Ear Training for Piano Players

Just like with any other musical instrument, there are good and bad ways to approach ear training for piano. If you want to make sure that your efforts really pay off, ear training for piano should be approached with dedication, using proven science-based methods.

What is ear training?

Someone with ear training skills can identify musical elements – such as notes, chords, melodies, and so on – purely by ear, without help from a musical instrument. Ear training for piano includes basic skills such as pitch matching, as well as key sub-skills like chord progression recognition, short-term musical memory, and melodic recognition (to name just a few).

You don’t even have to achieve an advanced level of ear training for piano in order to enjoy the benefits; as soon as you’ve started grasping beginner-level concepts, you’ll find that you have a closer connection to the music you’re learning or hearing. It doesn’t take much to develop the ability to recognize common musical patterns, simple melodies, and basic chord progressions. Of course, this connection will increase the stronger your ear training skills become; the point is that you don’t have to attain an elite level of ear training for piano before you start seeing real progress.

The importance of ear training for piano players

Regardless of how advanced you want to become as a piano player, ear training for piano is important if you want to learn quickly and effectively. If you want to become an advanced pianist, though, ear training for piano should be considered essential. Without it, you’re likely to reach a plateau that can’t be overcome without a great level of ear training.

Why? Because ear training teaches you crucial skills that are relevant for learning any instrument, not just piano. Ear training for piano is the same as ear training for guitar, or any other instruments really. In general, ear training is important because it helps build foundational musical skills like the ability to recognize notes, chords, melodies, harmonies, rhythms, and much more. You’ll find deeper meaning in the pieces you learn, since ear training helps you understand the technical theories associated with the notes on the page.

Effective vs. ineffective types of ear training for piano

Make no mistake – not all ear training exercises are created equal. Spending hours drilling yourself on interval-based exercises won’t be nearly as helpful as using science-based ear training exercises, especially ones that focus on the specific areas or skills that need to be strengthened depending on your current level. Then there’s the trial-and-error approach, which throws structured learning to the wind, and (like the interval method) usually results in frustration and zero productive learning. The trial-and-error approach may seem like the easier path – until you realize how much time you’ve spent “practicing” without seeing any results. This approach doesn’t have any particular structure. It basically consists of the student hearing a note, chord, or melody, and then fishing around on their instrument until they can hear that they’re making the same sound. As far as ear training for piano goes, the only ear training skill that the trial-and-error approach teaches is pitch matching, which is one of the most basic ear training skills. Most of the other skills needed for ear training for piano are ignored, which means that you can’t truly develop your musicality with this approach.

Even though the interval method is structured and the trial-and-error approach isn’t, they can both actually do more harm than good for someone who’s trying to master ear training. For example, the interval method puts too much focus on identifying intervals (such as a major third, a perfect fifth, and so on), without acknowledging that any given interval will sound and feel different, depending on the role it has inside the harmonic context (the key of the musical piece). Interval exercises are always atonal, but this is totally different from the way we naturally experience music. Students of the interval method are able to identify intervals in isolation (without the presence of a tonality), but this skill doesn’t translate easily to identifying intervals, chords, melodies, or other musical elements in real musical pieces.

Ear training exercises for piano

If you’re interested in ear training for piano, keep in mind that you won’t be able to find a specific set of exercises that will cover all the bases. Instead, you should begin by focusing on ear training, and then apply those skills as you learn the piano. In fact, if you want to thoroughly develop your ear training for piano skills, following a good ear training method (that only focuses on training your mind, without taking the instrument into account at first) is where most of your effort should be spent.

Ear training develops musical skills in the mind, while learning the piano requires both your mind and your fingers. Then, after your ear training skills and piano skills start to fall into place, you can connect your mental ear training skills to your physical instrument.

If you already have some basic ear training skills, there are some exercises that can help strengthen the connection between your mind and your instrument. These are a couple of examples:

  1. Without playing anything, visualize a scale’s pattern on the keyboard. Play only the tonic note, and then sing the scale aloud (ascending and descending). Next, play the same scale on the piano, and confirm whether or not you sang the scale correctly.
  2. Once you’ve mastered the first exercise, it’s time to challenge yourself a bit further. Visualize a scale’s pattern on the keyboard, play the tonic note, and sing the scale like before. Now sing different degrees of the scale at random, and check on the keyboard whether or not you’re singing the scale degree you thought you were singing. And remember, you shouldn’t use the trial-and-error approach! The goal is to hit the same notes on the keyboard as you were just singing, without delays or mistakes.

These exercises are simple, but they teach skills that are crucial if you intend to master ear training for piano. They’ll allow you to learn music more quickly, and focus on developing the inner perception and expression of the music, rather than the muscle mechanics of hitting each note at the right time. If you’re currently unable to do either of these exercises, the Use Your Ear courses will be able to help you. Not just with these skills specifically, but with many other skills that will move you forward in your ear training for piano. In fact, these two exercises might be simple for some, but very hard to perform for many others. This shouldn’t be a concern, though, as there are actually multiple sub-skills that should be developed before you can perform these exercises above; it’s quite normal for most people to not be ready yet. If you want to be taken step-by-step, from the most basic ear training tasks that could be performed to the most advanced ones, keep reading…

Key features of ear training for pianists

If you want your ear training for piano to be as effective as possible, you should choose ear training exercises with the following characteristics.

Uses a tonal approach

Generally speaking, ear training should be based on a tonal approach - and ear training for piano is no exception to this rule - because that’s how our brain learns to speak the language of music. A tonal approach to ear training teaches you how to recognize key elements of music (notes, chords, melodies, etc.) within their harmonic contexts (or musical key). Since every one of these musical elements has a different sensation depending on where it falls on the scale, you need to be able to recognize those auditory sensations. This is where interval exercises fall short. Since they’re atonal, they only teach you how the musical elements feel in isolation, not how they feel in a real musical piece (where there is always a musical key established).

Offers step-by-step exercises

One major failing of many popular ear training methods, such as the interval method, is to force overly complex exercises on beginner students. They don’t realize that these atonal exercises are practically impossible for them to learn, so the students may assume that they’ll never be able to make progress – and then quit.

A well-designed ear training method, on the other hand, recognizes that ear training skills follow a logical progression of difficulty. For example, pitch matching skills would be taught early on, while chord progression recognition skills would be taught later. This allows the ear training path to mirror the natural development of the cognitive processes that allow musicians to truly play by ear.

Trains students in all relevant ear training sub-skills

Another thing you should expect when studying ear training for piano is a method that’s thoroughly comprehensive. It doesn’t just teach you the basics of ear training for piano and then leave it at that; it provides exercises in all the skills you need to develop an advanced level of ear training.

An effective ear training for piano practice routine must include the development of key sub-skills such as melodic recognition and retention skills, tonic recognition and retention skills, short-term musical memory, and chord progression recognition skills, to name a few.

Ear training tips for pianists

Perhaps the most important thing you could do when practicing ear training for piano is to choose the right ear training method. It isn’t enough to simply pick a method, even if it’s popular, and assume that it’ll give you the results you want.

Let’s say that you’ve found a great ear training method with a proven track record of success. Now what? Here are some piano ear training tips to get you started.

  • Be consistent and intentional – ear training for piano won’t actually work if you don’t practice regularly.
  • Start with piano and ear training lessons that are appropriate for your skill level. You should be challenged by the ear training exercises, but not so much that you get frustrated and give up.
  • Identify areas of weakness in your ear training skills, and focus on them. For example, if you’re a natural at recognizing melodies and harmonies, but chord progressions are still giving you trouble, you should be practicing chord progression recognition rather than melodic or harmonic recognition skills.

Are you a pianist who wants to develop great ear training skills? We can help you with that

If you’ve always dreamed of being able to sit down in front of a piano and play anything you wanted by ear, you’re in the right place. Use Your Ear’s groundbreaking ear training method teaches invaluable skills that will help you not only learn to play music by ear like a pro, but also compose and improvise freely as well. Our method is designed to work for players of any instrument, and singers as well.

Relative Pitch Video Course

This course includes science-based, step-by-step instruction that’s been proven to work with thousands of Use Your Ear students. Here’s an overview of what you can expect from this ear training course:

  • You’ll develop your natural musical instincts that you can apply in real-life scenarios, like jamming with fellow musicians or improvising on the fly.
  • You’ll advance in your ear training with proven exercises, which are suitable for all students regardless of age or skill level.
  • Even if you’re focusing on ear training for piano, the skills learned from the Relative Pitch Video Course can help you effortlessly play music by ear on any instrument.
  • You’ll receive step-by-step ear training instructions that are tailored for your current skill levels, instead of having to complete exercises that are too advanced, and make you feel like there’s no point in continuing your ear training.
  • You’ll benefit from using an ear training method that consistently works where every other methods fail. In fact, even students who’ve tried multiple other ear training methods have noted that Use Your Ear is the only one that resulted in real progress.
Relative Pitch Video-Course

Free Use Your Ear Workshop

For a taste of how the Use Your Ear method can help you develop your musical ear, you can join our free online workshop. Here are some of the highlights:

  • You’ll discover a science-based ear training method that uncovers techniques which are instinctively used by high-caliber musicians.
  • You’ll be introduced to our step-by-step relative pitch training method, which will help you develop your musicality more quickly and easily – and without the usual mind-numbing interval exercises.
  • You’ll be given effective exercises to practice, discover the best way to recognize melodies and chords, and receive practical directions to set up your own ear training practice routine that is tailored to your current skill level.
  • You’ll learn which ear training exercises are just a waste of time.
  • You’ll get two free gifts, which will help you continue to develop your relative pitch skills as taught by the Use Your Ear method.
Free Use Your Ear Workshop

Individual online lessons

If you want to take online lessons to advance your ear training for piano, make sure you pick the right instructor. Ear trainer apps (or ear training software) are mostly centered around interval-based ear training, which is ineffective for the reasons described in earlier on in this post. Plus, they definitely won’t be personalized.

One-on-one online lessons essentially let you become an apprentice to an expert musician, who will guide you through ear training lessons efficiently and effectively. You can progress at the pace that’s most natural to you, be encouraged to focus on weak points as you practice both ear training and piano, and get real-time feedback.

One-on-one ear training lessons online

How our students learn to recognize melodies and

chords by ear in just a few months

Check out how our students go from zero to recognizing melodies and chord progressions by ear in a few months, following the Use Your Ear method.



The benefits of ear training for piano are many, whether you’re attending a free workshop, an online course, or individual online lessons. Most people who start ear training for piano have a specific goal to reach, like being able to play the piano by ear, or improvise at will. Whatever your goals happen to be with ear training for piano, the right ear training method can help you reach them – and then some!