Notes on a page are not music. We musicians sometimes need to be reminded of this. It’s easy to lapse into an autopilot practice regimen, in which you sit down and play your sheet music for a half hour without ever really hearing the sounds you’re making.
Here’s some advice: Close your eyes and open your ears. (After you finish reading this article, of course.) Here are some tools to help you develop your ability to learn music through hearing, as opposed to reading, and train your ear.
Relative Pitch (iPhone/iPod)
This app helps you to recognize intervals between notes. It’s great for jazz improvisation especially; if you hit a note, and you need to know (or, rather, feel) where to go next, having a sense of note relationships is indispensable. The way it works is, you hear two notes played back to back and you then have to select the relationship between the notes (minor triad, unison, perfect octave, etc.). The levels get more difficult as you progress through the course. $6.99 in the app store
Karajan Pro Music and Ear Trainer (iPhone/iPod), by appsolute GmbH
While Karajan aims at piano players, all musicians will benefit from the ear training lessons provided in this app. Its lessons train you recognize pitch, intervals and chords, as well as tempo (BPM). $9.99 in the app store
Theta Music Trainer (website)
Theta Music Trainer aims to make ear training fun by creating games geared toward pitch recognition. The first few are free; access beyond that is restricted to paying members.
…Of course, if you don’t have time to actually train your ear, there’s always the auto-tune option. A new tutorial by Hal Leonard walks you through the best pitch correction software techniques.