Audio Ear Training for Music Production

Practicing audio ear training to improve your engineering and production skills is an essential part of becoming great at what you do. Imagine planning to run a marathon without ever studying how to run. This is what most engineers do when they start out mixing. Just strap on some shoes and start running… We'll work out the problems in the field.

The inevitable problem is that bad habits soon set in and are harder to correct the longer they are practiced. Along the way, bits of advice will be given that will yield limited results because the fundamentals are ignored or lost in translation.

A more intelligent approach would be to study the art of running as you practice. Watch professional runners, notice the running techniques they use, how they pace themselves, how they control their breathing. Consult a professional to watch you run and advise you on your technique and issues.

The same applies to music production. The following audio will give you some valuable insights for audio ear training to improve your production and engineering skills. The following text is an outline of the concepts discussed in the audio program.

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Getting Started

Training your ears by studying music production and engineering techniques is an important part of becoming a great engineer, producer or artist. Most people do this naturally by listening to loads of music, but fail to study as deep as what is necessary. Audio ear training involves learning how to listen to a music production and what to listen for. This is the most beneficial method for achieving better results with your own work.

The Fundamentals of Listening

As an engineer or producer you have hundreds of tools available with computers and all the crazy plug-ins. The possibilities are virtually endless in terms of the number of combinations that you can use. Without a proper foundation to build a song or mix from, none of them will give you the results you hope for.

There are certain music production processes and techniques that fundamentally follow from song to song. Mapping out these processes and techniques are the foundation from which you can build a great productions. The following discusses these fundamental aspects of music production.

Basic Audio Ear Training

Early on in the audio ear training process, the first exercises that people usually do are ones that that allow them to hear or interpret different frequency ranges. This involves understanding what the different frequency areas are and what meaning that they have in terms of the music and instrumentation.

Analyzing the different frequency areas that instruments resonate in is very important to understand. The role of fundamental frequencies and the harmonic series will also help you to understand how to record and process them.

The Audio Ear Training Process: Writing it Down

Start by finding a commercially released song that you love to listen to because they are the ones that will influence your creative work the most. It's important to study productions that excite you so you can learn to reverse engineer them and understand better how they were built.

To start the process of audio ear training with music productions, you will begin by writing down everything what you hear. Writing it down on a piece of paper is very important because it keeps your concentration focussed on the task. Otherwise, your mind will wander. The following outlines some of the aspects of a music production you should be focussed on…


Start by listing all of the instrumentation and vocals. Create a spreadsheet and in the 1st column you should write down every instrument that you hear in the mix. This is important because it will help you to distinguish different instrumentation from each other. Pick out as many different sounds as you can hear even if you don't know what instrument it is. Make up names if necessary. Define samples or loops as an instrument or sound and build your list as long as you can.

Relative Volume

After listing the instrumentation and sounds, create a second column and rate each sound on a scale of 1 to 10. 10 being the loudest and 1 the lowest. In most popular songs the lead vocal is the loudest and everything goes down in level from there.

Some instruments will be softer and certain sections and louder in others. Write down the range of levels if necessary. This with help you to understand the relative relationship of balances between instruments within a music production.

Panning and Spread

Panning and spread define what part of the stereo field a sound resides in. A mono signal will occupy a single defined location. A stereo signal will be spread out across the left and right speakers and occupy a larger space. Write down where each mono instrument or vocal is panned. For stereo instruments, write down how wide the image is. As you follow this process through multiple songs you will start to see consistent patterns emerge from song to song. You are learning the fundamental principles of imaging!

Reverb and Effects

The next item on your spreadsheet is effects processing. This can take some time to learn as you start to distinguish different types of effects from each other. The best place to start is to define whether each instrument and voice has a noticeable effect or is it dry (no effects). Once you have determined the wet to dry balance, try to define what the effects are. Reverb, delay, chorus, flange, phase are some of the basic options.

Creating Mix Templates

By repeating the audio ear training process of writing down what you hear over and over you are creating templates for mixing. These templates are the fundamental building blocks for creating music productions in each style of music. Try to mimic these templates with your own productions. As you get better with each attempt, continue to listen and write down what you hear. Each attempt will become more refined and specific to the details.

Working With Templates

The purpose of creating mix templates is not to make your productions like a cookie-cutter of someone else's work. The purpose is to get you from a rough mix to a mix that befits the style of music in a very short period of time. From this fundamental place, adding "out of the box" production techniques will make your music stand out. If you approach this process backwards, as many do, the production will almost always feel incomplete and unsatisfying.

The Learning Process Never Ends...

Whether you are a novice or a working professional engineer and producer, the learning process never ends. Each project you work on will teach you something new if you approach it with an open mind. Using the audio ear training techniques described above is a great way to jumpstart your production and engineering skills and continue to develop them.

It's this type of extra work done on a daily basis that will give you an edge over the other people you'll be working with. This extra effort will pay huge dividends in terms of getting new clients. The more you study music productions, the faster you will get to creating the sounds you want, and the more people will want to work with you.


Every field of endeavor involves a deep study of its fundamental principles. The more you study the fundamental principles, the more creative you can be around them. People who side step these basic principles almost always fail at what they do because the foundation they build from is weak and cannot sustain the weight of their creative ideas.

We all have great visions for our music productions, but are frustrated when we do not get the results we are looking for. If you only look at the outside decorations, then you will miss what holds them in place. What you don't know is that what holds them in place is the real art of music and the foundation of all music production.

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Anatomy of the Ear

Protecting Your Hearing

Temporary Threshold Shift

Critical Listening

Physics of Sound

The Decibel

Fletcher and Munson

Selective Hearing

Speed of Sound and Wavelength

Acoustical Phase

The Sound Envelope

Return to Audio Basics

Return to Home From Audio Ear Training

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