I just LOVE seeing piano students who can sight read well. It makes my heart sing. But another thing I love is seeing a piano student who has, (what we would probably refer to as) “good ears”. And if you have a student who can sight read AND who has “good ears”… well that’s pretty much heaven on a piano bench!
Some kids are naturals when it comes to ear training; whether this is genetics or the effects of their home environment… for some kids it just comes easy. But this doesn’t mean that good ear training skills can’t be taught. And the way you teach these skills can go so much farther than just clap backs and interval recognition.
13 Ways to Improve Ear Training Skills
Today we’re sharing my 13 ways to improve ear training skills; delve beyond the typical “ear training” tests that take place during piano exams and help to create some really musical kids! Here they are (in no particular order and with no prep needed)….
1. Instead of clap backs where your piano student mimics what they hear, instead clap two measures of rhythm and have your student then create two more measures (different than yours) at the same tempo in the same time signature. This forces him to hear an underlying beat and to naturally anticipate and create rhythm.
2. Instead of simply naming intervals, have your student sing the notes in-between the two given notes (for example, if you are playing the interval of a 5th with C as the root, your student would sing DEF. This can be harder than it sounds, but it’s training them to hear distances between notes correctly and creates a really solid “aural map” of intervals.
3. Play the first few bars of a well-known melody and abruptly stop mid-way. Have your student hum and then play the next note in the melody.
4. Play a simple melody line that ends in a perfect cadence, but only play the V chord. Have your student hum the resolution (the I chord).
5. Play the 4 notes of a pentascale and have your student hum the final note. Make it increasingly difficult by playing just 3 notes, then just 2 (your student hums the remaining notes in the scale). Up the challenge by moving to a full octave and then to minor scales using the same method.
6. Teach your students to create “answers” to melodies that ask a “question”. Play a phrase that creates a “musical question”. Then, have your student play a phrase that would answer that question (see example below for clarification).
7. Play a catchy rhythm on middle C. Have your student hum the same rhythm on a new note you provide. Make this increasingly difficult by changing the rhythm to a melody and asking him to hum the transposition. This is easy for some kids… nearly impossible for others.
8. “Back-and-forth-it”. Using the melody line from your student’s current piece, alternate singing one note at a time switching between the two of you. If you need it, play the keys needed to get either of you back on track! 🙂 Make it more difficult by using a piece your student hasn’t heard before.
9. You play the left hand, your student hums the right hand of her current piece. Or… if she’s really good she plays the left hand AND hums!
10. Draw a simple melody and give your student the 1st note. Have her hum the rest. (Or, if you use TEDDtales, you can also use these technical exercises for ear training too!)
11. Give your student a pencil and paper. Play a simple and short melody line. Have your student draw what he hears using a continuous line (matching the rise and fall of the melody to the rise and fall of the line).
12. Play a recoding of some rousing music (March, Rock, Reggae, African etc.) See if you and your student can create 4 different ways of clapping along with the music. If you have drums or other instruments this is a great time to bring them out!
13. Play “Choose Your Own Melody Adventure” where you begin playing a simple melody, and randomly stop. Your piano student gets to choose the next note by humming the note she feels would sound right. Continue on from this note and then randomly stop again. Have your student provide the following note again. Continue in this way until you stop for your student to provide the final note.
It’s More Than Just Marks on a Test
Once students reach the point where they don’t need so many changes of focus in a lesson, ear training games often go by the wayside as well, meaning that this important skill isn’t often addressed in lessons and ear training often becomes something that we pay attention to when it produces marks on a piano exam. But having great listening skills really makes a big difference in your piano students’ overall musicality and has an affect on almost every aspect of their piano playing. So – give these 13 activities a try and have some ear-training fun!
Did you know that our PianoGameClub games always include ear training games?! Simply press “print” and instantly become the coolest teacher in town! 4 new games every month for just $8. Find out more here.