In light of last week’s email about my first week of music school, I thought I’d share the most valuable and practical skill that I took away from 4 years in a university music program.
Here’s the cool thing: You don’t have to go to music school to gain this skill.
The most difficult class I ever took was ear training. In this class we had to “sight sing” melodies (read the notes on the page and sing the melody correctly without accompaniment), listen to and identify chord types, scales, intervals, and more, and listen to melodies and chord progressions and write out the exact notation for what we were hearing. This musical “dictation” was the most difficult and dreaded portion of the class for everyone. The funny thing, too, about this kind of class was that there was no possible way for anyone to cheat. YOU had to be able to sight sing your melodies for the professor. YOU had to properly write out your melodic and harmonic dictation passages. And the class was way too small to even think about looking over a classmate’s shoulder. (I didn’t consider cheating btw. ;P I’m just putting this in perspective for you.)
But despite all the challenges of ear training, I really enjoyed growing in my aural skills. I quickly discovered that a few key things proved to be very practical for me as a drumset player playing in bands:
I’m sure I could come up with more benefits I experienced, but these are the big four that come to mind. And if I could choose one of these to be my number one benefit, it would be #3. Being able to hear, identify, and transcribe rhythms, grooves, and fills, made my life of learning songs for church and other pop gigs a hundred times easier.
Like I mentioned at the beginning, though, you don’t have to go to music school to learn these skills and get really good at them. With some basic resources, you can become so-called “self-taught” in ear training if you’d like. Really the resources will be your teacher, but I say “self taught” because you’ll be learning independently. Here are some great ways to go out and conquer these skills on your own.
Learning this stuff will not only impress your bandmates (who knew the drummer could do more than hit things?), but your listening will grow stronger. That’s the most important skill to have on the drums beyond good physical technique. You must listen well, and understanding melody and harmony only elevates this skill.
And of course, your transcribing abilities will be heightened as well as you work on this stuff. Being able to write out a groove or rhythm quickly is an invaluable skill when you’re having to learn songs quickly. Challenge yourself to tackle some music theory and ear-training, and you really will thank yourself down the road.
Also, let me know if you’d like to see a full-blown video on this. I figure this is an ultra non-glamorous topic, but if it’s one that helps a lot of folks out I’m happy to go more in depth.