I've just spent a month using one of the music industry's leading ear training apps to improve my mixing. Did it work? Well, after using it for just 10 minutes each day the results were impressive...
In this article I'll be examining what ear training is, why every producer needs to dedicate time to training their ears, as well as giving an in-depth review of my own experience using ear training software TrainYourEars over the past few weeks.
Table of Contents
Why is Ear Training Important for Music Production?
In short, ear training helps producers find the frequencies they need to get the sound they want.
Ever wondered how experienced producers just seem to know instinctively which EQ settings to adjust to improve their mixes?
Well, the answer is practice.
Practising ear training to improve your production or mixing skills is an essential part of becoming a better producer. Learning how to identify specific frequencies, cut muddiness from your mix, and identify issues, will give you a solid foundation from which to create a great sounding mix.
How Long Does It Take to Train Your Ears?
As with learning most skills, the rate of improvement is directly proportional to how much effort you put in. The more often you are mixing and finishing tracks for example, the faster your ears will learn to identify frequencies ranges and know what a good mix sounds like.
There are no real shortcuts here, however setting aside a dedicated time each day solely for the purpose of improving your ears will quickly reap tangible benefits.
And this is where ear training apps can help.
What are Ear Training Apps?
Ear training apps aim to help you to better understand the technical aspects of the sound you are listening to, by getting you to repeat exercises to help you recognise specific frequency ranges more clearly.
They help you to listen critically to music and recognise how different frequency ranges are being used within the context of a song, and the way they come together to form a coherent mix.
TrainYourEars EQ Edition Review
TrainYourEars is one the industry's leading ear training software tools. Their software has been designed specifically to help you learn and recognise different frequency bands within the audio spectrum.
It's based on a training method that has been used by teachers for over 40 years, by getting you to listen to an audio track which has had a random EQ applied to it, and then repeatedly attempting to identify the specific frequencies that have been cut or boosted.
It's a well-known fact that your brain learn very quickly through repetition, so with this type of training you may advance more in a few weeks than could otherwise have taken you several years.
Let's take a look.
Installation and Overview
I found initial installation and setup of the software was a breeze both on my Mac and PC, with the user interface being well laid out and very intuitive. If you do have any issues however, then there is a comprehensive set of documentation included to help you out.
When you launch the TrainYourEars app you are presented with three main sections: Player, Options, and Training. Let's examine each of them in turn.
The Player Section
The Player section lets you choose between dragging in an audio track from your hard drive within the Audio Player, connecting to an external device or streaming service such as Spotify through the Live Player, or using either pink or white noise as your signal within the Noise Player.
Note that to connect to music streaming services (or to route audio from any other program running on your computer), you will additionally need to install audio router software. TrainYourEars recommends BlackHole for Mac and VB-CABLE for Windows. Both are free and I found them relatively straightforward to setup.
The Options Section
Within the Options section you can configure the tool to match your own audio setup, as well as routing the signal through 3rd party plugins. This comes in handy if you want to calibrate your room or use a headphone emulator for example.
The Options section also allows you to select one of the following example audio exercises:
Basic boost and cut with Band Filter (Guess) - A cut or boost is applied at a random frequency. You must guess the frequency and whether it was a boost or cut.
Basic boost and cut with Band Filter (Correct) - Like the exercise above, however this time you also need to apply a correction to return the signal to its original state.
Learn Octaves with a Band Pass Filter (Guess) - This exercise helps you learn what instruments sound like in different octaves.
Find the opposite High and Low Shelf Filters (Correct) - Both a high and low pass filter are applied to the sound. You need to identify the frequencies and correct the signal.
Live Feedback Simulation (Guess) - This exercise simulates feedback in a live concert, where you need to quickly adjust the EQ to rectify the issue. Great for sound engineers.
Narrow vs Wide Q factors (Guess) - Guess how many frequencies are being boosted around the centre frequency.
More Q factors (Correct) - Like the above exercise, however now you also must correctly adjust the signal back to its original state.
Find 2 bands in a 7 frequencies equaliser (Correct) - Correct the frequencies in the equaliser that have changed.
Low Cut vs Low Shelf (Guess) - This exercise teaches you the difference between a Low Cut and a Low Shelf EQ.
High Cut vs High Shelf (Guess) - This exercise teaches you the difference between a High Cut and a High Shelf EQ.
Resonant high and low cut filters (Guess) - Guess both filter frequencies as well as the Q factor.
4 bands graphic equaliser emulator (Correct) - Find and correct each equaliser adjustment
7 bands graphic equaliser emulator (Correct)- Find and correct each equaliser adjustment
In addition to the example exercises you can design and edit your own custom creations. You can even download and import exercises that other users have made, which is a nice feature to have.
The Training Section
Once you've setup your audio source and exercise type, the Training section is where you want to head to next.
There are two main exercise categories: Guess Mode and Correct Mode.
In Guess Mode you must correctly determine which frequency band has been adjusted. In Correct Mode you are additionally challenged to apply either a cut or boost to return it to the original signal.
At the end of your exercise, you're given a score based upon how well you've done. You can also easily track your progress by viewing how many exercises you've done along with your total score.
My Experience with TrainYourEars
I went into this review having never used an Ear Training App before. Although I’ve been producing for several years, I wouldn’t call myself an expert mix engineer by any means, so I was interested in what this software could do for me over the relatively short time of one month.
At first the exercises challenged me more than I thought they would, especially when it came to attempting to rectify EQs in the Correct Mode.
I persevered though, and committed myself to use the app for around 15 minutes each day. Don’t expect to use this app a handful of times and notice huge improvements. You still need to do the work and put in the practice!
Within a few days my results had slightly improved, and by the time the month was up I was regularly getting much higher scores.
But did the ear training provided by the TrainYourEars app translate into real-world improvements in my mixing?
Well, obviously that is hard to quantify exactly, but I did find myself making EQ and sound mixing decisions much faster and confidently than I had done previously. It's also improved my sound design, allowing me to instinctively craft sounds that fit better within the mix.
Overall I was really impressed with what this app offers. It's not a golden bullet for instantly becoming better at mixing, however if you're prepared to put in the work then you'll definitely see results like I did.
TrainYourEars is available for both Mac and PC.
A lifetime licence can be purchased for a one-time payment of €49 (around $57).
If you're looking for a tried and tested method for improving your ear's ability to recognise specific frequencies in a relatively short space of time, then I can highly recommend using dedicated ear training software.
I found using TrainYourEars to be fun to use and incredibly good value for money. Using the app for just a few minutes a day has made a world of difference to my mixes.
Is it right for you? Well as long as you understand basic EQ concepts as a starting point and can commit to using it for a few minutes each day, then I would strongly recommend you give it a go.