Ear training for guitar, how to hear what you’re playing

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The number one skill guitar players need is ear training. And this may be the most neglected skill for guitar students. Why is ear training so important? Because it can limit what you can play and learn on the guitar. Really hearing what you are playing connects you mentally and emotionally to what you are playing.

As I’m playing a solo I’m singing the notes of what I’m playing. It makes the difference between moving our fingers and really playing music that we emotionally connect with and hopefully our audience connects with.

If you ever want to be able to figure songs by yourself you’ll need to develop how you hear music. Can you hear the differences between major and minor chords? If a note in a solo was just higher or lower than the note that was just played? Can you tune your guitar by ear? There are so many skills, yes these skills that can be learned.

Everyone has the ability to improve their hearing of music with training. It’s usually for most students a hit and miss process and a lot of repetitious listening. Only a very small percentage of musician’s are gifted with perfect pitch. Hearing the notes and chords with no instrument to check it, it’s a person listening and they just know what notes or chords are being played. Sort of like people that have a photographic memory. Perfect pitch is not a common phenomena. Just like a photographic memory./

Some sounds will just naturally get in your ear by just playing them over and over. If you hear a blues shuffle 50 times and someone tells that’s a blues shuffle you’ll start to recognize when you hear a blues shuffle.

Kind of like if you were in a room with 50 people and you talked to maybe 30 of them, but you spoke to one person at length. Say that person called you’d that night you would more than likely recognize their voice. It’s about familiarity, hearing the sound for long enough to remember it. A lot of it is how familiar are the sounds to you and then to categorize the sounds, label them.

Ear training on guitar can be frustrating because many times you can’t tell whether you’re singing the note correctly. But it takes time, don’t give up. It will improve and at some point you will start getting more answers right than wrong. Maybe you’re hearing the note but your vocal cords can’t yet shape the sound. You can’t sing what you hear. That takes time sometimes too.

If you’ve been playing guitar for awhile and have learned some strumming, maybe some fingerpicking, some Blues or Rock licks and rhythm’s and several songs. Then it’s time to start working on your building a good ear. Take it slow. You’ll have to probably look at it every 6 months and asses your progress.

Here’s how to do it. Start with one note, that’s right one note. You have to be able to match the pitch of one note on guitar. Play a note on your guitar, preferably within the first 5 frets. Depending if you have a male or female voice, play a note low enough for your singing range. Play the note a few times.

Let the note kind of hang for a second or two. Really listen to the sound. Then either sing or hum the note. You can sing La if you like. If it seems like it’s not working after a few minutes then take a break that day. You want to feel that you are blending, resonating with the note. Start out at about 5 minutes a day. If it seems easy then move on to singing the Major Scale. Sing it with numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. Sing 1-8 and backwards 8-1. This is a great start and if you are having trouble keep trying. Don’t give up!

This is one of the areas of guitar that we often don’t know enough about or avoid. Start to today and you’ll be happy you did. The first time you hear something on the radio without the guitar in your hand and you know what they just played is a very big reward!

Keep playing and have fun,