How To Learn Ear Training and Music Theory | Hub Guitar

How To Learn Ear Training and Music Theory

Peter Bernik/

Why You Should Learn Music Theory & Ear Training

The understanding of music theory will help you to understand what you are doing, how harmony works, how melody works, how songs, structures, shapes and patterns can be used, adapted and re-used. It will multiply your capability by giving flexibility to everything that you do.

Ear Training has some direct, obvious benefits, but also some indirect benefits that may not be so clear right away. The most direct benefits are that the study of ear training will help you to play all of the sounds you hear in your head, and will help you repeat anything you hear on your guitar. The more long-term benefit is that your ear will become more sensitive and more mature. Eventually you’ll be able to hear fine distinctions between two notes, decipher different notes being used in different chords, and understand music immediately as you hear it. With enough skill, you’ll find that you can recognize the chords and melody and other parts of songs you hear. Even on a trip to the grocery store, you won’t be able to avoid knowing the chords used in the song on the store’s radio.

Where and When to Study Ear Training and Music Theory

You can practice fundamental musicianship skills such as ear training and music theory without an instrument, so it can be done pretty much anywhere. It’s a great way to make use of time that would otherwise be lost standing in line, sitting in a car, train or plane, or waiting in any sort of queue. It’s also something you can study casually, just laying on the couch. Sometimes we don’t have the energy to sit upright and practice guitar, but we’d like to relax and do something that is at least a bit productive. It doesn’t have to consume a great deal of time. The time available to practice is already limited.

Most players can reap big benefits from strengthening their musicianship skills, without spending a huge amount of time practicing it.

How To Study Ear Training

During practice: the transcribingTranscribing implies writing down the music you hear on paper, but sometimes people use it just to mean listening to music and repeating it on their instrument. of songs is considered ear training practice. When learning to play music by ear, try to separate the chords, rhythm and melody as much as possible, and focus on just understanding one aspect at a time. For instance, first you might tackle the rhythm. Don’t worry about the chords or the notes. Just focus on tapping the rhythm with your fingers. Then you might start to hear the melody or other high notes in the musical texture. Forget the rhythm and just try to hum those notes out. Soon you’ve deconstructed the whole song.

In fully-idle time: (waiting in line, sitting on a bus) apps like Better Ears can help you learn to recognize chords, intervals, scales and more. You can also bring along sheet music or lead sheets, and practice various exercises to improve your recognition of written music and chords.

If you learn to sight sing, you can practice sight-singing whenever you have idle time.

In partially-idle time (driving, walking): If you learn to sing solfege, you may find that you can spend some of your idle time practicing singing solfege, especially training yourself to sing leaps from different notes. This can be surprisingly difficult, and can help you train your ability to stay in key and hear the key clearly.

How to Study Music Theory

Mostly, you’ll want to study music theory by reading and doing exercises on pen and paper.

For reading, that’s pretty easy. Grab a book or an eReader and go read about music theory.

For exercises, you’ll need to identify what areas you should be working on, such as:

  • Remembering chord formulas, so you know how to create chords
  • Remembering the scale formulas, so you know how to build scales
  • Spelling major scales: starting from any note, spell its major scale
  • Spelling minor scales: starting from any note, spell its minor scale
  • Spelling intervals: the building blocks to create chords and scales
  • Spelling chords: choose any root note and any chord type; spell it using the chord formula
  • Chord analysis and chord scales: open a book of chord progressions and analyze the chords


Make good use of your free time, and you can strengthen the fundamental skills that all musicians rely on. You will be shocked at how useful these skills turn out to be—when you’ve practiced them enough to put them to good use.

As the creator of Hub Guitar, Grey has compiled hundreds of guitar lessons, written several books, and filmed hundreds of video lessons. He teaches private lessons in his Boston studio, as well as via video chat through TakeLessons.

©2018 Hub Guitar. All rights reserved.