Six ear training programs for classroom and at-home use
"Garbage in, garbage out” is a guiding mantra for building computers and apps. It’s also true for our students’ brains. We are in the business of empowering young minds with healthy, useful information. Thanks to significant new developments, music educators can effectively combine music theory and aural training to empower students with ownership of their music creating experiences.
Ear training can cover a broad spectrum of useful music tools. These include pitch recognition, intonation, rhythmic drills, harmonic understanding of how music fits together vertically, better understanding of triads, complex chords, intervals, scale recognition, and how chord progressions are linked together.
Jazz educators have learned that a theory-based instruction is not always the best way to simulate authentic interpretation and improvisation. Rather, applying even simple theory with aural training emphasis is a more efficient way to accomplish riff development, melodic and rhythmic patterns, and to fuse together different jazz swing/Latin/rock styles all with more musicality and confidence.
Ear training software is now much more than just drill and practice. Expanded tutorials and discovery learning in today’s market have brought the best trends in music technology to classrooms and studios, and there are a lot of those trends worth exploring. For starters, there are cloud-based instruction for universal access, Advanced Placement instruction for high achieving students, differentiated instruction for those that need customized assistance, instant assessment for both students and teachers, accurate record keeping to keep students motivated and objectively informed about their progress. These tools also offer virtually unlimited exercises for Mac, PC, tablets, and smartphones.
Today’s Ear Training Applications
Noteworthy ear training applications are being developed in Europe, Australia, and here in the U.S. They include Auralia (Australia), Ear Master (Netherlands), Essentials of Music Theory (U.S.), Musical Ear (Sweden), Musica Practica (U.S.) and Music Virtual University (U.S.). Let’s take a look at each of these offerings.
Auralia has long been an aural skills training leader in both the U.S. and international markets. Its founder/creator, Peter Lee, first created it in high school in Melbourne, Australia in the early ’90s, and he has never stopped developing it. Auralia is capable of being used from elementary school through college, because each topic has its own carefully structured set of levels that guide the student in a comfortable, logical manner. Its self-guided pathways through integrated lessons, drills, and tests are designed to help students establish great ears. Training is evenly distributed between entry-level, medium, and advanced level.
Auralia’s comprehensive ear training lessons contain notated examples, audio examples, MIDI playback, and comprehensive explanation of the subject areas, as well as printed documentation and video training for teachers. Some topics, such as “jazz progressions,” use a library of files to ensure that they are stylistically true, and most topics in Auralia have more than 10 levels. Notwithstanding the impressive volume of training, what’s really great is how smoothly levels flow together, such as melodic dictation, rhythmic dictation, chord progressions, rhythm tapping, and so on. The length of any training can be customized to suit the needs of individual students or group of students.
Teachers can print extensive reports for students about their progress, and there are many ways to break down the data. These features are all networkable, but more importantly, students can also be connected to the teacher via the cloud. Auralia is available as a standalone application, as well as a cloud-connected solution. The cloud version does require a local install, similar to Skype or Dropbox.
Essentials of Music Theory
Alfred Music Publishing’s Essentials of Music Theory (EMT) is a comprehensive music theory program comprised of 80+ lessons that integrate aural and written skills. The three equal volumes begin at entry-level and move all the way up to advanced skills. The first ear training review starts after Volume 1, Unit 1, Section 5. The ear training correlates with each theory topic being presented. Each ear training lesson and review include audible and visual instruction. There’s a web version of the software, EMT Web, which doesn’t contain the PDFs of the material. The number of exercises in each unit vary depending on the complexity of the topic. For example Volume 1, Unit 6, Ear Training Review a: “Accidentals and Enharmonics” has eight questions, whereas Volume 3, Unit 16, Ear Training Review b: “Select Missing Chords” is comprised of one Schubert melody.
Students are given the chance to self-correct and are free to redo any training lesson. Students can also revisit previous lessons as need be. All assignments display and record test durations and time spent on each question. EMT Web is accessible online with any Flash-enabled web browser. EMT 3 Network Complete is the boxed version of the software and is most commonly installed in school computer labs, although the Educator Version is a single computer installation.
MP3s can be uploaded with text and instructional audio added. EMT does not use MusicXML or Finale/Sibelius. The number of steps required depends on how many examples needed. EMT 3 (boxed version) is available for Mac and PC. EMT does not correspond directly with Advanced Placement testing. There is an Australian version available for EMT 3 (boxed version) which uses British note labels.
First released in 1987, Practica Musica by Ars Nova is the oldest product reviewed in this article. It offers beginner-level through advanced exercises, comprehensively covering both ear training and theory. Each exercise contains on-screen tutorial instructions in the digital textbook. Practica Musica has over 200 drill and practice activities focusing on specific degrees of difficulty – “Leaps and Steps” – up to difficult topics like “Atonal Dictation.” The length of an exercise depends on the topic; the default length for a melodic dictation exercise is typically two measures. But all exercises can be modified by the instructor and each category also contains an exercise that can be customized by the student. For example, a student can choose longer or shorter dictation melodies, in major/minor or more unusual scales.
Many of the exercises follow and track a student’s successes, as well as those areas that the student finds challenging. For example, the program might revert to simpler material if a student is having trouble with a topic, adding more explanation, and then advancing once the student is doing better. The activities with multiple layers branch to new materials based on student success.
Student progress is kept both on the individual computer and online for teachers at Ars Nova’s “WebStudents” server for easy access. Whenever a student uses the program with an internet connection, the current score report will be updated at WebStudents and the teacher can check scores using any web browser. There is no charge for WebStudents accounts. Students can also store compositions at the WebStudents server, and a teacher with a desk copy of the program can open those student compositions to view and hear.
EarMaster has over 2,000 exercises arranged inside two courses (standard and Jazz) in a linear design from beginning to advanced. Since EarMaster’s main user base is made up of students in college, university, and music school, the majority of the exercises are especially good for higher-level ear training. Roughly 35 percent is entry-level, compared to 65 percent advanced. Most exercises are introduced with instructions, theoretical background information, and audio examples. These offers brief tutorial instruction about intervals, scales, chord progressions, chord inversions, and swing rhythms, as well as a series of practical advice for efficient ear training sessions. A comprehensive list of songs that students can use as reference for interval recognition is provided at www.earmaster.com/intervalsongs. Each song is supported by a YouTube video.
EarMaster’s 2,000 exercises in 14 activities are available through two courses: EarMaster Standard Course and EarMaster Jazz Course. The activities available in the software are Interval Comparison. Interval Identification, Interval Singing, Chord Identification, Chord Inversions, Chord Progressions, Scale Identification, Rhythmic Sight-Reading, Rhythm Imitation, Rhythmic Dictation, Rhythm Error Detection, Sight-Singing (Monophonic, SATB and Lead Sheet), Melody Imitation, and Melodic Dictation.
Music Virtual University
Music Virtual University is a web-based site that offers music instruction in several areas. It can be instantly accessed on tablets and smartphones with unlimited video streaming, account access, and assessment results. The Ear Training program progresses from the most basic tuning skills with four basic scales and triads to advanced harmonic dictation with Roman numerals for chords, similar to what is given on the AP Theory exam. The program’s 70 lessons are evenly proportioned with 1/3 basic, 1/3 intermediate, and 1/3 advanced. The entire program is supported by unique video tutorials that give students greater understanding of how to listen and what to listen for. Sight-singing and sight-reading are integrated into the program. There are 50 rhythmic dictation exercises, 20 melodic dictation and 30 harmonic dictation exercises. Intonation exercises include 10 examples devoted to tuning in instrumental and choral timbres.
Musical Ear is a piece of downloadable software that is entirely devoted to ear training. Peter Silberman at Ithaca College says, “It is tests things other programs don’t test, and it has a creative approach to ear training that make it quite attractive by incorporating a wide variety of musical examples.” Musical Ear exercises are explained in detail and have a clear structure. The software has 250+ audio files and music scores and also contains 200+ exercises, 600+ pieces of sheet music, 300+ online references, 65 chapters of music theory, and 550+ words and terms in the Theory & Terms Thesaurus. Exercises are based on short but complete pieces of music, which average around 20-30 bars, but can be easily shortened by editing file and the score.
The worksheets, scores, and music files can be emailed or printed, so the students can work on the exercises at home.
Eyes might be the windows of the soul, but ears are the gateway to the heart, where the beat dances. Students react deeply to music, and they are quick to connect knowledge to what they hear and feel. When performance practices are well illustrated and developed musically, students learn more thoroughly. Ear training is the natural way to accomplish this in music education. Never underestimate the capabilities of our students or neglect dynamic ear training.
John Kuzmich Jr., Ph.D. is a veteran music educator, jazz educator, and music technologist with more than 43 years of public school teaching experience. He is a TI:ME-certified training instructor and has a Ph.D. degree in comprehensive musicianship. As a freelance author, Dr. Kuzmich has more than 700 articles and five textbooks published. As a clinician, Dr. Kuzmich frequently participates in workshops throughout the U.S., China, Europe, Australia, and South America. For more information, visit www.kuzmich.com.
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