Being able to breakdown what you are hearing when you are consuming music live or on your favorite platform is like being able to understand a whole other language. Anybody who has been producing for a little bit of time has heard music that truly spoke to them and caused that “I need to know how they made this” feeling in their stomach. Getting yourself from the beginner stage to being able to reverse engineer sounds and music can take a little bit of time. However, once you know what to listen for you’ll be surprised by how your production evolves as your perspective grows.
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Now I understand there is a stigma within the electronic music scene about whether learning music theory is necessary to be a good producer and the truth is you don’t need to. Plus there is so many plugins and aids to help you in the DAW it almost seems like a waste of time, but knowing a very basic amount of music theory can go a long way overtime. Nothing crazy simply watching a few reputable youtube tutorials can give a basic framework for how that piano roll in your DAW works. Along with giving you words to describe what you are hearing.
Watch: Ear Training Exercise – Level 1
It is much easier to compose and improvise music when you regularly exercise your ability to identify pitches, scales, and chords. Strengthening your aural skills will speed up the trial-and-error part of music production. It will also allow you to fall into that desired creative flow state without the upsetting feeling of trial and error.
Ear training relies on a range of tried-and-tested exercises. They are designed to strengthen your ability to hear and recognize various musical elements more clearly. For example, classically trained musicians use ear training to identify the pitch of a note without needing a reference tone. This ability is known as perfect pitch, which is a unique musical skill. All humans have the capability to be pitch perfect. It just requires time and dedication similar to learning a 2nd language.
Whether you’re creating the music or just casually listening to something, you rely on relative pitch to process music. Relative pitch is the ability to hear the difference between notes when compared to a reference note.
Understanding relative pitch helps you identify intervals and chords. This skill is essential when composing or playing by ear. Increasing all these skills together while developing production techniques will only help you become more fluid in your decisions of creativity and increase the chances of creating something that gels.
To emphasize, ear training is beneficial for music producers trying to strengthen their skills for a number of reasons. Also, spending just 15 minutes a day can help you hone your production abilities more quickly.
Pitch ear training is the first area of study you must conquer before progressing to more advanced types of training. Practice this type of training by repeatedly playing a note on an instrument and saying the name of the pitch aloud until it becomes embedded in your memory. Below the video plays a note and tells you what is playing so you can make the association.
Watch: One Hour of Perfect Pitch Programming
Scales are another component of music that are crucial for every musician to understand. Each scale contains seven notes per octave, with an eighth note repeating the tonic, or the same note it started on, at the next pitch. Key signature identification of all major scales and minor scales will help you determine which key a piece of music is in, and is essential for creating harmonic chord progressions and great melodies.
Watch: All About Musical Scales – A Complete Guide
After you have a grasp on pitch and scales its time to move on to intervals. Intervals are the distance in pitch between two notes. At first it may seem hard to grasp but taking the time to learn and understand the relationships among these notes will expand your ability to articulate the message you are trying to get across with your music.
Watch: Ear Training Interval Practice
Ear training with intervals can help you learn to recognize and play melodic sounding tones you like. Interval ear training is also part of the foundation needed to understand and construct melodies and harmonies. This skill also enables you to recall the spaces between notes so you can remember how they sound for future production sessions.
When practicing, start by learning the intervals within an octave. For example, an octave has the following intervals: unison, semitone, tone, minor third, major third, perfect fourth, augmented fourth, perfect fifth, minor sixth, major sixth, minor seventh, major seventh, and perfect octave.
A chord is when two or more notes are played at once. Depending on which notes will dictate the type of chord and type of feeling being transmuted by the sounds.
Watch: How To Identify Triad Chords By Ear
Once you have an idea of how chord progressions work next comes diving in to the different kind of chord progressions. Chord progressions are what gives a particular piece of music feeling or a mo0d. Maybe you want something to sound dark and sad or maybe you want something to sound exciting and anxious. This is all possible by choosing the right type of chords to follow one another.
The majority of pop music on the radio typically share the same style progressions something that becomes so familiar that when you go listen to a different genre something might even seem off because you are not used to hearing progressions with those combinations of notes. Also understanding a basic of progressions will help you improvise as well as help you produce other genres.
Producers or anyone trying to further their ear growth could greatly benefit from having a few key tools in their bag such as:
Headphones and studio monitors that are very accurate will deliver sound that is true to what you will hear out of a proper big system so make sure you do your research. How the highs, mids, and lows are depicted plays an important role into what you hear and, if you are referencing a track, what you create. This is why you will see producers switch between headphones, quality/well set up studio monitors, car stereo systems, and even a lower grade sound source so they can get an accurate image of what the track will sound like.
A laid out training routine will always benefit you once you know what can be studied in order to progress your ear game. The hardest part is bringing yourself to start. So developing your own strategy to help you learn will prevent you from balking at taking a little time out of your day to increase your personal attributes!
Ear protection is a must. You cannot expect to develop your ear if your are always taking an ear bashing whether at a show or in the car. Understanding how to protect your ears will give you longevity, ultimately saving you so much pain, time, and money. A quality pair of ear protection allows you to still hear the music, meaning you can be at a show with your ear protection on and be actively listening to the music, breaking down what you are hearing with an accurate image while not doing damage.
Quality reference material is a major necessity. Having music you can listen to that has been properly mixed and mastered will allow your ear to gain and understanding of whats expected. If you only listen to hip hop and want to make techno you would want to listen to a few techno tracks in order to gain perspective on what it is and how it fills the spectrum. So having a few artists and labels you can pull up will allow you to gauge how your stuff sounds up against something that has been polished.
Growing your ear as a producer or even as a music lover is something that will happen naturally over time just from listening to more music but if you’re anything like me you’ve met people who displayed their ear level and it inspired you to take on the task of further knowledge. So stay with us at 6AM for all of our upcoming events, clothing drops, and pro audio inspired articles that will give you the leg up on growing your passion and feeding your creativity.