Sleepyhead, pictured on the left, has discovered that she loves the sounds a piano makes, but at her age, she hasn’t had the benefit of having piano lessons. So as she waits for a traditional music teacher or someone like me to come into her life to show her the way, what does she do with her curiosity? She continues to explore, experiment, and attempt to play the things she hears by ear. This can be frustrating.
I guess that Sleepyhead, like you, me, and most people, started learning spoken language by first listening to its words and phrases, then imitating and reproducing what she’d heard until she got it right. That is “ear training” as it is applied to spoken language. It is a crucially important stage through which everyone needs to successfully pass in order to have their speaking skills and spoken language abilities successfully developed. Phonetics are learned by ear.
This same type of ear training technique, as it is applied to the language of music, with respect to playing by ear, is just as important because it provides the required theoretical framework and infrastructures upon which your “ear playing” abilities are based. Without having such infrastructures, the most sophisticated and experienced music readers may be able to play from memory but playing by ear will present them with very significant challenges.
Being able to hear, being able to understand what you’re hearing, and being able to assemble then transduce those data into instrumental sounds that capture and express what you’re hearing is what ear training is all about. Ear training gives you the ability to identify and realize the musical sounds that you hear externally or in your head and then communicate or bring that sound into the physical world so that someone else can understand and appreciate what it is you’re saying– in this case what it is you’re playing. This is why ear training is important to kids, and to you.