Students often find tasks like learning how to read music, memorization, and ear training to be dry and redundant. However, I’ve found several programs that make the process fun, entertaining, and even mildly competitive for the user.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll review various software packages that I use to make the learning process more enjoyable for students.
Back when I was an undergrad, we had to complete daily lab time with various ear training programs as part of our college music theory courses. We would go to the lab and run a series of prescribed ear training exercises on a computer. Students would write down their scores, and then turn them as part of their grade.
When I left school and started to teach, I really wanted my students to have access to the same kind of ear training resources. I eventually found Earplane. (www.earplane.com)
Earplane offers a wide range of tests. The tests include interval identification, chord identification, identifying various modes, and intonation drills. A student can run Earplane at home between lessons to reinforce material learned at the lesson. And really, students can use Earplane anywhere they have internet access.
Interval tests include harmonic and melodic interval drills that increase in difficulty. There are two sets of intonation tests, which can be useful for beginners studying orchestral string instruments, fretless electric bass, trombone, or similar “ear tuned” instruments.
There is a triad identification test that covers major, minor, augmented, diminished, and sus4 chords. Earplane can test triad identification in open voicing, closed voicing, arpeggiated voicing and in different inversions. The site also offers 4 note chordal drills which includes major 7th, minor 7th, dominant 7th, m7b5, and diminished 7th chords. All can be drilled in open voicing, closed voicing, arpeggiated voicing, and in various inversions.
Students can drill their ability to identify the modes by ear. The student will select from a group of modes, and then they can drill that group at 3 different playback speeds. The mode test groups are logically ordered to test from easiest to hardest.
There are some tests to see if a student can identify how a rhythm or a melody would be notated.
Earplane is free to use. You can use all the tests without registering. However, Earplane will record your scores if you register. Registration is free.
If you are a teacher, you can use a feature called Earport to work with your students and monitor their scores. In the Earport, teachers (called Pilots) create a group of students (a Crew). This will allow a teacher to have access to students’ scores. All Crew members must have the Pilot’s designated password to join a crew. The teacher can set privacy settings so that student scores can be public information for the entire crew, or a score will known only to the teacher and each individual student.
You will not see the option to use Earport on the website until you have completed registration. After registering, teachers will also need to make a donation to the Earplane site and become a First Class User to become a Pilot of a group. You have an option to test Earport out before you make a donation. There is a “Test Crew” that you can join that has a blank password.
I tend to introduce my students to Earplane during a lesson. I usually do a few ear training tests on the student’s chosen instrument first. Then we try the same tests with Earplane. Earplane’s synth timbre throws many students off initially. So I try to help the student understand that the timbre is the only difference, and I try to help them hear past that change. Usually the student’s ear has settled in after one practice test.
Another con is that after you have answered a test question, the repeat button for an audio clip will not be enabled. You will not be able to check the audio clip against the right answer. However, if you become a First Class member the repeat previous button will be enabled. First Class Users have supported the site with a “small donation or a work contribution.” Making a donation is easily done through the Paypal link on the menu of the navigation bar.
One will notice that some features on the site are still being developed and are in testing. For example there is a beta version of Earplane that works offline that is free to download. I downloaded it and tried it with little success. It could be my computer system, or it could be the software. That is the downside of test versions.
The Earplane program is also dependent on Shockwave to run. Shockwave apps can perform differently on different computer systems. I’ve had no problems with compatibility on any of my four computers. However, a friend of mine (who also happens to be a computer scientist) was testing the Earplane site. He found Earplane would not work on one of his three computers due to the site’s reliance on Shockwave.
The Bottom Line
Earplane is a very useful tool that allows me to provide an ear training lab for my students. Students who are vacationing without their instrument are even able to get some practice in…as long as they have access to an internet connection. If the offline version of Earplane is fully developed, even that barrier will be lifted. There are a wide range of tests, challenging musicians of every skill level. Explore the Earplane site. You may find some drills that you can incorporate into your lesson plans.