My thoughts on Ear Training

I don’t often communicate with non-musicians, but when I do, they are most likely a fellow college student, probably studying physics, chemistry, or engineering, and are off to become the next Tesla or Steven Hawking. Obviously, this is great and I’m glad there are these type of people in the world. However, when I find myself in contact with these people, we usually don’t vibe on much. I know most of the other students here find common ground in discussing football or whatever other sports there are out there, but I’m an anomaly who hates athletics. The part of me that is supposed to care about my school’s Big 10 team doing well is presumably dead. Therefore, my limited conversations with non-musicians revert to me either gushing about one of my many other passions: Muppets, John Denver, McDonald’s, or if I’m in a foul mood, complaining about my least favorite class: Ear Training and Sight Singing.

Obviously, non-musicians have no idea what ear training and sight singing is, so I usually have to explain it to them. It’s a class that all music majors need to have four semesters of, in which we sit in a small group setting and sing music at sight, (on solfege syllables!) write down short melodies and harmonies that are dictated to us, identity chord qualities, and other such rotten activities. It meets twice a week for 50 minutes each, which doesn’t sound like much, but they are easily the longest 100 minutes of my week. I have had the privilege of making friends in the class, which has made my first two semesters almost bearable, and I had a very helpful TA which made my almost non-existent skills slightly more existent.

I’ve spent hours and hours on my own practicing sight singing, taking pretend dictation quizzes, and staring at the wall wondering what I’m even doing in music school if I can’t complete ear training exercises with ease. Let me tell you, it was rough. All my other classes were going fine, I especially enjoyed my time in the first two semesters of music theory. I really couldn’t understand why I couldn’t get ear training. I really felt like a failure, especially considering I was working so hard to improve.

Over the course of the year, I learned to accept the fact that I wouldn’t be getting a 4.0 in every class I ever took. Daily I told myself, “Your ear training skills do not define you. Your ear training skills do not define you.” Yes, I know that sounds really dumb, and maybe it is. But it’s what I did, and it served a purpose. I continued to work hard, and continued to pass, but I didn’t ace the class by any means. Most of the time, hard work means a 4.0, but sometimes it means something a bit below that, and that is now okay with me. It’s not about the grade, it’s about learning. Even if I feel like my ears still aren’t trained as well as I want them to be, I certainly learned a lot about acceptance and perseverance throughout the past year.

This year, I’ve moved on to “Advanced Ear Training and Sight Singing.” I’m not going to lie, I’m a bit terrified. But I have two out of four semesters down, and I’m going to continue to work hard and hopefully train my ears some more. I know some people reading this are thinking “this girl needs to get a life and stop freaking out about a stupid class, some people have real problems” and I don’t blame those people for thinking that. (I’m 100% positive that all my fellow students that I vent to are thinking the same thing.)  However, we all have our thing we care too much about, or that thing that bothers us more than it should, and for now, mine is ear training.

Needless to say, non-musicians that I talk to about my ear training troubles get bored very quickly, and usually turn the conversation to drinking or sports. When this happens, I usually smile and nod as they tell me about their latest drunk escapade. (Disclaimer: I’m not saying that everyone else here is a party animal, just many of them, non-music major or not. It’s just not my thing, and I’m comfortable with people doing their thing as I go ahead and mine.) I owe it to them to listen about their lives and interests, I mean, they just listened to my dry monologue about a class completely irrevelant to them. Eventually, we part ways, me back to my dorm to stare at the wall and think about my life, and them to their scientific endeavors. Honestly, I guess ear training isn’t so horrible after all.

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