Guitar By Ear
Playing the guitar by ear – that is being able to hear guitar music and figure
out what’s being played – is the one skill that many people associate with the height of guitar
accomplishment. Not having to rely on music or tablature in order to learn a song is very liberating. You
don’t have to worry about whether or not a particular piece of music is published. You don’t have to be stuck
working off of low-quality transcriptions that you downloaded off of the internet. You simply have to invest a
bit of time with the music and your guitar.
Unfortunately, there’s no two ways around it. If you want to play what you hear, you have to
develop your ear. Sometimes people start playing the guitar after having played some other musical instrument for a
number of years. This situation is always good in that the person usually has a reasonably well-developed ear.
However, just as often, if not more so, people start to learn how to play the guitar with little to no prior
musical experience. Under this situation, the student has to realize it is going to take a bit of time to be able
to play guitar by ear.
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The good news is that there are tools available for ear training today are far superior to
anything that was available just ten years ago. These tools can dramatically improve the speed with which you
develop a well-trained ear.
Ear training is generally broken down into two separate categories. The first is general
exposure to music. In this area, you are not specifically focusing on developing your ear per say. Rather, you are
playing and listening to music and as a by-product, you end up gaining experience that helps your ear training.
The other aspect of ear training involves specific exercises targeted directly at improving your
ear. In this context, ear training involves several different aspects of music, for example, being able to
recognize: intervals, chords, chord progressions, rhythms, etc. Prior to the advent of computer-based ear training,
these type of exercises not only required multiple people (usually two), but also were extremely tedious. Because
of these complications, it was difficult to perform highly effective ear training exercises on a regular basis.
Of course, computer-based ear-training programs solve both of these problems very nicely indeed.
Furthermore, the programs have been around a while and over the course of the last several years have evolved into
highly sophisticated ear-training environments.
The ear training program I recommend, by far, is Ear Master 5. This program strikes the perfect balance of functionality, ease of use, and
informality. It’s used by individuals and music teachers alike. In fact, it’s used by college professors for
teaching ear-training to music majors. And yet, it’s fun to use.
Further, the great thing about Ear Master 5 is that you don’t need a huge investment of time to
start seeing real results. Use it for ten minutes a day and before long, you’ll start to notice real improvements
in your ability to discern intervals, chords, etc. Before long, you’ll be hearing guitar licks and thinking to
yourself: "I know what that guitarist is doing." Stick with it, continue practicing guitar, and hopefully you'll
get to the point where you can play guitar by ear.
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