Until age 17, I was an average music student. Despite having all the passion in the world, my music grades only ranged between B’s and C’s. I even remember the embarrassment of having to retake one music exam in order to pass the year. I lacked confidence, felt scared to raise my hand in class, and the music I was making did not resemble what I heard inside.
But at age 18 I started working out songs by ear – simple Christmas carols to begin with, progressing to pop songs and TV theme tunes. As my ear developed, so did every other musical skill – my knowledge of music theory, my ability to compose and find the actual notes and chords I was imagining, I could improvise with confidence, and play with other musicians.
Very quickly, within 3 – 4 months, my confidence grew, and I soon became the top student in ear training tests. Working out songs by ear became ‘my thing’, and I went on to graduate with a first class music degree (the equivalent of a 4.0 GPA), and gained my masters degree in music composition – which I attribute entirely to developing relative pitch. Had I not worked on training my ear first, none of this would have happened, and I’d still be frustrated, and unable to channel my passion in a focused way.
Once I learned to play by ear, so many things improved:
I could enjoy music on a deeper level. I found myself immersed in music daily, every time I heard music. I knew which notes and chords were being played, I knew what each musician was thinking, and could predict what they would play next. I could understand the music, and the composer’s thought process, and of course, could still enjoy the music emotionally as I did before.
It felt like I was practicing music all the time. Anytime I was at a coffee shop, restaurant, bar, night club, watching a movie, when someone’s ringtone went off, or when a car passed playing music – I found a new part of my brain working every time I heard music played – and not just when I was at my instrument. I’ve even gone months without playing my instrument, yet feel completely active in music because I don’t rely on my instrument to practice – listening is a workout for me.
My ear became my biggest teacher. Although I’ve had some great music teachers, and have read many theory books, the VAST MAJORITY of what I know is from transcribing music by ear – listening and observing the norms of any genre, from one song to the next. But this only possible when you can understand what you’re hearing.
I became confident in my own judgement of music. I could distinguish good music from bad music (like a wine connoisseur does for wine). I could hear what level a composer was at, just by listening to their music – I could tell what they were thinking – I knew when they hadn’t quite found the right chord, or when they didn’t know what key they were in – and so on. I could critique my own composition ideas – I knew which ones were interesting and worth pursuing, and I knew which ones were cliche and average.
At University, I studied music theory (including harmony, counterpoint, 18th century classical music, orchestration) and eventually specialized in composition for film which I studied for my master’s degree.
As a composer, I’ve had works performed by the London Chamber Orchestra, the New London Wind Quintet, and Kuljit Bhamra’s ensemble – at venues including London’s National Gallery, St John’s Smith Square, and the Royal Albert Hall.
And as a performer, I am active in orchestras (playing trumpet), big bands (playing jazz piano), and various ensembles with friends and family. In all of these areas, I rely on my ear more than any other skill.
replicating my success for others
Nobody was able to teach me ear training, but by perseverance I discovered a way to do it successfully for myself. I have now structured that very learning process into my unique video course to make this level of success available to all musicians. ‘The Musical Ear’ teaches you the same concepts that I discovered, in the same order. I want you to share my path, so that you can enjoy what I experience daily – and for you to have that ability for the rest of your life.