Are there any established and scientifically backed-up facts about what is possible, and what time it takes for ear training? Any studies out there that look at these questions? Like letting people learn intervals and evaluate their progress?

Background: Since almost one year I am doing ear training on a regular basis, approximately 20-30min every day. But my improvement is very slow. I saw people hearing a song and able to figure the harmony and melody out almost instantly, and ultimately thats my goal too.

So, I ask myself, if I continue will I ever, and when will I, reach this goal. Now by any objective measure I am still really far away. My slow progress makes it difficult for me to evaluate myself and having a realistic prospect on my own progress? So, I am looking what science has to say about it.

  • It's hardly scientific, and some people can grasp a lot of it almost immediately, whilst others never quite get there. So you'll come somewhere between. Not a lot of help to you, but an impossibly question to answer, objectively or subjectively (certainly the latter).
    – Tim
    Jun 3, 2018 at 9:42
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    @Tim Yes, that's a "problem" and scientists have to find clever ways to deal with it. There are other examples with similar problems, for example learning experiments, or how to evaluate different learning paradigms for education, or when you want to find out why people do something (for example psychologist have come to the conclusion that instrospection, i.e. asking people about their motives, is not a good way to study something). So, despite all these individual differences and difficulties have people come up with ways do operationlize it, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operationalization
    – StefanH
    Jun 3, 2018 at 9:58
  • @Tim Even the fact that some people seem to grasp it more easily should arose much scientifc interest in it, see the classic en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nature_versus_nurture debate
    – StefanH
    Jun 3, 2018 at 9:59
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    My points are progress rates will differ considerably person to person, as with everything - even growing up! And thus, 'how long will it take?' is impossible to answer - except ' between two and thirty years, as a rough estimate, which is not helpful. That apart, after 60+ yrs studying, I'm still learning, so where would the goalposts be anyway?
    – Tim
    Jun 3, 2018 at 10:16
  • There is some scientific study of amusia which may be either congenital (present since birth) or acquired through brain damage, etc. But "science" probably isn't interested in your personal progress as an individual, as opposed to using this as one of many ways to understand how the brain works - and no effective treatments are known for the disorder. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amusia.
    – user19146
    Jun 3, 2018 at 11:40

1 Answer 1


For what it's worth, I found "Aural Skills Acquisition" pretty interesting, and I think it might have references to relevant research. It's a textbook and kinda expensive (I got it through interlibrary loan), and it's not an ear training book, it's a "here's what we know about teaching people ear training" book.

Just from an anecdotal point of view: for me it's definitely a marathon, not a sprint. There are a ton of tiny little sub-skills to learn along the way. And every time I get to one level I find there's always something more to learn. Also, I've always found it most satisfying to combine drills with more practical exercises. (E.g. if there's a song you want to learn from a recording--just go for it, don't wait till you've finished some ear training course. It will be slow and take lots of trial and error and the results won't be perfect at first, but you'll learn a lot by trying.)

You might get better answers if you could ask more specifically about something you're trying to do and having trouble with.

"I saw people hearing a song and able to figure the harmony and melody out almost instantly": I'd bet they've been working on this for many years, consciously or not. And if the song's in a genre they're familiar with, you may not realize the extent to which the song is assembled from common building blocks that they've played many times.

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