Ear Sharpener – Ear Training in Context

I have always liked this app because of the unique way that it approaches ear-training. It hadn’t been updated in a while and I was afraid that it was going to be gone shortly. Nope! In a big surprise, it was recently updated and I love the changes that were made in it. It has much more depth now and I look forward to seeing it get even better.

Many ear training apps are just interested in whether you recognize intervals or chords. Important but they aren’t always in context. That is THE thing about Ear Sharpener. All of the ear training that you do is in the context of the key.

The first level in note training starts off in the key of C and you hear a cadence IV-V-I and all you need to guess is whether the note played is a C or a G. Tonic or Dominant. The rest of the scale is shown but greyed out. I like that this keeps the overall context for inexperienced students. I love that the ear training is in the context of a key. I think that this is a much more real-world way to train your ears. (I’m not going to give up any of my other ear training apps though. I’ve covered quite a few of those in this blog. It’s something that I think is very important. I also believe that it’s important to change things up as you can get too used to an app and stop really listening to it.)

iPhone Beginner Chord Level

iPhone Beginner Chord Level

You can practice hearing the root note of chords as well. The first exercise there is almost exactly the same except instead of hearing individual notes, you hear the chords in root position.

For each level, you have to answer 20 questions correctly in a row before you move on and not to make it too easy, you have to answer within one second. There is a bpm/timer circle on the upper right above the chords, answer too slowly and you’ll get the message that you were right but too slow and the number of answers remaining goes back up to 20. Miss the answer and you’re back up 20 answers again as well. Kind of reminds me of the penny pile practice trick. I like the reinforcement.

There are four different levels for practicing.

Beginner:
Notes practice starts in the key of C with just I or V and goes to the key of C with all twelve notes of the chromatic scale within a one-octave range
Chord practice also starts in C with a I or V chord and goes to a Major or minor chord on any of the twelve notes of the chromatic scale.

Intermediate:
Note practice begins with only notes in the key of C major but covers a two-octave range instead of just one. The last exercise here is all twelve notes through eight octaves.
Chord practice starts just as the beginner section ended except now the chords are in 1st inversion. It ends with an 8 octave range, Major or minor chords on any of the chromatic notes in root, first or second inversions and with closed or open voicing.

Advanced:
Note practice goes back to one octave only in C major but now you have to recognize two notes at once. This then works it way up to end at the ear numbing finale with all twelve notes, an eight octave range, and 11 simultaneous notes. A bit crazy but give it a go. At least it’s entertaining. There are no chords under the Advanced menu

Extra:
This has chord exercises that include augmented and diminished that work their way up to that eight octave, chromatic scale, all inversions and all voicings.

There is also a custom menu here and that’s the thing that I really like for scales and note recognition. If you have a piece that you are working on in a particular key or scale, you can set that up as a custom level and have practice that is applicable to what you are currently working on musically.

iPad Custom Level Maker

iPad Custom Level Maker

You can also make custom levels for chords.

iPhone Chord Custom Level Maker

iPhone Chord Custom Level Maker

This I find a little more awkward. I really like what they’ve done with this app but I do hope there are some changes in a few areas. The chord practice is one of them. I would find it much more helpful to hear the chords within the context of the key. So in the key of C major, I would expect to hear the chord based on e as a minor chord. I don’t mind trying to stretch my ears and hear a major or minor chord for each note of a major scale but it just doesn’t usually happen like this in an actual piece of music. Also available in the custom levels, is the ability to regulate how often you hear the cadence. I’m glad that’s there because it tends to get a bit annoying to hear it between every preset exercise.

There are a few other things that I would like to see for this app to be really great. If you make a custom level, you cannot edit it. If you make a mistake, you have to delete it and start over again. Also, the iPad version is just the same as the phone version. This means that you are holding your iPad in portrait and this puts the speaker on the bottom. I’m usually leaning the iPad on something to use it and it tends to muffle the sound. I’d also like to see syncing so that you can see any custom levels that you’ve made on any of your devices without having to make them fresh for each device.

Go get this app! It’s one of the only ones that has this in-context practice.
I look forward to seeing where he is going to go with it in the future.

Ear Sharpener is a plus app from Justin Francos get it for $1.99 from the app store.

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