THE (Super Ultra Hyper Mega Meta) Ear Training Post

This is the place to share your tips, tricks and, hopefully, very serious, deep and battle tested strategies to develop your ears in music.

Let me begin by introducing Chromatic Solfege, a concept that helps us all make sense of things by ear.

It’s the good old Do Re Mi stuff, but now transposed to the new key, using only one syllable relative to the key instead of absolute note/pitch names (In F, Do = F = 1, In C Do = C = 1).

Every key is the same
Do = 1
Re = 2
Mi (Mee) = 3
Fa = 4
So = 5
La = 6
Ti (Tee) = 7

If you alter those with a sharp they become i (ee) sound (except for Mi and Ti) as in Do turns to Di = #1.
And if you alter them with a flat they become an e (as in epic) sound except for Re that becomes Ra = b2, Mi becomes Me = b3.

Here’s couple basic exercises to get you started (Play, Sing, Check):

EX1A Play the Low Root (Do), sing Re, then play it to check, back to Do, sing Mi, then play it…
EX1B Same but coming down from the High Do, so play Do, sing Ti, play Ti, play Do, sing La, play La…

EX2 Same as the first two but now using the entire Chromatic Scale (you can use Sharps while ascending and flats while descending for ex)


Do di re ri mi fa fi so si la li ti do, do ti te la le so se fa mi me re ra do.

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Two ways of expressing the relative minor…

la ti do re mi fa so la

do re me fa so le te do

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And I listed out the tetrachords, common and exotic, on the Bergonzi thread. Cheers, Daniel

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Awesome! Tetrachords are great “chuncking” devices and essential material to internalize by singing and playing too.

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Here’s the thread where I touched upon the tetrachords…

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There’s of course so much to work on.

I think any time you can’t hear something on the first try, it’s good to do a lot of work to internalize the sound, and solfege is a great tool for that.

There’s so much to do and a lot I could say, it’s a big topic.

I guess a helpful organizational perspective is that you’re trying to do two things:

  1. Internalize sounds you have not yet internalized
  2. Get faster, and be able to process longer streams of information, with sounds you do have internalized.

I guess which one is the priority can depend a lot on goals and context.


Could you (or anybody else) expand on that?
I have truly terrible aural skills. The only sound I can often recognize is min2 but only if it’s played as an “interval exercise”. If it’s in a musical context, I’m lost :dizzy_face:

I have tried to sing intervals. Listen, think, sing, play, sing again…and similar permutations. Nothing worked so far (but I have to admit that I would often give up after few weeks of such training).

Funny thing is that I transcribe while having such pathetic ear :smiley: I hoped that transcribing would improve my interval recognition but it didn’t. Instead, I am getting better at recognizing patterns and “standart” licks.


@Medium_Attempt to give a more helpful answer to that, could you answer how hard is it for you to, say, pick out the vocal melody of a standard pop song or classic rock song on guitar? Assuming it’s a song you’re super familiar with (maybe something you heard a lot in your youth,) multiple choice:

A. I can sit down with a guitar and more or less play it instantly
B. Can play it with a few minutes of tooling around
C. I’d have to listen back, check individual phrases, spend a bit of time on each phrase, but I could do it.
D. I’d really have to go super slow, note by note with a slow downer to be able to do it. I could do it in that case and probably be accurate, but it would take forever
E. I don’t know any methods for doing this, so I just wouldn’t even know how to start - or I might do it but I’m not confident what I figure out is right.


@JakeEstner, now you just want to embarrass me :smiley:
(More seriously, thanks for taking time to help me)

My answer is C. I can’t do it from the memory (A and B choices) but I wouldn’t have to go note by note (choice D).

Here’s an example: I have just transcribed the beginning lick from Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap solo. I have heard that solo oh so many times and I hear it in my mind quite clearly but I can’t figure it out just with guitar + my memory. I needed to listen to that bit. Once I figured out the tonality, the lick just fell into my fingers (it’s really simple).


Coincidentally, a recent clip from vocalist/pianist Aimee Nolte… :wink:


She nailed it as usual.

Not much point in having monster chops or harmonic knowledge if you can’t connect to music on this level, even if the note by note thing becomes more of a “color palette” in certain situations.

It’s all about sound in the end, whether you just started or even if you’re the utmost pro.


Oh, this one soooo applies to me! I am definitely among those players she is concerned about.

Thanks for posting :+1: I’m going to try Happy Birthday right now and will do my best to keep doing this type of “playing from a memory-ear” training for a while.


Pretty sure it applies to a good chunk of CtC seekers! It’s relevant to the general embarrassment among guitarists when put on the spot. There’s a reason I sing solfege based exercises every morning and have a membership to a playing by ear website. Lol.


What website would that be? Why do you like it?


Great! So think of it this way: sure you’d like to be at A or B, but be glad you’ve moved past E and D.

I will watch the Nolte video but I have a hunch I will agree with most of it.

I would do this - keep transcribing and trying to figure out music but work with super simple stuff to start - and solfege sing as much as possible. First with the guitar, then gradually work to being able to do it with less and less guitar.

Remember that it is also very material-dependent. A Tom Petty vocal melody will be simpler than a Tosin Abasi solo, dig? A Blink 182 intro guitar riff will be simpler than trying to figure out a big band horn arrangement by ear.

I transcribe a LOT and feel confident saying I have ‘good ears’ - but for me material can range from:
A. things I can play back on guitar instantly
B. things I can play back on the guitar with a few tries
C. things I have to listen to in detail for a few minutes but can get it
D. things I have to go super slow with, check note by note/chord by chord , double check my work
E. things that are just too fast and dense so that even with slow playback and taking a lot of time I’m just not confident in deciphering what’s going on

with like, basic pop vocal melodies or sparse rock licks being in A, and like, modern orchestral stuff or 10 note piano voicings probably being in E.

So you start with simpler/shorter material - solfege sing it - acknowledge and analyze the relationships of each tone against the key (which is basically what the solfege singing forces you to do anyway,) plus (if there are chord changes) the relationship of each tone to the chord of the moment. Would also highly recommend trying to find multiple fingerings (locations of the pitches on the guitar) for whatever you are working on so it becomes less shape dependent and you’re more focused on the interval relationships.

For what it’s worth I start all my young kid students playing basic nursery rhymes but actually learning them in solfege - we play them in different keys and positions and the first thing I want them to see is that we generally hear music by intervals and relation to a key, rather than exact pitches and definitely more so than exact string/fret locations. Even if they don’t wind up getting into like, composing or improvising, I want them to see things this way from the start because it makes conceptualizing and remembering whatever they learn a lot easier.


Julian Bradley’s Good stuff, sympathetic instructor, interesting approach? Works nicely with my solfege practice to provide framework.


@JakeEstner, thanks for the time and effort you expend to help me :slight_smile:
I think answering your previous question about my current state and then seeing Aimee’s video already showed me the way. (At least I think so.)
At the very least, your question led me to pinpoint my exact problem much more accurately and that’s a huge part of the battle. Thanks again :slight_smile:

My problem is that I can’t play what I hear in my mind. This is what determined my answer in your multiple options question.
All I can do is to match the music that is playing from some external source. So, I have to work on playing from my memory. I already started yesterday with “Happy Birthday” and did some training today (as per Aimee’s recommendations. And you wrote basically the same thing where you mentioned that you tell young students to play nursery rhymes). I hope to keep doing that for at least few weeks and see if there’s any progress in my aural skills.


Massive fan of Solfege here, i learnt it when I was 4 during Yamaha piano lessons and now I can transcribe tonal music on the fly without even thinking about it.

However, I’ve found that using La-Minor Solfege is about 1000 times easier to hear minor tonalities. So instead of a minor key starting using “do”, it uses “la”.

So for natural minor: la, ti, do, re, mi, fa, so

I’m also a firm believer that interval recognition practice will do one more harm than good. Very glad that after 16 posts, no one has mentioned intervals! :slight_smile:


Try mapping out the guitar fretboard in solfege. Then “Happy Birthday” is: so, so, la, so, do, ti… etc.