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Aural Skills, Ear Training, and Musicianship

Aural skills, ear training, and musicianship are three related terms of musical pedagogy.

The term ‘aural skills’ refers to the cognitive skills required to know musical structure without having to see them notated. Musicians with cultivated aural skills are able to write down music that they hear, rendering melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic elements in musical notation. Aural skills also allow musicians to look at notated music and hear it in their head without having to hear it through their ears.

To develop aural skills, musicians embark on aural training, also called ear-training. Ear-training programs often begin by isolating each musical element (pitch, meter, rhythmic patterns, harmony) and presenting its most rudimentary form. After mastering rudimentary isolated elements, ear training students are then challenged to combining these elements: forming simple melodies at first, eventually adding in harmony, and ultimately engaging all elements of fully rendered musical examples.

Musicianship is a term used to encompass ear training, aural skill, and some performance skills for rendering elements being studied, such as playing a keyboard to rendering harmonic material or percussion instruments to render rhythm material.

Ear training programs differ in several ways. Perhaps most critical to the success of aural skills development is the pacing and structure of progressing through the curriculum: when and how to combine musical elements. SonicFit offers guided curriculum, presenting next steps after various skills are mastered. While SonicFit has much to offer in guiding your study, there is no substitute to having a teacher who can offer individual guidance and coaching.

Another major way that ear training programs differ is in their pedagogical foundation- what they consider to be the rudimentary elements and pedagogical tools to approach each element. For example, at SonicFit, we consider the foundation of pitch to be scale degree recognition, not interval recognition. We use ‘movable DO’ solfege as the primary pedagogical tool for ear training scale degree recognition. Eventually, we do study interval recognition, but this study is deliberately presented much later and built on the study of scale degree recognition, rather than the other way around. To read about the full pedagogy at SonicFit, please see our Pedagogical Approach and Choral Curriculum pages.

Finally, ear training programs will differ greatly depending upon the musical background of the student. Someone new to formal music education needs a very different approach than someone who already knows how to read music notation on an instrument and understands fundamentals of music theory such as key signatures, time signatures, scales, triads etc.

SonicFit can serve both novice and experience musicians. For the novice, the lessons interweave material, quizzes, and exercises in a guided curriculum. Experienced musicians should head right to the exercises where you can change the settings of each exercise to match your needs and abilities. Unfortunately, SonicFit does not yet have guided curriculum for the experienced musician to work on aural skills, but this is definitely a goal for summer 2016.