If you listen to music and enjoy it, you have a musical ear

Having a musical ear is normal. If you listen to music and it makes rhythmic and tonal sense to you then you have no musical disability such as tone-deafness. Sadly we live in a culture that makes people feel musically disempowered and the current methods of training and assessing musicianship often serve to reinforce this. Of course, some people are more skilled with musical language than others, some people will have more to say: we are all fluent in our native language but it doesn’t make us all poets. The point is that we all have a musical ear and can become musically fluent as naturally as we become fluent in language.

You know when music sounds good or bad. You know when it is out of tune or poorly phrased rhythmically. This proves that you have the ability to apply your brain to the task of learning to recognise musical elements and structures.

Subjecting music students to aural tests is actually just a kind of weird torture that paralyses their natural sense of musical meaning. They feel scrutinised and shamed by what seems like their musical stupidity when they fail to recognise things such as a plagal cadence or an interval of a minor 7th.

Conventional aural tests can make us feel scrutinised and shamed

Play with musical elements like a child plays with blocks

There is a myth that you can’t develop perfect pitch or a good musical ear as an adult: only young children can develop these kinds of skills. This disempowering falsehood persists because it is based on a couple of simple truths. The first is that someone who never heard any music at all as a child would indeed struggle to train their musical ear. But, let’s be honest here, even if you have never done music yourself, since you were a baby, you’ve been hearing the language of music in songs and film and TV music and you understand it intuitively. The second truth is that you must approach the learning playfully, like a child playing with blocks, unattached to the outcomes. If an adult gives into the temptation to approach aural training and musical training generally in a very cold, pressurised way with lots of testing, the learning will just not happen. You must play, express yourself and treat the whole process as experimentation and fun.

You can only recognise what you can actually hear

The process of learning to tag recognisable musical elements – tonal and rhythmic sounds – is the same process we all went through as children with colours, shapes and of course words in language. The problem with conventional aural training is that it works on recognition of the wrong things – things we don’t hear instantly but that need theoretical working out. Recognition of individual notes, intervals, even chords is not a natural, instantaneous process.

Play with musical elements like a child playing with blocks

Unlocking your natural musical fluency makes clever skills like perfect pitch or impressive theoretical knowledge easy – not the other way round

Fluent musicians seem to have perfect pitch because we understand how notes and intervals work within instantly recognisable tonal blocks. Tonal blocks are already familiar sounds to you. You just need to learn where they live in the keyboard and ultimately the musical staff. So we hear the tonal blocks and recognise them without thinking, we do not recognise notes. When hearing someone speak, you don’t make sense of what they’re saying by hearing and recognising individual letters then building the words up, you just hear the words themselves and recognise them instantly without thinking. But if asked to spell any word, you can! You might even get very clever at this kind of thing and be able to spell the word backwards or make up an anagram. You might play scrabble, be a grammatical wizard or do cryptic crosswords. But you wouldn’t lie to a child telling them that they must master those clever skills first, in order to learn to speak, read or write!

Rhythm training

Rhythm comes from within. Again, it is extremely unlikely that you lack a sense of rhythm. If you did, simple tasks like walking and talking would be affected adversely. The problems most people experience with rhythm are generated by mental and physical tension. With practice, you will gain deep understanding of rhythmic structure and the elements of rhythm called rhythm cells. This will enable you to relax and flow with the rhythm, expressing its inherent poetic meaning and effortlessly tap into your natural inner sense of rhythm.

Counting, thinking about note values, fractions and arithmetic relationships within time signatures is again like trying to teach a child to talk by making them do crosswords, rather than allowing baby talk to morph naturally into real words. Rhythmic elements, just like tonal ones, are as easy to hear as words.

Metronomes, or any form of external adherence to rigid metric pulse, only generate more of the tension which causes rhythmic problems in the first place. The PlayPianoFluently approach provides you with incredibly simple ways to master rhythm in a way that makes perfect sense and flows naturally from within you.