Ear Training- Developing Relative Pitch

Ear training is a ubiquitous concept within a musician’s vernacular, but often the quest for the acquisition of “good ears” is filled with a road of misinformation from post to pillar.  Many approaches and mixed opinions exist: some espouse you must be able to hear intervals; some say that you should develop perfect pitch; some advocate learning the first two notes in a song and singing them to recognize the pitches; some advise sight singing melodies; some state the only way is through transcription, while others insist that musical dictation is the key.  With many different sources all endorsing alternative methods to understand pitch recognition, one thing is very clear- the up and coming bass guitarist often becomes frustrated and confused because, although all of these methods mentioned hold some value on the surface, they only allow the student to hear the individual pitch and/or the distance between pitches- NOT how they relate to a given key center.  This is what is known as Relative Pitch.

Relative Pitch Ear Training

Relative Pitch, succinctly put is based on developing pitch recognition that is relative to a key center.  Most ear training programs concentrate on relating one pitch to another pitch.  Learning to recognise the sound of any interval may seem to be a valuable skill, but it has little value outside of the classroom if you can’t relate the notes you hear to a key center.  The same goes for developing crutches such as singing the first two notes of a song to reinforce the relationship between two notes.  Try to visualise yourself stopping to sing something on a gig (let alone being able to discern what you are trying to sing due to the volume of the band) in order to hear the relationship between two pitches.  Because music moves in time, you would have most likely missed that moment, lost your place in the music or at the very least ended up several bars behind everybody else.

The process to learning all of the twelve chromatic pitches in a key is achieved through repetition.  You must listen to these pitches over and over again against a strong key center cadence until you eventually internalise the sound of all the notes.  My jazz improvisation teacher Charlie Banacos taught me this exercise and it took me a year to be able to hear every note accurately.  Originally, I had to practice this with an acoustic piano which was rather time consuming.  Within a couple of months I was programming the exercise into a music sequencer.  There is now a free software package available for you to download here that you can set up specifically to learn the sounds of every note in relation to a key area.  

This software program has a few options, but the way you want to set this up is for it to play a Major Key Cadence (I-IV-V-I) in C ONLY!  On the left-hand side you will see a list of all the chromatic tones-make sure that you tick every box.   Just to the right you will see a box that says “only in one octave”- make sure that box is un-ticked.  Hit the start button and follow this procedure:

1) Listen to the cadence.

2) Hear the pitch that is played.

3) Name the note.  Do not try to sing the pitch.  Singing the note slows down the mind.   Do not use the method of recognising intervals with the first two pitches of a tune, just name the pitch.  If you don’t know it, then guess.

4) This exercise helps to start developing intuition.

5) Repeat this process until you have done 100 questions to get your average.

6) Practice for 20 minutes per day.

7) You must stick with this exercise until you are getting 100% of the questions right!

The more you keep the sounds of these pitches in your short term memory, the easier it will be to transmute this information into your long term memory.  Do not get frustrated- stick with this exercise until you get 100%.  For many, this could turn into years of work; for some it could just be a matter of months.  I guarantee you that this ear training method will pay off in the end.

If you encounter any problems or have any questions, please leave your comments below.



Be Sociable, Share!
This entry was posted in Ear Training. Bookmark the permalink.

58 Responses to Ear Training- Developing Relative Pitch

  1. Dave Cross says:

    Thanks Joe some invaluable insights here..there’s a lot of disinformation out there so it’s good to get a correct pathway to Ear Training..

  2. Tiernan Godel says:

    Hi Joe,

    Thanks for sharing this fantastic resource. I’ll certainly be using and passing this on.
    Just as an update, I visited the site miles.be and have found that there is a new version available that runs on windows, mac and linux – Functional Ear Trainer V2 – http://www.miles.be/software/34-functional-ear-trainer-v2

    I hope you’re keeping well.


    • Joe Hubbard says:

      Hi Tiernan

      The Functional Ear Trainer V2 has too many bell and whistles that detract from the entry level relative pitch drill. Alain also has an advanced version (which is also free) that teaches you to hear 2-notes and another program that you have to donate to recieve. All of these options confuses the progression- this is the reason that I decided to share this software on my site, so that my students would ONLY concentrate on the entry level drill. You must start getting 100% before you move to the next drill.

      Whats next? The next software to get is The Guess the Key software that you have to pay Alain for. I have his software, but have promised Alain that I won’t share it with anybody. If you are getting 100% of the basic drill correct, then buy the Guess the Key from Alain at miles.be.

      You can run the Functional Ear Trainer Basic Version (downloadable from my site) on a Mac; you just have to run it with either Bootcamp or Parallel.

      Make sure you set the trainer up exactly as I have suggested and do not sing the notes or try to resolve the notes. After doing this for a long time, you will begin to hear the relationship of all the 12 chromatic tones to a key center. You only have to memorize the sound of each note in one key because all of the keys have the same formula. This is relative pitch, not perfect pitch.



  3. Faithless says:

    This came a bit too late – I was doing this for a few weeks, key changing every time, I’ve been singing the pitches and resolving them (at the beginning, at least)

    The other thing is that I followed an advice to start only with diatonic notes (to major scale), and to add non-diatonic notes later (added a minor 3rd so far..) and make all the puzzle little by little.

    So, my question is, why it is important to do it with all 12 notes at once, (which is bloody hard at the beginning) rather than starting from major scale and adding those ‘hard’ notes later?
    Why I’m asking is that latter method seemed quite sensible to me..

    All the best

    • Joe Hubbard says:

      The purpose of the exercise is to memorize the sound of ALL 12 pitches in relation to a key center, NOT to each other. None of the 12 notes are either easy or hard, they simply “are.” What makes it appear to be hard is that you cannot employ any tricks in order to be successful- you just have to practice this same exercise over and over aain until it starts to make sense. As I said, there is a progression, but the tempation to look further will hold you back in the end. A common response when I give this drill to a student is, “Okay that’s great, but what else can I do to improve my ears?” This exercise really exposes one’s weakness, but the long term benefits are staggerring. By only starting with diatonic notes, you are creating a barrier between internalizing the non-diatonic notes. When I first started this exercise in 1989 I couldn’t consistently hear a #4 or #5, even though I was using those pitches in my improvisations and my compositions. Now they all have a logical sound to me against a key. So, stop singing, stop resolving the notes, program the software so you hear all 12 tones and un-tick the “in one octave only” box. That’s another thing that will give you problems- accurately hearing the notes in different registers. Practice everyday for 20 minutes and I gurantee after three to six months your ability to hear music will improve ten fold.
      I’ll see you next week in London my friend and we’ll continue this muse.

      Best- Joe

  4. Faithless says:

    So, it’s three weeks now, when I’m doing this Ear Training exercise, set to Joe’s reccomendations.
    I’ve only started writing down results in my journal last week, so, judging from that I’m getting results varying from 90% to 97,9%, hitting about 250-280 notes in a 20 minute session.

    As far as actual chromatic notes go, b3, #4 and b7 seems to be ‘sorted’ by this time, but b2 is quite a nightmare for me – I’m always messing it up with b6, and that seems to be the one and only mistake, that’s left to correct to reach that 100%..

  5. Joe Hubbard says:

    Great stuff! Keep up the good work, you’ll be ready for the next phase soon.

  6. Jennifer Clark says:

    I’ve been using the Functional Ear Trainer for 20 minutes each day since my last post, and here are my findings.

    I set the program up to Joe’s specifications, and began.

    My initial thoughts were that I wasn’t doing too well, and because of this I decided to make my introduction a bit gentler by restricting the range of notes to one octave. Doing so was probably a mistake – more on this later.

    With the notes in one octave, on my first attempt my score was around 50%. As detailed in a previous post my sense of the scalar notes was good, but the chromatic notes not so, with one exception: I could always get C#.

    I noticed that as I went through the 20 minute session, my accuracy improved. I assume this is the notes going into short term memory, as Joe describes.

    With each day of doing this my accuracy improved, so presumably some of the pitch information is moving into long term memory.

    After four days I arrived at 80% accuracy, so I thought it was time to remove the psychological crutch of restricting the notes to just one octave.

    I did this, and it did not affect my score that much – intitally it dropped to about 76%, but after 5 minutes was approaching 80% again. I found this both surprising and interesting. Perhaps there was no need to restrict it to one octave in the first place?

    • Joe Hubbard says:

      You are absolutely right- there is no need to restrict yourself to one octave. Make sure you are listening to all of the 12 pitches in all registers. Within time, you will be able to hear these notes accurately in relation to a key center. Not only will this training program improve your ears, but also your ability to interact with other musicians creatively.

      • Jennifer Clark says:

        Cheers Joe. I’ve been away for a bit on tour this week and continued using the functional ear trainer with my laptop & headphones during quiet moments.

        Interestingly enough, I noticed a drop in my score during this time – whether it was from using headphones, the different MIDI piano sound on the laptop, or just not being able to focus so well due to other things happening in the surrounding environment is difficult to determine.

        Thankfully on returning home to my desktop computer my score went back to over 80% again, but it is interesting how a change in circumstances can affect the score.

        • Joe Hubbard says:

          A change in sound may have a very minor effect before getting used to that new timbre. Similarly, if you are distracted – especially in the beginning stages – this shift in attention could very well cause you to lose your focus in the moment. Just keep at it- well done for adapting to your environment and not losing a few precious days’ practice. You’ll be better off for it!

          • Jennifer Clark says:

            An update: I’ve been doing the ear trainer for nearly 3 weeks now, and my experience of it is very similar to Laimis, i.e. about 280 notes in a 20 minute session, with between 90 – 95% accuracy. There is really only one note I am poor at recognising, the D# (b3); I have a tendency to think it is an A (6th).

            My accuracy at hearing it is improving on a daily basis though, so I think if I keep working I’ll get it.

            I have found the way the brain works with this program fascinating. From my experience, I would say the notes fall into roughly one of 3 categories: those you recognise immediately without thought, those you recognise with some thought, and those that you recognise only with difficulty, or not at all.

            As I used the program on a daily basis I found that the notes tend to shift to an improved category.

            Also my “errors” get better; at the start, for those notes I did not recognise it could take quite a few guesses before I got the correct answer. Now if I do not get a note correct, the next guess will usually be the correct one.

            It’s good stuff, I can hear my perception of intervals improve, even while “casually” listening to music (if there is such a thing…) such as that in the background of films.

  7. Daren says:

    Hey Joe,

    I, too, have been following your advice listed above. I am consistently in the 90th percentile. I am attempting to get to a point that I no longer have to transcribe next to a piano all the time. I am a piano player and am trying to transcribe the LH often in solos and lush harmonies in ballads. I am curious how you will extend this out to more pitches. Looking forward to more discussion.

    Thanks and take care,


  8. Hector says:

    Hey Joe,

    Have been doing this exercise for half an hour a day for the last 5 or so days. I’ve gone from about 35% accuracy to 65% in this time, and I’m feeling really happy with my progress. Not only is my accuracy getting much better, but I find that if I don’t get the right pitch the first time, I usually do the second time.

    I’m seeing the benefits in my playing, especially when improvising, as it seems to come more from my head that just fingerboard geometry. I’m also listening to things closer, and starting to hear things I never used to, both in recorded music and my own music when practicing/performing.

    Can’t believe I neglected ear training for so long – it’s really worth it. Thanks for turning me on to the benefits!


  9. Faithless says:

    Hey peeps,

    It’s about three weeks now, when I’m doing the second exercise – Guess The Key..

    It took me about two months to get to it (reaching 100% on first exercise..), but don’t get caught up on me – as Joe says, it really depends on individual – you may get there in a month or a year – it doesn’t really matter…

    Though, I must admit, that b2/b6 thing is still a bit of an issue to me – sometimes I get caught up on it, but it’s rare these days..


  10. Jennifer Clark says:

    Hi Joe,

    I’ve mentioned in previous posts that the last great challenge I was facing in the functional ear trainer was differentiating between D# and A#. A couple of days ago I used headphones rather than the speakers, and all of a sudden I could hear the difference far more clearly.

    My headphones have quite good acoustic isolation so they substantially cut background noise. After a bit of thought I concluded that the fan from the computer, which is quite loud and makes a quite well defined note, was causing interference in my pitch perception, and when wearing headphones it is the absence of this that makes the difference.

    I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this!

  11. Vytas says:

    Hello,thank you for your article, but I am wondering is where any programs for macintosh ?
    Thank you!

    • Joe Hubbard says:

      I am currently working on developing a new software program that will work with both Mac and Windows. Until then, you would have to use Bootcamp or Parallels to run this software on your Mac.

  12. Pingback: Finger Dexterity Exercises for Bass Guitar | Joe Hubbard Bass

  13. Faithless says:

    Hey folks,

    So, quiet victories back here – last night I’ve transcribed a piece of music (quite simple though, a head of a jazz standard) without using instrument for the first time – and it was 95% correct in terms of notes, rhythmic side of things was a bit more complicated, but that’s not the case right now.
    And I have to point, that this Ear Training thing was a MASSIVE contribution to help me do this.

  14. Aaron says:

    This is extremely hard the only way I can guess anything is by pressing the notes on my keyboard to help me.

  15. Brian says:


    I’m really happy to have run across this posting. I have my experience, two questions, and possibly some files to offer.

    Here’s my background – I spent a _lot_ of time on interval recognition. I can hear all 12 intervals up and down with accuracy in the mid 90’s? So, I started trying to transcribe simple melodies and ran into a two *big* problems.

    One, I used “song association” to learn, so every interval requires some calculation. Ouch. (I even occasionally “reverse” descending 7ths since I’m not familiar with songs for them…)

    Two, another one, that I haven’t heard anyone talk about:

    When I’d practise, it would be like this:
    tone 1 – tone 2, then name the interval.
    tone 2 – tone 3, then name the interval.

    When it came time to transcribe, it was like this:
    tone 1 – tone 2, then name the interval.
    tone 3 name the interval
    tone 4 ”

    See the important difference? Not only did I have to calculate via “singing” a song, I had to calculate by replaying each tone in my head a second time; slow and inaccurate! Good thing I actually like ear training, or I’d have been furious!!

    Transcribing a few songs painfully sent me packing back to the internet, and I found this page. I’ve been training for a few days now, and am around 70 percent… Maybe if I’d learned the intervals by “sound” I’d be okay now (I’d love comments on this idea!), but I also like the idea of hearing the function of tones to the tonic (since I compose tonal music), so here I am.

    Now I *really* see the value in internalizing the “sound” when ear training, and never “calculating” or “singing” to find my place. I know to avoid that now, and I am. Please, if you are starting out, don’t sing up and down or resolve or use songs! There’s so much conflicting info on this…

    Here’s my concern/question: Now, I’m training by this method, hearing cadence – note, cadence – note, so on. I know that isn’t how it’s going to be when I transcribe (it scares me a little!), but I also realize the important difference between “functional” and “intervallic” relationships, so I can imagine that it’s going to be ok, but I’m not sure what I’ll need to be doing in my head when the time comes to transcribe.

    Could you explain the process? When I listen to a song now, I listen for the tonic, and feel like it’s easy to find. So do I listen to establish tonic, start over, and then all the notes suddenly pop out with their function? Is it pretty automatic once internalized?
    Do you transcribe (on paper) with numbers, solfa syllables, on a staff?

    My second question is simpler to state. You stated:
    >This software program has a few options, but the way you want to set this up is for it >to play a Major Key Cadence (I-IV-V-I) >in C ONLY!

    Why only in C? I’ve been following this directive to train, but then I get curious/concerned and test myself hearing in other keys, only to find that it’s no problem, really. I feel like I also have to “switch” keys in my head, but it seems automatic, as long as I really listen to the cadence. I’d like to understand if there is a benefit to training in a single key, a single key per session, or C specifically (I doubt that last one, but…).

    Okay, a last bit. I made myself 12 mp3 tracks with names like “1’s”, “6’s”, “#4/b5’s” that play cadences followed by tones, maybe 20 examples per track. The examples are from all keys, not just C (I might make one only in C, based on what I hear from Joe) and several examples are in other registers from their cadences. I use it two ways. I listen to one all the way through for the “sound” of the function, or I hit shuffle, listen to one example, try to ID it, check to see if I’m correct by the song title, and hit the skip button for a new one. The first example on each track is in C. It lets me train anywhere.

    I’ll share the mp3’s or the museScore project files if anyone wants them.

    Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge, Joe. It really helps those of us who are serious about becoming better musicians but can’t afford (or are DIY’ers) formal aural skills classes (which may just have us memorize intervals or sing solfege anyways).

  16. Joe Hubbard says:

    Hi Brian

    Things to remeber with this method are:
    1) Your objective is to memorize all of the pitches in relation to a key center- not just twelve random tones.
    2) The reason we only do this in one key is because the intervalic relationship of all twelve pitches will remain constant. As long as you reference the tonic of the key center you are in, a fourth will sound like a fourth in the key of C or the key of Gb and so on. This method is about developing relative pitch, not perfect pitch, so it is relative to the context that you are playing in.
    3) Trancription is an extremely benificial exercise that takes time to perfect- not only do you need the skills to hear the melodic structure, but also the rhythmic and the harmonic functions. When transcribing, I always write everything out on music paper.
    4) This is only the first exercise of many. Your objective is to get 100%- for many this could take up to one year. Just use the software exactly as I have said. You do not need to isolate any single pitch. There are plenty of testimonials from people who make the appropiate progress by simply following the instructions. There are no quick fixes!

    Good luck and practice hard!

  17. ian says:

    i just was wondering why we shouldnt stay within the octave until we get 100% then untick the one octave range, instead of unticking it immediatly?

    and will this help us with minor scales and jazz scales in addition to major scales?

    Thanks alot for this post!

  18. Joe Hubbard says:

    By only sticking to a one octave range you will create a learning barrier to hear outside of that. Of course, the temptation is to do what you are good at- usually this is what most people’s singing range is; coupled with the one octave setting on the software is restricted to the middle range of the keyboard. Just practice the exercise exactly as I have instructed and within a year (no matter what your level is) your ability to relate all 12 tones to a specific key area will improve exponentially.

    To reiterate- this is an entry level ear training drill. This drill is not about scales- it is about learning the sound of all the 12 notes (diatonic and non-diatonic) in relation to a key area. As the exercises progress, minor key areas are also introduced.

    Hope that helps

    Best- Joe

    • Pete says:

      This is a great post. In addition to a couple of years solfeging my way through ear training materials from a small music school (part time), I have used the software from miles.be for a while but not gotten my score up to 100% before moving on. Generally kicked around 95% on the Basic Ear Trainer.

      I moved too quickly into shifting keys with every cadence played, got 95% in that and spent a while singing triads and chords.

      Recently moved back into the Functional Ear Trainer and started with two-note exercises (melodic and harmonic). Much harder, though really useful. Found that there were still some ‘gaps’ and then decided to return ‘back to basics’ and get myself up to 100%. Found this article and was interested to see Joe give this advice!

      In retrospect, I made an error in going with the original Frank Singer version of this exercise, which recommends moving on to multiple notes etc once you get 75-90% correct, always pushing harder but not acheiving perfection before moving on.

      I’m being a good boy now and going for 100%. I’ll be delighted to read future updates to this Ear Training series as they are published.

      Thanks for posting this article, Joe.

  19. jonathan says:

    Hi Joe,

    I have been doing quite well with the ear training..almost done with all 12 notes in a key.. however im just wondering whether it is actually possible to name the key just by hearing the cadence which is being played by sensing how each key feels?

    because after doing this ear training in combination with sight-singing, i realise that every key and their notes sound “different”..

    would like to know your ideas or methods regarding this


  20. Lee says:

    Hi Joe,

    I have a bit of understanding of music theory, but I’m not sure what I’m trying to learn with this program, or how it applies to my bass playing. Granted, I don’t consider myself that good of a player. I really can’t improvise anything at all. I play in a band at church, and I’ve felt like I’ve hit a wall because I don’t know what to do to make myself better. And I think that’s why I decided to try this, because I know I need to train my ears. Yet, I’m not exactly sure what I’m training them to do. Say I do get up to 100%, then what? How does that translate to me playing better?

    And regarding the software, you said we should do the I-IV-V-I cadence. It seems like it’s harder for me to guess the right note when I do that as opposed to when I just play the C chord by itself. When I do the cadence, I find myself focusing only on the last chord, the C major, and sorta tuning out the others. I don’t think that’s what I’m supposed to do, but I just don’t understand why I need to pay attention to the other chords. Maybe someone can direct me a good place for me to learn what I need to learn.

    • Joe Hubbard says:

      Hi Lee

      Find a teacher who can teach you the fundamentals of music that allows you to improvise as a player. Regardless of what styles you choose to play, learn to adopt an ‘improviser’s approach.’

      What you will achieve by practicing this exercise is the skill to recognize all 12 tones in relation to a key area. This will allow you to hear these tones in context to the music that you are playing ‘on-the-fly’ while on the bandstand. Like anything though, ear training is only one element of a greater whole in regard to your evolution as a bass player, so make sure to seek out a teacher who will be able to listen to you play and understand what you need to practice as a solution.



      • Lee says:

        Thanks for that Joe. That’s exactly what I want to learn, how to improvise on the fly. I’ll definitely keep my eyes open for someone who can do that with me. In the meantime, I’ll keep working with that program. Thanks.

  21. Owen says:

    Hi Joe,

    This sounds like a very useful approach. In the past I also tried the method of interval recognition via song association. Eventually I was able to recognize all intervals, but practically speaking it didn’t help me do anything with music.

    Request: it would be good to have this as an iPhone/iPad app.

  22. Dave says:

    Hi Joe,

    I know this is an old post, but hopefully you still follow the latest comments.

    Like some others who have commented, I have some prior ear training experience using other methods and have read some of the sorts of advice that you referred to as being (basically), not the way to go.

    I’d appreciate it if you could explain a little more about why don’t advocate singing along with the pitches, as a lot of advice that I have seen say that singing the pitches is the fastest way to develop your relative pitch, reason being that the “inner ear” is closely connected to the voice. Thus, if you REALLY are hearing the tones clearly in your head, you should be able to sign them – the implication is if you can’t sing the correctly, you are not really hearing what the note really is. I understand this should all be in relation to a key center – I have followed other methods that also talk about a key center and identifying tones in relation to a key center – but those methods all emphasize singing along as well.

    Alain who wrote the Functional Ear Trainer program also recommends singing. You only briefly said above that singing slows down the mind – but what about this issue of the “inner ear” connection with the voice?

    The other thing is why you don’t recommend thinking about resolution to the tonic (as you said, don’t try to resolve the tones to the tonic when doing the exercise)?

    Finally you mentioned you were working on your own version of an ear training program and also that there would be further exercises as the next step after this one. I am curious to know what those would be.


  23. Joe Hubbard says:

    In order for ear training skills to work in a real time context you have to learn the sound of the notes- there must be an instantaneous connection. Having to sing the note to establish a reference point slows this process down and doesn’t work in real time situations. Singing exercises are fine to add after you develop the skills to hear a note and know what it is. There is a big difference in having to sing a note to reference the pitch and already hearing the note in your head and then being able to sing it. In order for you to know the evolution of the different exercises that I offer, you would have to become a student of mine.



  24. John Noel says:

    Hi Joe,
    I am using the software on a MAC and following all of your recommendations but have a long way to go, so it was important to me to have quick access to the software when I needed it! I just wanted to mention that I am using VMware Fusion which is similar to Parallels in concept. The advantage of using VMware or Parallels over Bootcamp is that you can run any of your native MAC programs at the same time as the Ear Training program, thus removing one more obstacle i.e. instant access to the Ear Training program when you need it ….
    In passing, I really enjoyed reading all the comments and your replies. It answered all similar questions I had myself about Ear Training and motivated me to forge ahead.

  25. Ian says:

    I’m a novice player that just started using this. I’ve set it up as described but my one question is this: what note am I trying to guess? It plays a five note cadence and then just says go, am I guessing the first, then second, then third note? Or is it the last tone?

  26. Doug says:

    I like your brief but comprehensive outline of the various approaches to ear training and your thoughts on the value of a contextual or key-centered approach. Also, your thoughts on the ‘Basic’ version of ‘Functional Ear Trainer’.
    What are your thoughts on the following?
    1. I understand why one should stick with one key (which doesn’t have to be C!). Once you have learned the pattern of notes in one key, the same pattern exists in other keys. In view of this, would it not be better to give ‘answers’ in scale degree numbers (or movable solfege) rather than note names – because scale degree numbers cut across all keys (and link with chord numerals)?
    2. I can see why one should START with only one major key. But what about minor keys where the pattern of sounds (and cadences) are different?
    3. I am puzzled by the idea of not confining the notes being played to the diatonic notes of a major scale. Shouldn’t the first step be to develop a strong sense of a major key (and which notes belong to that key). How is this possible if one is hearing the notes of a chromatic scale? Isn’t the purpose of playing I – V- IV- I before each note so that one acquires a sense of how each note of a major scale relates to its tonal centre? (and ultimately how this differs between major and minor scales). Otherwise you could use any major or minor cadence before the ‘test’ notes from a chromatic scale are played. It seems counterproductive to use a particular cadence as an introduction and then include ‘test’ notes that are foreign to the tonal centre. Is it not meant to be a contextual or key centered approach? You wrote: “The process to learning all of the twelve chromatic pitches in a key …”. Which key has 12 chromatic pitches in it? Once a sense of key (with its diatonic notes) has been well established in the brain, chromatic notes could be introduced to be heard as ‘outsiders’ to the key. Surely it is valuable to know immediately that a note heard is not part of the scale being used. This makes sense to me. Why do you think this is not a better approach?
    3. Is ‘Functional Ear Trainer’ limited by not showing answers on a staff. Is it important to link what one hears with what one sees?

  27. Joe Hubbard says:

    Hi Doug

    Thank you for your thoughtful questions. The reason that you want to combine all 12 notes of the chromatic scale in relation to a given key centre has to do with playing over chord changes and understanding the relationship between diatonic notes and chromatic notes. Most people can already hear the diatonic notes of a key, but if a person can’t and takes the time to isolate only the diatonic notes first, then their journey for comprehending how all 12 notes sound in relation to a key centre is much longer.

    It’s weird because ear training is a huge subject and so many people try to compartmentalise it as a catch-all skill, but the truth remains that the reason for ear training is to minimise the space of time that it takes to hear an idea in your head and then translate that to your instrument when you perform. If you can’t hear ideas for a min7thb5 chord, no matter what technical development you have on your instrument, you will have trouble playing those ideas. In other words you have to be able to hear it in order to play it.

    Saying the scale degree versus the note is fine. With that in mind, you should already know all of the relationships of the 12 chromatic intervals and the major and minor key signatures before you start.

    The Functional Ear Trainer software is simple and you can easily set it up to this drill. This drill is an auditory sensory exercise, so not seeing it on the staff will not impede your development. Again, you should already know all of the notes on the staff and develop that visual association as another exercise.

    Ear training is a useful skill to attain, but is not the Holy Grail; it is an interdependent part of a huge musical matrix that will lead you to become a complete musician.

    All the Bass!


  28. Doug says:

    Hi Joe
    One final matter.
    ‘Functional Ear Trainer’ makes it possible to learn the notes step-by-step and this seems to be a useful approach, e.g. first learn notes 1, 3 and 5 (or 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5) in one octave. Of course, from a musical point of view all of the notes need to be learned, but psychologically is it the best to tackle them all at the same time? To take on all chromatic notes in all octaves could result in someone feeling overwhelmed and then giving up. This is because it is going to take much longer for them to get feedback that they are making progress. And if they were to give up after only learning notes 1, 3, 5 they are still left with something they can use (limited as it is, it is better than nothing). In the same way, first learning the sounds of the diatonic notes in a major scale (which would be quicker than learning all 12 notes) would be a fundamental (basic) achievement that can be built on. [Limiting the cadence to C Major is an example of tackling the task step-by-step. Imagine how difficult it would be if one selected random major and minor key cadences! ].

  29. Monti says:

    Hi Joe,

    Just a couple of questions about this method.

    1) Why develope “Relative Pitch” when you can directly start developing “Perfect Pitch” and you will be able to hear all 12 notes, doesnt matter the key. Sure, it will take more time, but the result should be fuller. What do you think?

    2) Your quote: “2) The reason we only do this in one key is because the intervalic relationship of all twelve pitches will remain constant. As long as you reference the tonic of the key center you are in, a fourth will sound like a fourth in the key of C or the key of Gb and so on. This method is about developing relative pitch, not perfect pitch, so it is relative to the context that you are playing in.”

    In you blog entry, you said, that learning intervals is a bad way, but what we are actually doin with this exercise is exactly learning the intervals. Note-relation to the key center is actually the distance between to notes – KEY note and for example b2 note. So the method is actually – learning the intervals.

    Correct me if I am wrong. Everybody has to choose the right way for HIM to learn, but in my opinion learning Relative pitch is less effective thant learning perfect pitch. What are your thoughts about it?


  30. Juan E says:

    I actually think that the process should aim to be able to readily identify notes (Or their function) with key changes or modulation. I downloaded this yesterday’s morning and gave it a try right away. I expected it to be harder, for I’m little more than an amateur, but I surprisingly achieved 96% quite fast (20 minutes). Now, randomized it’s a bit harder, I put it to randomize the key on a melodic minor (All chromatics, so i guess is just plays a Minor melodic cadence) and i got on my first try 70%. I believe this to be the way to progress. Thoughts, Joe? I’m a little bit interested on the topic and I am returning to music, and I’ve been emphasizing on ear training. I have some 4 months (Irregularly) on my routine, and after having learned all chromatics intervals in 2 octaves, chords progessions, chords and some melody dictation, I find myself without any clear direction now, and i thought, before moving to harder curricula (Aiming at 4 voiced dictation in the short term) I’d ask for some input from a pro.

    • Joe Hubbard says:

      This exercise is an entry level drill, but make sure you have the software set to all octaves. If you have done this and are getting over 90% results then start to try guessing 2-notes harmonically against the sound of the key. Unfortunately, this software doesn’t do that, but you could easily make your own practice tapes.



  31. Stefan S says:

    As a beginner musician with no family or friends in music, i’ve picked up this exercise.
    I tried to do it as you suggested at first, but i was just randomly clicking buttons 95% of the time, and it did not teach me anything. To learn, a connection must be made, that does not happen if you’re just fumbling around completly without a clue.

    I started out barely breaking the guessing-percentage (roots and fifths, hah! … sometimes.), and did not get any better in 5 days.

    So I’ve tuned it all the way down. I broke most of your rules.
    I’ve spent a week searching notes within the (chromatic) octave on my bass. At the start of the week, it took me an hour to get through 100 notes, and i still only got 55% right, if you will believe it.
    I stuck to this routine for one week. That’s how long it took me to get 100% of the notes within the octave right with all that help.

    After getting my ears to SOME sort of starting level, i’m mostly following your instructions. I’m sticking to within an octave, but once i am confident in that, i’ll go ahead and uncheck that button too. (repeated 80%+ is what i’m aiming for at the moment). After losing the bass, i went back down to 44%, one week of daily practice later i’m at 66%.

    But really: this is hard for non-/starting-musicians. I’m not sure you realize how hard. You had difficulties telling a #5 from a #4? can you imagine being unable to identify anything between 2 and #4, and #5-7?
    Within 2 weeks i’ve improved from “NO CLUE TRY ALL BUTTONS” to 1-2 semitones. (2-3s and 3-#4s are mean things)

    Yes, there will be steps back when i finally pull the stopper on the octave limit. But there were great steps forward first, and the experience of learning, making progress, actually being able to tell intervals just by listening, was totally worth it for me.

    • Joe Hubbard says:

      Charlie Banacos used to say, “Ear Training is Zen- not Aristotelian!” Later, he would add, “Practicing your technique on your bass is Aristotelian- not Zen!” You dig? Taking too much time to “think” while doing the ear training exercise is an incorrect approach- even if you get the note right. What you are striving for is developing intuition. If you don’t know the answer then guess. As time passes you will begin to understand the character of each note. Get that yearning of instant gratification out of your vocabulary and just practice everyday in a non-judgemental way. There’s no rush; it took me one year before I truly got 100%. As elusive as it seems in the beginning, this drill will give you the skills of developing that gut feeling where you know what the notes are in relation to a given key area.

      Hang in there!


  32. Steve says:

    Thank you for providing excellent guidance on the functional ear trainer. I have reached a pretty good level of accuracy on the basic program. I want to be able to play by ear, so I have been working on 2 note melodic patterns played after an initial cadence. I hear the first note functionally within the scale, but I can only hear the second note as an interval from the first note. Any suggestions would be appreciated on how to hear the second note functionally within the scale?

  33. steve checker says:

    Outstanding Joe thanks! I first came across this post maybe 18 months ago and have been intermittently using the FET just as you outlined ever since. I’ve been much more dilligent over the last couple of months though – I just got my first 100% for 100 questions today, so I am quite pleased and feel quite a sense of accomplishment! So once I am consistently getting 100%, what’s the next step…and is there a program like FET that can assist?

    Steve Checker

  34. Joe Hubbard says:

    Well done Steve! The next step is learning to hear two notes- both melodically and harmonically. I’m launching a new Ear Training Program in 2015 so wait out for more information on how to sign up for that!



  35. Bill Logan says:

    Thanks Joe for a clear no nonsense method. I’ve struggled with some of the methods you reviewed and thought the work required was greater than the supposed benefit. As an amateur musician I have developed a recognition of some of the simpler patterns in scales, arpeggios and chord movements but moving beyond that has proved difficult.

  36. Tim Lappin says:

    Hey Joe,
    Thanks for the ear training suggestion!
    Will the new program you came up with be available anytime soon?

  37. james says:

    Please Sir Joe am a bassist can i also use this software? Am asking this question because after reading almost all the post it seems majority of the people speaking are keyboard players.

    But am downloading the software tho. Thanks for sharing. Am really hoping is going to go a long way to improve my hearing cause i need an improvement badly. i will let you know how fast am progressing. Thanks and GOD BLESS YOU SIR.

  38. james says:

    please am kinda lost in here,i have downloaded the software and am using it but then when i click on start 5notes are been played am i suppose to identify all the fives notes or what . please am lost help me out. Thank you.

    • Joe Hubbard says:

      When you press start you will first hear the I-IV-V-I cadence in C and then a single note- it is the last note that you are trying to identify related to the sound of the key centre.

  39. Danielle says:

    Hi Joe!
    Really pleased to have found you, I’m a beginner who’s been muddling alone on my own off and on for a few years, I really like your articles and your approach.
    After watching bands, and joining in jam sessions with people who could just join in with things by ear, I realised it’s totally essential, and found you through the above article. I’ve been practising a while now, and have the following questions:
    on the rare occasions I get one right , it would be nice to have the option to hear it again to ‘cement’ it in, rather than being given a new note immediately, or would that not be helpful, does the brain not work like that?
    For similar reasons, it would be really nice to hear the entire chromatic sequence when the intervals are played – is there a reason the note in question, and the nearest root, aren’t always included? I feel I am starting to internalise certain intervals, but I’m confused by it not being complete. For example, I can hear three descending chromatic notes (three blind mice??), which apparently means the note is D#. My ear is so embryonic, I’m not sure if I’m hearing D#, D, C#, or D, C#, C!
    On other notes, such as F, I don’t get to to hear either the root, or F, but I’ve forgotten the sound of the F by the time the cadence and sequence have been played. It would seem more useful to hear the whole thing, but again, maybe the brain doesn’t learn like that, which is fine. I’m prepared to invest years into this is necessary, and am quite fascinated by the learning process.
    One final question, at the risk of seeming really stupid – is the root at the end of the cadence the same as the first, or is it the octave? I’m honestly not sure! It’s difficult coming to this as an adult, which no former musical training.
    I’m sure I read somewhere a while ago you were developing your own ear training programme as part of one of your packages, is this so?
    With much gratitude for your time, Danielle

  40. Gaby says:

    Is there an alternate download link? I try opening it but I get an error message. Thanks!

  41. Allen Sackett says:

    Hi Joe,

    I have many of your books and follow your notreble.com articles regularly. I stumbled across this searching for ear training for bassists and finally asked myself, “I wonder what Joe Hubbard would recommend”.

    I am anxious to get started with this training – I have always had a descent ear for tuning my instruments – long before electronic tuners – but want to increase my intuition for recognizing the chord changes whether in jazz, pop, other. It’s surprising that a minor third descent from the root in a chord sounds so different in one song than it does in another. My ears can certainly fool my brain … or maybe it’s the other way around.

    I would very much like to use my commuting time to work (2 hours / day) to improve on my ear training. Is there software that accomplishes what your suggested Windows version can do that can be loaded onto an Android or played via an SD card or via iTunes? I have limited time at home and try to put in 2 hours a day in my actual bass practice and can spare no more time (due to that necessary day job where I live).

    Take care.

    Allen Sackett

  42. Joe Hubbard says:

    My book Functional Harmonic Concepts has some great ear training exercises with MP3 tracks, so that you can practice on the go.
    Hope that helps!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *