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. In today’s culture, music occurs as something external to achieve, rather than as a language to express our own deep feelings. This disempowers most people musically and sadly, 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 do have a sense of rhythm and tonality, a musical ear, and we 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 has poor rhythm. This proves that you have the intuitive ability to apply your brain to the task of learning to recognise musical elements and structures. Conventional aural training, being subjected to tests in which we’re expected to recognise theoretical elements is actually a kind of torture that paralyses our natural musical sense. Such tests easily make us feel scrutinised and shamed. We can feel musically stupid when we fail to recognise things like a plagal cadence or an interval of a minor 6th. 

Conventional aural tests can make us feel scrutinised and shamed

Play with musical elements like a child plays with blocks

There’s a disempowering 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 myth persists because it is based on two truths. The first is that someone who had never heard any music at all as a child would indeed struggle to train their musical ear. But of course, even if you have never made music actively, you’ve been exposed to the language of music since you were a baby and you understand it intuitively. Most people might be musically mute but they understand music. The second truth is that you must approach the learning playfully, like a child playing with blocks, unattached to outcomes. If an adult approaches musicianship training in a 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. For quite a few adult learners, this can be quite difficult. But if you’re up for the challenge, it’s very liberating.

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 – thing like intervals, chords, note values, things that we can’t grasp instantly, that require theoretical working out. The elements you learn in this training can be understood or expressed instantaneously and effortlessly.

Play with musical elements like a child playing with blocks

Once you’re musically fluent, impressive skills like perfect pitch or theoretical knowledge are easy to acquire – 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 map of the keyboard and also 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

It’s vital to grasp that rhythm comes first – that tonality is built on rhythm. It’s 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 lots of dedicated practice, you will gain deep understanding of rhythmic structure and the elements of rhythm called rhythm cells. This will help you to relax and flow with the rhythm, expressing its inherent meaning and effortlessly tap into your natural inner sense of rhythm.

Counting, thinking about note values, fractions and arithmetic relationships within time signatures is like trying to teach a child to talk by making them do crosswords, rather than allowing baby talk to morph naturally into real words. Metronomes, or any form of external adherence to rigid metric pulse, often generate more of the tension which causes rhythmic problems in the first place. The PlayPianoFluently approach provides you with simple ways to master rhythm in a way that makes perfect sense and flows naturally from within you.