What Are Aural Skills?

“Aural skills” are the core skills used by all people involved in music. Many schools and departments of music reserve curricular space for aural skills in classes called “aural skills,” “ear training” (or “ear training and sight singing”), “musicianship,” or other terms. While the word “aural” indicates that we think of these skills as relating to the ear, in many ways they focus more on the brain. These skills belong in two big categories.

First, we are developing internalized knowledge and physical structures. For example, we internalize the feeling of conducting a measure “in three” so that we can use that feeling to identify what’s going on in music; and we internalize the sounds of the different notes in a scale and their relationships so that we can draw on these sounds in our own music-making or music-imagining.

Second, we are developing habits, and especially habits of attention. When we read music from notation, for example, if we have developed certain eye-movement habits and procedures, we will be much faster and more accurate. We all have lots of practice listening to music, but we can develop habits of listening for specific aspects of the music that relate to our goals—whether they are to write it down, improvise over it, or something else.

Now, we should be honest: there’s no way to actually meet our goal of addressing all the “core skills used by all people involved in music.” There are definitely core skills that we have left out. Some of that is due to our own ignorance, particularly of the needs of musicians and music thinkers who focus on repertoires and practices that we’re less familiar with. It is our intention that over time, and with feedback and collaboration, we will address more of what we have left out by accident. Some things, however, are purposefully omitted because if we included everything, the book would be too long and complicated to be useful. Some of what’s in this text may be less useful to certain people than others. But we have done our best, based on our own experiences, to make sure the skills described in this book are broadly useful for as wide a variety of musicians as possible.


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Foundations of Aural Skills Copyright © 2022 by Timothy Chenette is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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