How do you train your ears?

How do you educate yourself to refine your ability to listening to music and being able to tell about the details of the sonic nature?
I guess, first off, one has to listen to lots of music on lots of different systems, and catch intrinsic details and subtle differences. Knowing basic music theory and being proficient in one or more musical instruments would also help.
However, simple listening may not improve one's ability unless the listening practice is guided by educated practices that have been exercised by experts and those with golden ears.

How have you refined your hearing/listening capability?
Any good source you know of to recommend to novices and enthusiasts?
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During my college years took a course in Music Listening.
Had to learn to tell the keys, notes, etc. apart. While cannot do it today, the effort to pay attention has stayed with me and made listening more eventful and enjoyable. There are probably home study courses that would do the same. Once the ear is trained it does not easily forget.Being able to tell why something sounds good or is missing something might be a little hazy but being aware of it is crystal clear.
The only way I know of is to go to live musical events and listen to real instruments as often as you can.
The only way to establish an unbiased frame of reference is to go to listen carefully to live performances of various types in various venues.
For getting started (complete beginner) I'd suggest the basic audio course by Alton Everest: "Critical Listening Skills for Audio Professionals".
I agree with Sidssp. Probably the worse thing you can do is listen to most recorded music. That is the idea of what the recording engineer had in mind. Put that bias into a stereo system, many of which has different brands of players with their manufacturer's biases, amps,with theirs, speakers,with theirs, cables,with theirs, etc., and if some idea of real music comes to you, it is just an accident. The real thing unamplified should be the standard.
"The real thing unamplified should be the standard. "

Of course the real thing should be the standard. Everything else is just a reproduction of the real thing.

Some genres are amplified naturally though in live performance. That should be considered a real standard for those genres in those cases as well.

No recording or playback system, regardless of cost or quality, should be regarded as a standard for purposes of training the ear. For purposes of providing a model for a good playback system, yes, but that is different.
I agree with listening as much live music with real instruments would help. I had purchased several CDs after attending to live jazz concerts, but always it was disappointment to listen to their music on my audio system. There is just no comparison between well played live music and recorded music, unless done extremely well.
Orchestral music can be hardly reproduced in low-mid high end systems, however well recorded.

In a sense, training ears would be similar to training wine tasting -- you need to listen to as much real live music as you would drink lots of wines to know more about wines; reading books on wines would help to a certain point, but no theory would substitute the real tasting. However, tasting wine with suggestion made by some wine gurus, like Parker, would certainly help your wine tasting.

IMO, audible memory in music is rather weaker than visual or taste memory. But it can be further cultivated as with wine tasting. Everest's book may help. I will check it out.
Sitting up-front, first or second row, hearing the live performance without amplification is the standard I use. Listen intently then compare your audio system immediately after the concert using the same artist & recorded material if possible. When I heard a concert pianist live and heard almost identical results from my system I knew I was on the right track. At another concert I was able to use the recording engineers master-tapes to compare what I had just heard live with the audio reproduction on my system. That was the clincher. When the engineer heard his recording over my audio system his jaw dropped. It was as though the concert was live in my living room, something he had not expected, and this is from an engineer who makes his own tube equipment.
Commcat, you must have one heck of a listening room and gear, how about sharing with us? I've found the piano is the most difficult instrument to duplicate in the home listening environment.
>>How do you train your ears?<<

Use very simple one word commands your ears will understand.


Enuciate clearly and speak firmly.

Good luck.
211 Tube Monoblocks, Tube Preamp, Dunlavy SC-V Speakers, Sony TC 880-2 Tape Deck, 4 Gauge Speaker Cables, Oracle Delphi TT, Dynavector Arm & Cartridge. Cal Audio Labs Alpha DAC, MicroMega Transport. Not such extraordinary equipment but the synergy is outstanding. The room is ordinary, 20' x 15', carpeted wooden floors, bookcases around both sides and back wall.
How do I train my ears?

I sit orchestra center, not as close as some others have indicated, but close enough...when I don't sit outside the performance I am usually in it. I had the opportunity to conduct a few times in college, and that would be the ultimate reference...if I could just have someone let me hold the baton again...

Recently I took my spl meter to a orchestra read of Il Trovatore, which took place in a rehearsal room. I was standing on a platform with the principal singers near the percussion are some measurements...

Large cymbal crashes, 107db
Heavy percussion, upwards of 115db
Full brass, 110db (at 15ft.)
Full strings, 100db (at 20ft.)

Operatic Voice at 5-7ft, loud passages:

Dramatic soprano voice 92 db
Dramatic Mezzo voice 90db
Darmatic tenor 90db
Dramatic Baritone 87db

I am sure had I been on the other side of the orchestra...aka from the podium, the brass and the strings would have been a bit louder...

Mind you, these are peaks, the general range of the orchestra was around 80db for mf, with the singers riding their overtones...which is the art after all.
Listen, listen, and when you think you are an expert listener,
listen some more.
WHAT ? oh sorry that was when I was married. Now I just simply RELAX! Cheers
Listening and hearing are two different activities. I like listening to music. I enjoy it more when the performers are into it. I get more out recorded performances when the band is 'on' than live performances when the band is having an 'off' night. Otherwise, the best training for listening is listening. I could not imagine going to a live concert in order to train myself to listen to my stereo better. I go for the music, the fact that it is an 'event' and the performers want to please the crowd, the fact that I might be going with friends who also look forward to it. I go for the chance to see my wife all dressed up, for the dinner before, and the maybe the drinks afterward. I go to listen to new music, a new performer, a new interpretation, or to again listen to something I heard years ago.

I have found it very helpful to listen to what other knowledgeable people say. People who have been in the hobby for a number of years. Have them go out to listen to systems with you either at dealers or other friends. You don't have to agree with them but often they bring up important issues that may not have occurred to you.

An analogy to this would learning about wine. You go wine tasting and have the wine server give you his take on the flavors in the wine.
Just a comment about commcat's post. I have no doubt that the tapes you and the engineer heard at your home sounded like the live performance. However, I once did an amateur stereo recording of a community-produced musical in an auditorium. I was a kid, it was 1977 - and used my Superscope Dolby cassette deck and a pair of $15 RatShack mics set up on a table about 10 feet back from the stage. Everyone who heard my unedited cassette recording was astounded at how much like the original it sounded, in spite of the obvious lack of fidelity of the recording chain and playback gear (my old stereo was OK, but mid-fi - Advent New Large, Kenwood receiver and the afformentioned Superscope deck).

Why? My theory is that all who heard the recording were present at the performance (or in it), and had some memory of the acoustic environment. Since my amateur setup captured the echos of that auditorium, the recording sounded like the live event. This effect was especially true when using headphones (I had Sennheisser 424X cans) fed from the cassette deck's headphone jack. Just my $0.02.
Listening skills are IMHO developed when you have a 'reference' and a 'goal'. If you don't know what is possible you don't have a reference. If you don't have a goal you don't know exactly what to listen for.

I agree with T Bone (mostly), you don't go to a live event for anything but to enjoy the music. While what you hear there could be a 'reference' it could never be a 'goal' because you could never replicate it at home (or even come remotely close).

Although I must admit the other night I heard a professional guitarist audition 3 new guitars against her own in a recital hall. The differences were clear for any one to hear but with her developed listening skills she could articulate the subtle differences in a more meaningful way when talking to the guitar maker. I could hear them, and they made sense when she discussed them, but I could never have described them so well. But now, if I were in the market for a new guitar (not an audio replication of one) I would now have a better 'reference', be able to create a realistic 'goal', and end up with a guitar I could be happy with.

In another, but relevant aspect, earlier that night she was conducting a master class with some college classical guitar students. She was talking about their technique in creating different complex tones. It was Greek to us, and the students as well, until she broke her comments down into playing just a few short notes using the technique, then it rang clear as a bell. You couldn't miss it!

I think many folks approach listening to an audio system's performance from the same prospective that they listen to music, they are 'seeing the forest'. When listening for system evaluation you have to be able to walk into the forest and examine each tree and learn to distinguish the difference between the Doug firs and yellow pines. It is there to hear but you have to learn how to focus on particular aspects and ignore others. Sonically there is an awful lot going on at the same time........

For example, how could you ever fully appreciate when you have achieved good soundstaging without ever having heard what is really possible.

You must get out and hear other well set up systems. Once you hear that 'great system' you have your aural reference, now all you need is a couple of great sources and some specific goals, and a lot of patience. It also helps when you can get other experienced ears to help you through this process.

Could you tell who she was?
What makers of guitar she has?
I play the classical guitar and own two luthier made guitars, so I wonder.
The guitarist was Sharon Isbin. She said the name of her guitar, I didn't get a clear understanding of the name, but it started with 'H' and might have been Holzgruber. I did a search and its tonal description matched my recall. There is a picture of her on the CAMI site with (I believe from visual recall) this guitar - perhaps you can pin down its identity. It was acquired (if not made) in 2007 and has a cedar board, rosewood sides and back which was either unstained rosewood or had inlay. I suspect the former but that is just AWAG, I saw it from 20 ft away. A gorgeous piece of work! It has a very rich tone which she attributes to the 1st string.

IMHO, the pairing of her and her guitar was just OUTSTANDING!!!! I'm going to get some of her recordings, she has a faily large discography. Especially her Rodrigo which she played for us. :-)
I've been to Sharon's concert twice. She is a goddess in the classical guitar world. She plays a Thomas Humphrey Millennium guitar. Humphrey is one of most renowned and innovative guitar makers in US. He passed away a year ago.
Sharon's Rodrigo guitar concerto is her signature piece.
If you like Sharon, check out her "Journey to Amazon," if you don't have it. ;-)

Good advice on training ears.
Ihcho - I am a professional orchestral musician who also has a music theory degree. I am trained to train people's ears, and have helped many in the past, and would be happy to give you some advice if you want to send me a private email. There is some good advice in the above posts, but if you wish, I can direct you to some books that will help you train your ears to enjoy music more.

One book I can highly recommend to anyone interested in learning more about listening in general is one called "What To Listen For In Music," by the famous composer Aaron Copland. It is well written and easy to follow without being dumbed down.

Another piece of advice when attending orchestral concerts, and this goes for pretty much any concert hall - do not sit TOO close to the front. Sound travels up and out, so sit more towards the back than the front, though not under an overhang if you are on the floor. In many halls, some of the best seats are in the front section of the second or third tier of the hall, depending on how many tiers there are (and assuming there is not a "roof" over your head from the next tier up). There is often relatively better sound in the so-called nosebleed seats than in many other areas, again depending on design, especially in not-so-great halls. Every hall is different, of course.
Learsfool, care to enlighten the rest of us on which books might be worthwhile reading?
I think there are two separate things "knowledge of sonics and sound" and "music appreciation". They are different. For example The Alton Everest book will allow you to train your ears to recognize what is wrong with a system. It teaches you about audio bands and what a boost, suppression, notch cut or various forms of distortion sound like. This is fairly easily defined but tricky to teach yourself to recognize things with a high degree of accuracy/conviction.

I suspect Learsfool has in mind some books on music: How it is constructed and what are the typical forms and techniques used. This is a massive subject - like language it really has no boundaries and is constantly evolving. It is art
Shadorne is basically correct. I did indeed have in mind books on music as opposed to something like the Alton Everest book. However, I will say that ear training will only help critical listening to equipment, etc., as this kind of listening should still be based on what you are hearing (or not hearing) in the music, and how well you can or can't hear it. Any formal ear training course at a university music school will include some basic coverage of acoustics, and so do many books aimed at music lovers and/or amateur players. As far as audiophiles go, different folks have different sonic priorities in their systems, and some of us professional musicians find some audiophile's priorities to be very strange indeed.... but to each his own. There is plenty of equipment out there designed for all sorts of tastes.

As to T bone's question on which books would be worthwhile reading, this would depend on what one would want to learn more about. There are many different types of books out there -as Shadorne says, it's a massive subject. I think any audiophile who wants to learn more about how music is constructed, etc. cannot do better than the Aaron Copland book I previously mentioned - What To Listen For In Music. It covers many different topics, and has great suggestions for listening and further study. Learning more about the subjects covered in that book will greatly help any audiophile refine their listening, and therefore their discriminating tastes. There are chapters on the four basic elements of music - rhythm, melody, harmony, and tone color - and other chapters on subjects like texture, structure, forms, the creative process, the relationships between composer/interpreter/listener, etc. It would be a great starting point for anyone wanting to learn more about music of all types, not just classical. There are also alot of different books out there on music appreciation, music history, music theory, etc, far too many to mention here. If anyone has a specific interest that they would like to pursue, feel free to send me an email through audiogon and I would be happy to help where I can.
'How to listen to music' for dummies,
Is there such a book?
i just sat 8th row center and heard andre watts play rachmaninov 2 concerto with symphony. i never felt lacking in ear training as i sat there with tears in my eyes. if you 'get' music... dont fret the rest unless you want to write ads, then just open a wine tasting book and steal phony phrases like most audio
golden ears experts' do!
Training earings.
Ok Live music is not your stereo! I am a professional musician and an audiophile and I can tell you that imaging, depth, and positioning are all tricks and trade of stereo. Never have gone to a live show and closed my eyes to see if I could place the singer in the middle!!! That is phase tricks done by producers not a live show but that being said you can go to some small venues and get a feel for what real instruments, natural reverb, and vocals sound like. Many people need to go hear real vocals after all the systems Ive heard that sound nasaly and they just gushed about how "natural" the vocals sounded! Huh...go figure. Your stereo will never sound like a live show but it does a great job trying to and its so much fun listening to all the phase tricks done to make things sound center, left, right, or even back or forward, once you realize that you wont be so uptight about your rigs sound.
My thought is to stay away from most live venues. Poor acoustics, suboptimal listening positions and uncomfortable seating, crude amplification and amateurish mixing, excessive volume, and noisy neighbors all conspire to produce mediocre sound. One rare exception would be classical music in one of the great halls. Another exceptional experience I had was listening to live rock in an outdoor venue broadcast over ultralarge monitors.
Audiophiles are created when they listen to great music on great equipment. You will know it when you hear it and feel it. Go to concerts to hear the musician, not the quality of the sound.