What do guitarists like Jimi Hendrix, Django Reinhardt and Muddy Waters have in common?
How about piano players like Elton John, Erroll Garner and Jerry Lee Lewis or multi-instrumentalists like Paul McCartney and Prince? They all learned to play music by ear.
In fact, almost all the entirety of pop, rock, soul, funk, blues, hip hop, metal, grunge, country, bluegrass and folk music from around the world has been created and performed by musicians that never read sheet music or tablature and often had a comparatively limited knowledge about classical music theory.
Most conventional ear training programs and tools for musicians, however, are based on sheet music and concepts like “intervals” and “scales”. It’s a read and play format, originally designed for classical music. But music is sound and the key to playing successfully in almost all popular or folk music is to connect your ear directly to the music.
Reel Ear Web Apps, a small start-up in Valencia, Spain, has just released a new suite of ear training apps on their website reelear.com. These ear training apps help musicians develop the crucial ability to hear a melody or chord progression and then sing it or play it back, without having to learn to read or write sheet music and without the burden of abstract music theory.
According to Reel Ear Web Apps Director Mattie O’Boyle, “We set out to correct what we perceived as three main deficiencies in ear training education. The first being the tight interdependence between ear training and sight reading. This has continually proven to be a burden on most musicians interested in popular and folk styles of music. The second is the fact that almost all ear training programs offer limited ear training materials while the real needs of students often exceed the paucity of that practice material. The third, and perhaps most important, that traditional ear training curriculum is linear, forcing students through a predefined funnel, often at a predetermined pace, without taking into account whether all the material is the adequate level for each student at each moment, or that it is even relevant for the individual student’s musical aspirations and goals.”
The Reel Ear Web Apps are style independent, skill level independent and instrument independent. Therefore both music students, as well as music teachers, can the apps to each learning moment and align each practice session to the student’s particular musical interests and goals.
Currently, the reelear.com suite of ear training apps focuses on Melody, Harmony and Arpeggios. Musicians choose the musical variables they want to work on, like Pitches, Note Durations, Speed, etc., and the apps then produce random call and response musical dictations based on their choices. Students listen to each musical phrase and then they sing it back, or play it back on their instrument. Because each dictation is random, students can not anticipate what they are going to hear, which accelerates the development of active listening skills, but because the dictations are based on the student´s choice of variables, each phrase is relevant to the student’s immediate musical goals, skill level and interests.
Music teachers who incorporate the apps into their ear training programs also see benefits in terms of student retention.
At Reel Space Folk Music School, in Valencia, Spain, for example, the school increased student retention by 12% the first year they used the apps in the classroom, and then by 23% more, the next year with they expanded the use of the apps into weekly ear training homework assignments. As Maria Vazquez, the educational psychologist at Reel Ear Web Apps, explains “when a student learns, that moment is reinforced by a small release of dopamine in the brain – so learning feels good. We design our ear training apps to accelerate each student’s music learning journey, and, as they progress, they feel good moving towards their own musical competence and creative freedom.”
reelear.com is located on 29 Joaquin Benlloch Street, in Valencia, Spain and it promotes music education, courses and tools that are particularly relevant for musicians playing both folk and modern styles of music.