Real Ear Training: A guest post by Roland Perrin

My guest writer today is Roland Perrin. Roland has written a book entitled Real Ear Training, published by Faber, and in this post, he describes the inspiration behind the book and how students will benefit from using it.

My name is Roland Perrin. I am a jazz/world music/classical composer, pianist and educator, and you can hear me, here:

In my formative years I was either a terrible student or I had terrible teachers. Actually, I was a pretty terrible musician as well. Seeking help to improve and not finding any, I developed my own methods to become what I knew instinctively was a good musician.

Being a good musician

Well, amongst other things, I knew that having a good ear was a big part of it. I saw pianists hear something on the radio and go to the piano and just play it.

I could not do that. And I desperately wanted to.

The combination of playing in African and other ‘world music’ bands (where everything is done by ear), thinking long and hard, and then subsequently having to teach an ear training course, led to the development of my method, which aims to improve or develop aural skills.

This method has transformed me into a completely different kind of musician. I practice in my head; I can understand and play a lot of music I hear (without having to buy the sheet music!) and I can learn music much more quickly than before. When I hear something in my head, I know what it is.

I have now published this method as Real Ear Training (Faber Music) and offer it to musicians everywhere. A gift (not free, unfortunately) to unlock a wonderful world owning the music you hear.

Real Ear Training: A new way to train your ear

Classifying intervals as absolutes (major 3rd, perfect 4th etc.) never helped me in the real world of playing and writing music. Music needs to be contextualised to be really understood. Melodies are degrees of scales, as are chords. Rhythms are moments in a subdivision of a bar of main beats. Thinking this way – and I would argue that this is how great musicians often think – unlocks it all for me, and becomes useful. There is a feeling of empowerment, of owning music.

The goal

The goal is to hear a piece of music and understand what it is melodically, harmonically and rhythmically, write it down and play it.

My example is the first two phrases of Happy Birthday To You:

I would encourage you to hear the music as this:

· Pitch (notes of the major scale): 5 5 6 5 1 7 / 5 5 6 5 2 1

· Rhythm (three beats in a bar): three and / one two three / one (two) three and / one two three / one (two).

· Triads: I (root position) V (1st inversion) V (2nd inversion) I (1st inversion)

If you learn how to hear this and have basic notation skills you will be able to write it down and play it on the piano. If you know all the major scales you will be able to play it in any key very easily.

Sound files

My book comes with sound files (downloadable mp3s) which provide examples, and, most importantly, the homework set for each of the 16 chapters.

The contemporary world

The majority of people listen and relate to music that grooves. We are talking bass and drums. So, it is important for the contemporary musician to be acutely aware of what a drummer is doing. Bearing this in mind, Real Ear Training also teaches how to hear the constituent parts of the drum kit and develops the ability to notate drum grooves by ear. Going further down this path, as it is the rhythm section together that really cooks up a groove, my method develops the ability to hear, understand and notate three-piece rhythm sections comprising guitar, bass and drums. Below are a couple of sample pages.

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If you want to improve your ear I think you will enjoy the journey that is Real Ear Training.

You can buy the book by clicking here: Real Ear Training


Melanie Spanswick has written and published a wide range of courses, anthologies, examination syllabuses, and text books, including Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). This best-selling graded, progressive piano course contains a large selection of repertoire featuring a huge array of styles and genres, with copious practice tips and suggestions for every piece.

For more information, please visit the publications page, here.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Maribel says:

    My daughter is obsessed with playing the piano and has played by ear for 11 yrs. Now 17, she has grown her gift tremendously; she can listen to a piece and go directly to the piano and play it out and can recall several pieces my memory. She loves playing for hours. Over the years, teachers have not been able to keep her attention (long term). I’d love to involve her with other similar musicians to nurture her skills & improve dynamics. What direction would you recommend for her? Are there any local piano competitions or other groups that she could excel with?
    Boerne, Texas 78006

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