Whether you’re just starting out, or an experienced performer or composer, all musicians can benefit from brushing up their music reading and aural skills from time to time. If you are notating your own music – or someone else’s music – it helps if you have a good grounding in music theory and notation conventions. And if you ever need to transcribe music from a recording (that is, write down what you hear) you’ll need sound aural skills.
There are lots of excellent resources to help you practice your music reading and ear training skills. Many are free and most are – dare I say? – fun. And they’re not just for kids. Here are 5 of my favourite resources:
1. The Theta Music Trainer is a fantastic site featuring video-game style ear training activities. Games include Paddle Pitch (a “Pong“-style pitch recognition game), Rhythm Puzzles (rhythmic dictation), Melodic Drops (intervals, notes played separately) and Harmonic Balloons (interval recognition with notes played simultaneously). Parrot Phrases tests your melodic dictation skills and caters for both keyboard players and guitarists by allowing you to submit answers via an on-screen piano or guitar fretboard. There’s even a unique tone-colour/timbre identification game called Channel Match which requires you to pick individual instruments “out of the mix”.
Unlike many other music game sites, Theta Music Trainer features a number of supporting articles which cover the fundamentals of music: melody, harmony, rhythm and sound. If you create a login, the site will track your progress and you can view your overall results on your Training Report page. A limited number of games and levels are free and you can unlock all games by subscribing for $7.95 a month. Discounts are available if you pay an up-front annual fee of $54 ($4.50 per month), or if you’re a studio music teacher (less than $4 per month).
2. The Music Interactive (TMI) has an excellent collection of free downloadable apps. Although they are intended for classroom use (and are effective on an interactive whiteboard), they still offer something to the non-student. I spent some time testing these apps out in preparation for a conference presentation I was giving last year and found that almost an hour had passed while I played with scientifically tested Staff Wars 1 and Rhythm Dictation. There are around 25 games in total and most are free.
I have some favourites: Staff Wars 1 is- not surprisingly – a Star Wars themed game which requires you to identify notes on the stave by blasting them with missiles from your spacecraft. Choose the wrong note name or allow the note to reach the clef and you’ll lose one of your 3 lives. The game starts innocently enough, but just when you’re becoming complacent everything speeds up, including the background music. There’s a second (separate) version of this game – Staff Wars 2 – which allows you to identify notes by playing them on your instrument.
The Rhythm Dictation game asks you to reassemble the puzzle pieces of a 4, 8 or 16-bar rhythm and you can control which rhythmic elements are included and how fast the rhythm is played. Drawn To Keys covers scales and intervals and has a useful on-screen keyboard you can use as a tool when you’re away from your MIDI keyboard or piano.
You’ll need to register for the TMI forum in order to download the apps.
3. Phil Tulga’s Music Through Curriculum site features music activities and arts integration lessons and whilst it’s aimed at the education sector, there are some useful resources no matter what sort of musician you are. Sequencing with Simon is a game based on the classic electronic Simon Memory Game of the 1980′s. The coloured Simon machine plays sequences of pitches which you need to repeat. The sequences increase in length with each round. The Counting Music page features a ruler which allows you to visualise the length of notes and shows you how to count rhythms.
4. Ricci Adams’ MusicTheory.net is an online resource that teaches the basics of music reading and is an excellent way to get started with music theory. There are a series of lessons which explain musical concepts in plain English and there are exercises to reinforce what you’ve learnt.
5. Whilst not free, Auralia is one of the most comprehensive ear training programs available. Made by Australian developers Rising Software, Auralia covers all the musical material the free apps cover and a whole lot more. In addition to all the usual topic areas – intervals, rhythmic dictation, chords and scales – you can work on recognising chord progressions, music styles, absolute pitch and sight-singing.
Answers can be submitted by using your computer keyboard, the mouse or by singing into your computer’s microphone. If you’re serious about ear training, this is the one to buy.
Do you have any favourite resources that are not mentioned here?