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09 May 2018

Developing Aural Skills

Aural Training is, from my experience something that is often left until just before an exam. Typically a teacher will get one of the ABRSM Aural Tests books out a lesson or two before the big day, or a student will start scouring YouTube for some extra help in a last minute panic, realizing that their aural skills are a little lacking. Many might simply think, "I'm just not good at Aural, but it's only worth 18 marks maximum in an ABRSM exam". 

But would you start preparing your pieces only a couple of weeks before an exam? Of course not. Aural skills can be developed more easily than you think if you spend just a few minutes a day practicing them.

I'm sure most of you are aware of my E Aural Trainer video series, which can help and I have recently been doing some interactive live streams a couple of Sundays a month where viewers participate answering questions on aural training but there are also things you can do yourself.

At the heart of ABRSM Aural, whether you like it or not, is singing. Here is a little exercise you can try that will help develop this area.

  • Take a short phrase from a piece you are currently playing, say just four bars.
  • As a warm up try to sing the melody while you play.
  • Then sing it again without your instrument.
  • Without looking at the music, but by using your inner ear, try and name the interval between each note
  • Next, try to sing the bass line while you play just the melody line.
  • Finally sing the melody line and then the bass line, backwards, paying attention to the rhythm as well as the notes
Aside from the singing, whenever you hear a new piece of music, try and identify certain features about it, for example
  • The time signature
  • Dynamics
  • Major or minor tonality
  • Texture and structure
  • Style and Period
  • Can you identify any cadences or modulations
  • Try and pick out a bass line
There is so much music around us in our everyday life, not just when we are in a practice session, so make use it rather than switch off as if it were background music in a department store. And by the way, you could even use that for Aural Training. In the car? After a certain song has finished, switch off the radio for a second and analyze what you have just heard. Walking along the street and a car horn beeps, sing the note a 4th below the sound you just heard. Doing the vacuuming? Hear the pitch the motor is making and sing a third higher along with it. It makes surprisingly  pleasant harmony. The possibilities are endless. Have you got any more ideas how you can use everyday life for Aural Training - put them in the comments below

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