Hearing music in your head

“You’ve got to get the tune on your mind and then find it in your fingers. Keep on till you find what you want on that neck. But keep that tune in your mind, just like you can hear it a-playin’.”

-Hobart Smith

Audiation is the process of “hearing music in your head.” When you’re walking down the street and you start humming a tune, that’s audiation. It’s something that everyone does unconsciously. And then when the song is playing in your head you start to sing, hum or whistle it.

The basic practice of audiation as I teach it:

  • Play something.
  • Try to hear it in your head.
  • Keep alternating in this way

The term “audiation” was coined in 1975 by Edwin Gordon as part of his Music Learning Theory.

In this lesson, I will show you how to consciously practice audiation with the intention of improving your tuning. Practicing audiation will help you to form a clear mental model of how each note sound.

You can practice audiation with the library of Tuning Exercises.ย 

The basic process of audiation

Let’s start with something simple: audiating a single note. Play an open D string. Then try to hear that note in your head. If this is difficult, then just listen a little more. If it’s still difficult, try to sing or hum the note. Singing and playing is a great practice in its own right for improving your tuning. But it’s also a great way to get better at the “Jedi-knight” practice of audiation.

Once you can hear that note in your head, alternate between playing it and audiating it. Do this on your own without any play along tracks. It’s good to start with an open string because that way you can start to recognize how something that is in tune should sound (assuming your fiddle is in tune).

Next, let’s repeat the same process with D1 (which is E). This is more challenging, you may have to adjust your first finger until it’s in tune. If it sounds off or you are uncertain, then first use an E drone to tune it up.

E drone

Once you feel like the note is better in tune, than practice audiating the note.

Next, you can try practicing audiation with some loops:

Start simply with a single note exercise.

D1-1-1-1 (followed by 4 beats of not playing, just audiating the note)

Are you able to do this? If not, don’t worry and don’t give up. Just keep alternating between playing and listening. Also, try to alternate between Singing And Playing (or whistling or humming).

Also, remember that YOU CAN DO THIS. Most likely, you already audiate music, though you probably do it unconsciously. Anytime you remember a song or find yourself humming a tune, that’s audiation.

Then practice audiation with an interval, still focusing on D1.

D1-1-3-3 (play once, then audiate)

Then practice with a four-note exercise:


Now try to practice the same exercise without the play-along track. This is preparing you to do the same process with tunes you already know.



Repeat this for all notes of the D major scale or whatever scale you most need to work on.

Audiating tunes

You can also do this basic audiation process with parts of tunes, like Kerry Polka:

A1-D0-1-0 (play, then audiate)

Once you get the hang of this, try it on the other parts of the tune. Try it onย anyย tune you’ve learned.ย Eventually, you can audiate entire tunes.ย 

Ways of practicing audiation

Audiation can be challenging, so in true FiddleHed fashion, I have designed a careful progressive approach that will help you learn and practice audiation, starting with easier steps and progressing to more challenging exercises:

  • Just listen
    • Passively listen to the exercise.
  • Play/listen
    • Alternate between playing an exercise loop and then listening to it.
  • Play/singย 
    • Alternate between playing an exercise loop and then singing or humming it.
    • You can do this with the call-and-response exercises, or on your own (with or without a drone).
  • Play/audiate
    • Alternate between playing and exercise loop and then audiating it.
    • If this is hard, try first audiating single notes from the exercise.
  • Listen/audiate
    • Alternate between listening to an exercise loop and then audiating it.
  • Just audiate
    • Audiate without even hearing the tune or exercise.
    • First, take your mind off the exercise you want to audiate. Either play something else or think about what you had for lunch yesterday. Once you’ve distracted yourself for 20-30 seconds, see if you audiate the exercise you were previously working in.

If learning and practicing reading sheet music, then audiate what you read.


Next level audiation

You can turn any exercise into an audiation exercise. You don’t even need to use a play-along track (though practicing with these will train you to use audiation). Simply play or sing a phrase and then audiate it.

Once you get the hang of audiation, you can practice audiating before playing which is more challenging. A good first step is to take an exercise and audiate each note before you play it.

Practice anywhere, any time, even without a fiddle…

If you learn how to intentionally audiate music, then you can practice anywhere, any time. If you have a ten-minute break at work, you can practice audiating with the call-and-response loops, or with parts of tunes, you are working on. Without a fiddle you can practice:

  • Listening then singing.
  • Singing then audiating.
  • Listening then audiating.
  • Audiation without listening to any play-along tracks.

To sum up, you can practice audiation in the following ways:

  • Single notes
  • Intervals (two-note exercises)
  • Short phrases
    • Exercises
      • Four-note, eight-note
    • Tune parts
    • Audiate each note of a phrase before playing it
  • Longer pieces
    • Fiddle tunes
      • Take out every other bar, audiate in spaces

As usual, see this as a suggestion. Try audiation with the call-and-response exercises. Experiment. And then find what is really useful for you in this and then practice it every day.

What other ways can you practice audiation? Have you discovered any other practice which has helped you to play in tune?

Continue on to Double Stops 1.2 >>

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4 responses to “Expand Your Musical Mind With Audiation

  1. More seriously after my last comment, even though audiation comes pretty naturally to me because of rigorous ear-training as a Music student in college, I’ve found in the one year since I started learning fiddle that, to my surprise, I’m now able to pick up my fiddle, bow a fingered note, and generally know if I’m in tune before I even play an open string. I sure don’t have perfect pitch, so it seems like the open string pitches have become implanted in my head, which I think is a fascinating form of audiation that I never imagined.

  2. I’m equating audiation with perfect pitch and playing by ear. I hope perfect pitch–or even memorizing a few pitches (to have a reference point) soon.

    I’m uncertain if there’s enough time for me to learn tunes for memory. There doesn’t seem to be enough memory in my mind for the “have to remember” and “want to remember”. It’s good if we CAN memorize… but responsibilities of home/job doesn’t lend itself to a lot of free time.
    However, I am enjoying what I’m learning. ๐Ÿ™‚ Keep up the good work, Jason ๐Ÿ˜€