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Ear Training in Daily Piano Practice

Question: Hello! What are your suggestions for how I could ear train during my daily piano regimen? Currently, I am simply memorizing the c4-c5 C Major range on the piano, but as you could imagine, it is very boring. Any suggestions would be great! Thanks in advance and your work is excellent.

Brandon (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA)

Albert’s reply: Thanks for writing and for your kind compliment, Brandon. It sounds like you’re at the beginning of your studies. What’s most important now is to hear each note in advance and not rely on first pressing a key to hear a sound. There are a couple ear training exercises you can do to develop inner hearing. Since you know C major, first try playing C and then singing any other scale degree (the notes within the C major scale). Then play the corresponding note on the piano to see whether the two match.

Next, move on to other keys. What’s important is the interval relationship. Thus, try playing any other key on the piano and then singing a major scale starting from that note. Then try the exercise as above, in the new key.

Something all pianists should do in their daily practice is sing each voice in their pieces. Use the French/Italian note names (do re mi fa sol la si/ti), ignoring sharps and flats for the purpose. (This is called “fixed do” solfège.) Take a passage, sing each voice, and then check your accuracy with the piano. This assumes your piano is in tune!

I like to transpose sections of pieces I’m working on, to test my ear and knowledge of the harmony. This exercise is particularly useful for unusual harmonic progressions, and it will ensure that you’re learning with your mind and ear, not just your fingers. At a more basic level, you can always transpose melodies by ear. Simply start on another pitch and play the same intervals. Work slowly and always try to hear the proper note in your mind first… don’t simply fumble around at the keyboard until you chance upon the right note!