5 Reasons Why a Good Ear Is a Musician's Most Powerful Asset

Ear training is too often neglected by musicians. However it seems that many musicians do not realise all the benefits of being able to listen critically to music. Here are just 5 reasons why having a good ear will be your most powerful asset.

Ultimate Guitar

Treated as something unnecessary to learn, ear training is too often neglected by musicians. However it seems that many musicians do not realise all the benefits of being able to listen critically to music. Here are just 5 reasons why having a good ear will be your most powerful asset.

You will be able to quickly analyse music

As a musician and songwriter, it is essential that you are critical of other songs. If not, how would you know what it is you like and what it is you dislike about music, and how will this be able to show through your own creativity?

Having a well trained ear will allow you to easily and accurately identify what it is about certain songs/solos/phrases that you like. Perhaps the screaming wide vibrato playing the minor 3rd over the harmony makes you feel a certain emotion. And would you be able to spot that without a good ear? Possibly, but it would take a lot longer.

Your songwriting efficiency will double. At least.

As musicians, we often have ideas for new songs floating about in our minds. Perhaps it's a catchy melody or an infectious drum beat. But it's somewhat of a chore to have to sit down at your instrument and "work out" how it goes. Imagine if you could hear how the harmony moves in numbers (check out the Nashville Number System). Then you can simply play these "numbers" on your instrument, first time through, before your ideas become contaminated with mistakes.

Your instrumental phrasing will drastically improve

It's not unusual to be able to hear how we want our solos to sound before we actually play them. But more often than not, it is a struggle to get that desired sound through our fingers and onto our instrument. With a well-trained ear, you will be able to identify the different intervallic movements within your idea. Then, providing you know all the intervals on your instrument, all you must do is play these intervals as you heard them.

You'll get booked again

Ear training isn't just about identifying intervals and harmonic progressions. It includes being able to know when you're playing too loud or too quiet. It may seem like common sense, but it's not rare to go to a gig and the lead guitarist is just drowning out the entire band. If you don't have a sound engineer, learn to do it yourself. You'll get booked again.

You will become a team player rather than a soloist

Possibly the most beneficial aspect of having a good ear, is being able to hear everything that's going on at once. It's easy to just stand there and play your part, but if someone is playing something wrong, they need to be made aware of it. And if you're only focusing on your own playing, you're not going to notice. Moreover, couple this skill with your interval and harmony knowledge and you will be able to suggest ideas to your bandmates. Perhaps you can't play the bass, but can you hear how a major 7th arpeggio would sound under your solo? A good ear will allow you to become a team player and suggest ideas to your band.

These are just 5 (of many) reasons why ear training should be a priority within your practice routine. Let me know your own reasons in the comments section below!

About the Author:Sam Dawson is a singer/songwriter who specializes in fingerstyle and percussive guitar. For more songwriting tips, sign up to his free songwriting email course.

17 comments sorted by best / new / date

    All makes sense. It would be complete with a link to actual good ear training lesons, in my opinion. Though I have heard the standard "it's something you're born with" but I try to ignore that!
    Being able to do it somewhat naturally without musical training is pretty much something you're born with, but with some training it's definitely not inaccessible to anyone.
    I'd say that I had a pretty natural gift for it, maybe it is because i come from a long line of musos. In saying that I have friends who were tone def at the beginning who have far surpassed me in that department, who I actually go to to work out things.
    "it's something you're born with" is BS, unless we're talking about people with absolute pitch gift, which is very rare and almost impossible to acquire, if you don't have it from start. Otherwise learning through intervals is the way to go.
    Absolute Rock-O
    Even though you cannot have the absolute pitch without being born with, you can train your relative pitch to a point where it is very damn close to absolute pitch. I have the absolute musical pitch and my friend with relative ear can guess notes and intervals as fast (when not faster) than me.
    A good exercice to improve your ear is to train your ear to get every interval there is. You can try here, it's entirely free : www(dot)musictheory(dot)net/exercises/ear-interval Pers onnaly it helped me a lot.
    Of course ear training is important, that's why it'd be more helpful to just make a lesson on it.
    Loads of kids now don't understand how essential it is to listen to the entire band as a whole. A lot of them with this "metal" is just open chords and want a fast drum beat and only worry about sounding "heavy."
    metalha ha it's just 2 finger power chords.
    Metal bands which would disagree: ABRIOSIS, Between the Buried and Me, Veil of Maya, Gorguts, Cognizance, Inanimate Existence, Monuments, Meshuggah, Rivers of Nihil, TesseracT, Witchcraft. (And more!) Metal bands which would agree: 90% of mainstream metal. Mainstream metal =/= all metal. All metal =/= good. Good metal = Amazingly pure expression of emotion and skill. Dissonance and consonance at the same time; disparity and harmony. Be it not to your taste, you cannot deny that it takes BALLS to play such a genre. ( ̄ω ̄) As to the article... Yes? Clearly. Too bad most bands these days are focused on themselves and not everyone else playing on the stage as well. I'm from Austin and I see live bands all the time. Most of them are 3-5 people wailing away on stage, very few are actual bands...
    Urgh don't remind me. I was in a metal band many years ago. I remember the other guitarist who was a bit of an idiot used to scoop out all his mids as he had no basic understanding of how sounds fit together in the band. His guitar sound just deteriorated into a mushy load of crap and got lost in the mix.
    You forgot the most obvious: it lets you figure out how to play tunes without external help.
    Have met a few people who can't play anything but they can really manage a sound board like no bodies business.
    SPOILERS! you use your earholes to listen to music that you play and hear things with ears.