The Importance of Aural Training for Musicians

by Megan Marks

Piano and sheet music

We’ve all been there: Staring blankly at a new piece of music and thinking, “Where do I even begin?” The rhythm looks complex, the melody is daunting, the thought of combining the two makes me feel on edge, and don’t even get me started on the harmonic structure.

These tasks don’t seem nearly as frightening with the help of aural training.

Aural training is a crucial component of one’s musical ability, wherein we develop our inner ear, which includes the ability to hear and identify specific musical elements in our heads while reading and listening to music. It is the process of combining one’s knowledge of music theory with the sounds that one hears; in other words, combining the language of music and the sounds within that language. All of this contributes to the development of our musicianship. We start to build an active understanding of the sounds that we listen to and produce, and we are able to learn new music faster as we begin to recognise and even anticipate specific musical elements.

Several categories are covered in aural training, including:

  • Pitch
  • Intervals
  • Scales
  • Modes
  • Chords
  • Chord progressions
  • Melodic dictation
  • Rhythmic dictation
  • Sight singing

The benefits of aural training are myriad: Being able to sing/play on pitch, improving rhythmic skills and intonation, the ability to play by ear, the increased enjoyment of music, improved creativity, the ability to play with other musicians, and even an increase in confidence.

There are no exceptions when considering who may need aural training – all musicians do. However, as a teacher of aural training, I have seen that many singers struggle to grasp some of the basic concepts, especially those who do not play a second instrument. Arguably the most important aural capability for a singer is audiation – the ability to hear music in your head. Without audiation, it is unlikely that a singer will produce the correct note. 

As with all skills, honing it will result in the skill becoming easier over time, and eventually looking at a new piece of music will excite you rather than make you feel queasy. For singers specifically, the development of aural skills will lead to becoming more comfortable and familiar with one’s own voice and style, meaning one would be better able to select music that is suitable to one’s voice. 

We all want to be the best musicians that we can be, and there is no better way to become skilled, well-rounded musicians than to develop our aural capabilities to the fullest.

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