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For ear training and singing trial and error is one of the excellent teachers of all time and all great jazz musicians have excellent hearing of intervals and all else related to playing music.
The question is how you get there. There, being a place where “musical” ears really help you play and where the process of acquiring those musical ears hasn’t totally driven you into the ground!
Singing and Apps
For better or worse, singing intervals and melodies is great training. It’s possible we can “hear” an interval or a melody without singing it. But it’s impossible to sing an interval or a melody without hearing it.
All of the different ear training apps that are available have strengths and weaknesses. One key is to choose one that you’ll stay with for a long period of time. That often amounts to the one that’s least onerous for whatever reason you can come back to it day after day.
Meludia is the new flavour of the month and it looks very interesting. Evidently the Curtis Institute of Music endorses it (I think) and Malta (I think) has made it available for free for all of their citizens! Well, that sounds good.
Ear Training Classes
I’m going to make the assumption that most of us reading this aren’t university undergrads or enrolled in undergrad music programs. But for those who are, ear training classes generally last for the first two years of the program and like every other class, they have to be passed.
I’m not suggesting we all enroll in university ear training programs–actually I used to teach them and direct the teaching of them at Central Washington University in the United States. What I am doing is pointing out that’s the scale of the learning process which is a few years in classes that meet several times a week and not infrequently every day of the week.
But, having taught those sorts of classes for years, I’m also in a position to critique them. So I will. Ear training classes are not the only way to get a set of “ears.”
The ongoing process
What I’m trying to get to is the idea that ear training is an ongoing thing. Initial failure or the feeling that it’s too much trial and error is a normal part of the process. So is wondering about the efficacy of singing. I’ve had many students who simply can’t stand the sound of their own voice!
Stay with ear training and over time you see results. But staying with it means more than a few days a week and it probably means working systematically in one way or another.
As for older generations of jazz musicians who didn’t go to school, they learned directly on the bandstand. That’s another way to go about training the ear but in our present day opportunities to gig six nights a week are limited.
One thing that I KNOW to be true. Jazz is ear music but too often learners become too attached to all of the jazz theory books that are out there.