An aspiring jazz trumpet player's blog about jazz improvisation and ear training.

January 3, 2004 Ear Training 1 Comment

Ear training and improvisation

UPDATE 5/5/2007

The blog entry shown below is one of the first that I wrote for this site. Since that posting, I've written more informative articles and I've created a couple of free online ear training tools. Unless you really want to read the old stuff, I'd recommend one of the following links instead:


In my opinion, the lack of adequate ear training is the single greatest barrier to quality improvisation. Ear training helps us to identify intervals, chords, and progressions. Ear training also helps us successfully play the ideas we hear in our heads.

My ear isn't strong enough (yet!) to pick out complex/altered chords, nor is it strong enough to listen to a tune and accurately figure out the entire chord progression. It is strong enough, though, to help me listen to a tune and figure out the key and quality (major, minor, etc) so I can play a decent solo… decent for me, at least.

I'm also getting to the point where I can play more and more things by ear. This is one of my primary goals: I want to be able to play EVERY idea I have with accuracy. It doesn't matter how great our ideas are, if we can't play them by ear, they may as well not exist.

This is where "simple song" playing comes in. Each day I try to pick 3-5 easy tunes at random and then play them in a random key. The tunes should be so easy that you know exactly how they should sound. Stuff like Christmas carols and nursery rhymes are ideal. You might feel silly playing them, but they'll give you a good foundation for playing tougher tunes by ear... like "Isotope".

I'm going to make a tune randomizer in the near future that everyone can use. Until then, I suggest you start putting together a list of your own for daily practice.

UPDATE - What do you know, I actually followed through with the promises above and created a couple of ear training tools!

Comment by Frank

Hello Rick,

I like your site and your ear training tool. Thanks for making this available!

There is another website that I use a lot for ear training. I thought it might be interesting for any other people who are starting off with playing by ear.


It is a dutch site by a sax player. He provides free online "Lessons". It works with a call and response system. It is basically repeating quite easy riffs played by sax (trumpet would have been even better!!). I use it quite a lot. But I am getting to the stage now where the riffs are almost becoming too easy. So this system is working I guess!

Kind regards,


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