frequency 220 Hz produces the pitch A an octave lower.

A 220Hz

Human hearing can vary in the range between 20Hz to 16,000 Hz (16 kHz); a much wider spectrum than human vision which is approximately 400 nanometers to 700 nanometers.


Intensity is otherwise known as volume in music. It is the amount of energy or force in a sound's vibrations whether regular or irregular. It is also called amplitude.

We can use a simple wave form to show the characteristics of pitch and intensity.

Single Cycle Waveform

Single Cycle Waveform


Frequency – the number of complete cycles in a given period of time (usually one second); illustrated horizontally.

Amplitude – the amount of displacement from the center of the wave form and is illustrated vertically.

Basic Waveform

Basic Waveform

Greater Frequency Same Amplitude

Higher Frequency
Same Amplitude

Same Frequency Greater Amplitude

Same Frequency
Greater Amplitude

Greater Frequency Lesser Amplitude

Higher Frequency
Less Amplitude

Lesser Frequency Greater Amplitude

Lower Frequency
Greater Amplitude

Same Frequency Increasing Amplitude

Same Frequency
Increasing Amplitude

Same Frequency Decreasing Amplitude

Same Frequency
Decreasing Amplitude



The length of time the vibration lasts is called duration.


The distinctive quality of the sound. Sounds identical in pitch, intensity and duration will have a different character if produced by a singing voice, a guitar, or a trumpet. This character is what we call timbre.

The character of the sound is affected by:

  • The means by which the sound is produced. (Bowed instruments, Wind instruments, Plucked instruments, or Striking an instrument)
    Instrument Method of Sound Production; Bowed, Wind, Plucked, Struck
  • The physical nature of the instrument. (The material it is made of, and variations in thickness, hardness, or pliability)
    Instruments Construction Material Types
  • The condition of the instrument
    An Instrument's Condition Affects How It Sounds
  • How the instrument is played by the performer.
    Performance Technique