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What are aural skills?

Aural skills, ear training, and musicianship are three related terms of musical pedagogy.

The term ‘aural skills’ refers to the cognitive skills required to know musical structure without having to see them notated. Musicians with cultivated aural skills are able to write down music that they hear, rendering melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic elements in musical notation. Aural skills also allow musicians to look at notated music and hear it in their head without having to hear it through their ears.

To develop aural skills, musicians embark on aural training, also called ear-training. Ear-training programs often begin by isolating each musical element (pitch, meter, rhythmic patterns, harmony) and presenting its most rudimentary form. After mastering rudimentary isolated elements, ear training students are then challenged to combining these elements: forming simple melodies at first, eventually adding in harmony, and ultimately engaging all elements of fully rendered musical examples.

Musicianship is a term used to encompass ear training, aural skills, and some performance skills for rendering elements being studied, such as playing a keyboard to rendering harmonic material or a percussion instruments to render rhythm material.

The following are examples of skills found in most formal music education classes covering 'aural skills':

  • scale degree recognition
  • rhythmic dictation
  • melodic dictation
  • harmonic dictation- discerning the bass and chords of a passage
  • two part dictation- tracking multiple musical lines at once
  • sight singing
  • interval recognition and singing
  • chord recognition and singing
  • identifying individual notes in a chord

The following are examples of general aural skills that tend to not be part of formal education classes, but are instead the domain of performing ensembles, theory classes, and training programs for these skills such Dalcroze Eurhythmics.

  • keeping a steady beat
  • maintaining accurate placement of notes relative to the beat- being 'in the pocket' vs 'ahead' or 'behind'
  • performing/internalizing polyrhythm and polymeter
  • identifying meters by ear
  • tonal memory
  • intonation (maintaining accurate pitch ie, being 'in tune')
  • hearing/performing dynamics
  • hearing/performing articulations
  • recognizing timbres has exercises, dictations, and sight reading generators for aural skills development. All of this material is publicly available without any need to login, just click on the "Exercises" button in the top right banner. is a companion site of SonicFit and MyMusicianship which have login features and different exercises. is a comprehensive curriculum of lessons and benchmarks. Students can work at their own pace through material, taking placement tests to jump ahead to material matching their current level. Student scores and practice logs are saved., in contrast, has stand alone exercises with adjustable settings. When students work on these, their work is recording in the practice logs. Sonicfit also allows instructors to custom build drills of those exercises for their students, assigning them as quizzes.

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