13 Ways to improve your aural skills (by Tom Hess)
There are lots of ways in which you can improve your aural skills. I've listed many of them below. The idea here is NOT to pick just one of these ideas from the list and expect miracles. Do as many of these things as you can, as often as you can.
Activities to practice:
1. Transcribing (figuring out by ear) songs, chords, melodies, solos, etc. using your instrument.
2. Transcribing without using your instrument (write the music down on paper and then when you think you have it as close to accurate as you can get it check your work with your instrument. Notice what errors you made and look to see if a pattern forms in your errors. For example, if you realize that you always think that minor chords sound major chords then you can see that this is something you will need to focus your practice time on.
3. Sing (yes sing out loud) scales. Start with singing the major scale, later add the natural minor scale, harmonic minor scale, pentatonic scale, blues scale, etc.
4. Sing intervals (two notes at varying distances).
5. Sing arpeggios (chords - one note at a time) start with major triads and then move on to minor triads.
6. Sight singing (you will need to have a basic understanding of reading music to do this) You can use any piece of sheet music for this. There are sight singing books that you can buy if you want.
7. Transcribe rhythms. this is just like transcribing a melody, but the focus here is on writing down on paper the rhythm only.
8. Improvising melodies, solos, etc. over chords. This is great thing to do anyway.
9. Imagine a 3 or 4 note melody in your mind and then try to play it on your instrument.
10. Record yourself playing lots of different chords (just major and minor triads for now). Try not to repeat the same chord very often. play back your recording and then try to identify whether the chords you hear are major or minor.
11. For those of you living in the United States, your local community college or university that has a music department typically offers basic aural skills classes that may be open to the general public. Community colleges often charge a very low fee for this class. I am not familiar with how this works in other parts of the world, so non US citizens should check this out with your local colleges.
12. There are ear training software programs available that can be found on the internet. The one I used in college was called Practica Musica by Ars Nova. (Note: This is not an endorsement for practica musica or Ars Nova, I'm just letting you know that this and other aural skills software do exist and can be a valuable resource.)
Ear training is critical to any musician's development as musician. Remember to persevere and be patient with yourself as your ear develops. Expect progress to be like your physical instrument playing, slow but steadily moving forward each day. Your ear needs constant practicing just like your hands do, so don't neglect the most crucial tool that you have...... your ears!