A trained ear  -  the central skill for teacher and student 
Aural training – not just testing!
 By Margaret Brandman
 Most leading music educators would agree that the aural component of music education is of utmost importance, after all, teachers and students of music are all dealing with the medium of sound.
 Some educators place ear-training before any of the written aspects of music and most traditional music of non-western cultures is handed down in the aural tradition.
 As western musicians we have the benefit, or hindrance, depending on your point of view, of learning music from the written page  Teachers of Western classical music are presented with a balancing act  -  to give the aural, written and kinesthetic aspects of music,  equal consideration.
 Including aural work in the first lesson, helps orient the student to the instrument, bringing an awareness of the low, middle and high areas (registers) of the instrument or voice.  If teachers continue to  present aural work on a regular basis, an ongoing awareness of intervals and rhythm followed by the understanding of chordal and scale sounds can be developed, all of which is of great benefit to any music student. 
 Many new syllabi are requiring aural skills from the very first level.  As teachers, we should seek resources to enable the student to not only cover ear-training once a week in lesson time, but to work independently at home on a daily basis.
 If teachers continue to  present aural work on a regular basis, an ongoing awareness of intervals and rhythm followed by the understanding of chordal and scale sounds can be developed, all of which is of great benefit to any music student. 
 An effective aural course should go beyond simply presenting a series of aural tests – it should also give suggestions as to how to transcribe rhythms and strategies for melodic dictation.
 The course should also train the voice so that the student can internalize the pitches. 
As with all learning, long term memory is facilitated by repeating a task within 24 hours of the time it is presented. This is especially true of ear/voice training.  Through frequent repetition, students will find it easy to hear and sing intervals, scales and broken chords. 
 The all too common practice of introducing aural work two weeks before an examination, should be relegated to ancient history!  Few students stand to gain real security within such a tiny time-frame and would no doubt suffer huge pressure under exam conditions.
The benefitsof aural training include -
         .          * developing security on the instrument or with the voice
         .          * security in memorization
         .          * the development of improvisational skills
         .          * helping to internalize the music that is being played
         .          * developing critical listening to detect mistakes
         .         * developing pre-hearing of intervals, rhythms, scales and harmony, making music reading more secure
 Of course studying aural work independently of the pieces being played can be a dry exercise. My own approach is to incorporate aural awareness during the learning of every piece. Students are not only required to detect intervals and rhythms, but also to analyse the harmonic structure and the modulations of the piece being studied. The process includes writing the modern chord names above the staff, as seen in popular sheet music,  plus the degree numbers and figuring below the staff as in the classical tradition. 
 An example of the benefits of this approach is that If the student has detected a Major 7th chord in the music, then “pre-hearing”  can occur, guiding the fingers to the correct notes. In addition, if students are aware of the quality of the Major 7th chord (very bright with a pleasant dissonance) then they won’t baulk at playing the notes, nor will they automatically convert the chord to the old favourite -  the Dominant 7th. 
 (See Beethoven Op 10.no3  bar 2  for an example of the Tonic 7th chord which is the bright sounding Major 7th chord)
 For teachers, the development of their own critical listening skills is vital. As part of efficient teaching, a teacher should be able to read the music along with the student and aurally detect mistakes rather than having to look at the notes the student is playing on the instrument. 
 A trained musician should also be able to read music away from the instrument and ‘hear’  musical sounds in the inner ear.
 A personal case in point, is that other teachers often bring along recordings of their student’s performances providing the written music for me to view, so that I can comment on the performance. In this situation the only way to detect mistakes is by ear. As I have widened my aural skills to include many types of extended chords and harmonies this is usually quite manageable, not to mention great fun!
  It is also useful for any performer to listen critically to recordings of works they are studying while following the score.  This skill of following a score can be enhanced by learning to transcribe music by tracking the rhythm, pitch and harmony. 
 To conclude, I would strongly encourage all music teachers to feature aural awareness as part of an integrated teaching programme.  Students can be empowered to use their aural skills in many creative and practical ways, with the added benefit of being able to breeze through any aural questions presented in either practical or written exams.
For further practice in ear-training, refer to 'The Contemporary Aural Course'