For many musicians, professionals and hobbyists alike, having a “good ear” is a big deal.
I’ve never had a good ear, but it’s always been a dream to be able to play by ear. After 3 months of using the practice techniques on this blog to learn the guitar, I felt like I was starting to hear a little bit more rhythm than I used to. I was finally able to maintain a groove on a few rhythm guitar pieces using Rocksmith, for example.
I decided now was as good of a time as any to dive into singing and ear training. Both scare me, and are notoriously difficult, which is why I needed to first get some guidance. I signed up for singing lessons while asking around the interwebs about the best ear training software.
Here are my reviews of the software that people suggested. If you have any more suggestions to add, leave it in a comment at the bottom. Most of the reviews have videos, and there’s a final verdict at the bottom.
Free from Skill Cookbook
An Evidence-Based Approach to Self Improvement, available from Amazon and on the Kindle store.
The Joy of Craft
An online catalog of the best resources for learning music, all completely free.
The Music Skill Guide
Of the products I reviewed, Meludia feels in some ways the fanciest and most technically sophisticated. It breaks down sound into many different technical component parts, and teaches you to recognize each of them. The game teaches almost entirely without instruction, introducing you to different musical ideas like rhythm and texture without ever explaining them.
If your goal is to truly understand all of these ephemeral parts, Meludia is incredible. That said, it doesn’t seem to offer as much if your goal is simply to be able to read music, play music by ear, or to be able to sing in tune. It’s more about the technical properties of the sound than it is about the practical usage of that comprehension.
SingTrue is an iOS app which is specifically aimed at teaching you pitch. You’ll be prompted to recognize notes on a scale, and later to sing those notes back via a microphone. It starts very simple, but gradually more notes and octaves are added to the material.
The app is actually fairly simple, but what I liked about it was that it gave me very direct feedback about my singing. Having a visual “bulls-eye” representation of where my voice was, and the note I was aiming for, allowed me to understand my voice in a way I never had before. This sort of instant feedback is an essential building block for learning effectively, as I’ve discussed in many places in this blog.
Theta Music Trainer Review
Theta Music Trainer is a website collection of many different ear training tools/games. There’s no real cohesion to the product, and the technology felt very dated.
That said, there is great variety to the games and they appear to cover quite a wide range of skills. There were even games which taught band recognition, for example. I feel like there might be some gems of ingenuity in the product, but the lack of instruction or coherent on-boarding made it near impossible to use as a learning tool.
If anybody has had any success using this product, I’d love to hear more about it.
EarMaster Pro 6 Review
If you’re looking for a desktop app that teaches you both musical notation and guitar chords, this app is for you. It’s very full-featured, though a bit dated in terms of UX. It’s a bit hard to use for someone new to learning music, and would work better as a supplement to some more formal education or lectures. If your goal is to be able to associate musical notation and vocabulary with what you are experiencing, this app is for you.
Ear Training HQ Review
Ear Training HQ has more of a personal feel than the other pieces of software. The first video you’re presented with when you visit the site is a direct message from the founder, explaining his goal to help musicians to train their ears. He shares his own personal story of struggling to keep up with other musicians and how he overcame his aural deficiencies.
As a result, this product is very targeted at teaching musicians to play by ear. If you like more instructive learning with videos and such, then you might prefer this product.
All of the products above have certain merits, but the one you choose will depend on your personal goals. If you’re a musician learning to play by ear, I recommend Ear Training HQ. If you want to understand musical notation, check out EarMaster Pro. If you’re learning to sing and want a good warm-up exercise, SingTrue is an excellent iPhone app. And if you really want to get into the ephemeral qualities of the music, Meludia is for you.