According to Wikipedia, “Ear training (or aural skills) is a music theory study in which musicians learn to identify pitches, intervals, melody, chords, rhythms, solfeges, and other basic elements of music, solely by hearing. The application of this skill is analogous to taking dictation in written/spoken language. As a process, ear training is in essence the inverse of sight-reading, the latter being analogous to reading a written text aloud without prior opportunity to review the material. Ear training is typically a component of formal musical training and is a fundamental, essential skill required in music schools.”
The fact that ear training is the INVERSE of sight-reading strikes a lightbulb moment. If the goal is to teach our students to be better sight readers, wouldn’t it be wise to practice sight reading “backwards” by incorporating rhythmic dictation and ear training practice in our band rooms? It’s always best to teach children a new concept or skill from a variety of angles. Are we doing that consistently when teaching rhythm to our band students? Here are 6 benefits of implementing ear training in your band program:
1. MORE SENSITIVE EARS
By incorporating regular ear training exercises, students will learn how to listen more closely, paying attention to individual elements of a piece. They will learn to better utilize not only their eyes when playing music, but also their ears which are often neglected (because the eyes and fingers are so busy with learning the mechanics of the instrument!) The skills learned in ear training can also transfer to heightened attention to intonation as well.
2. BETTER MUSICIANSHIP
Working on the eyes (sight-reading) and the ear (ear training) is the perfect recipe for improved musicianship in a student. The confidence they gain in putting together what they hear with what they see will transfer to better performances and a deeper satisfaction of playing for the musician. Training the ears to listen attentively will enable the student to perfect little nuances in the music, whether it be dynamics, style or tempo.
3. TEACHER ASSESSMENT
Playing a rhythm and having a student write it down is a great way to check for student understanding. Often, children “fake it” when sight-reading or counting aloud in a group if they don’t completely understand and simply count quietly, hiding under the umbrella of their neighbor’s confidence. By incorporating rhythmic dictation and ear training, a teacher can more easily see who may be struggling and offer them extra help.
4. IMPROVED CONFIDENCE
A solid knowledge of music theory paired with an excellent ear gives a child much confidence in their musical abilities. Being able to associate sounds with their corresponding names gives a student confidence in their playing abilities which results in a well rounded, content musician.
5. BETTER ENSEMBLE SKILLS
As students learn to listen more critically and with more sensitivity, they will become more aware of students playing around them, which will improve their ensemble playing skills. Skills such as playing in tune, matching styles, vibrato and dynamics come more easily with a keen ear.
6. IMPROVED TRANSCRIPTION
While not every band student will become a future composer, it is important for them to be comfortable with music notation and being able to easily write down a simple melody or rhythm they hear. This is a real test of understanding. With consistent ear training practice, students will be more confident in both reading AND writing rhythms.
If you are looking for a good rhythm ear training curriculum to implement in your band program, this set of self-checking, leveled rhythm boom cards have been wonderful for our band program. If you own the Band Directors Talk Shop rhythm grids, this rhythm ear training bundle coordinates perfectly! These work well for in-person and distance learning. For in-person classes, we recommend using these as entrance or exit activities. Because they are all self-checking, a student can click through the cards while the director is taking roll, etc. These also make excellent sub plans! For remote classrooms, easily assign to ANY online teaching platform such as google classroom, canvas, seesaw and more. The teacher just shares a simple link and the students can play right away- no student login required!
Practical Strategies for Teaching Long-Term Music Reading Skills
Boom Cards: Digital, Interactive Task Cards for Band
Want Your Band to be Better at Sight Reading?
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