Every guitarist needs a handful of things to be successful that have nothing to do with their instrument or equipment. Drive and focus are no-brainers, but there is one thing that sometimes gets overlooked: the ability to really listen to music — to the intervals, chords, scales, and rhythms. Listening in this way trains your ears, making it easier to learn and retain musical ideas and, later, to compose music, interact with other musicians and to improvise. So, as a new guitarist, how are you supposed to hone these mad listening skills to get those ears up to par? Simple… you follow these three easy tips to get started:
Tip Number One: Listen and Identify What is Playing Around You. One of the best ways to exercise your ears is to listen the the music that is playing around you during the day. Whether it’s a song on the radio or a jingle on TV, you’re surrounded by music that can teach you.
Start asking yourself questions. Can you pick out the key the song is written in? Is that key a major or minor key? What is the tempo of the song, and where and when (if ever) does the tempo change? Can you identify the intervals between the notes in the melody? What are the chords? What chord does the song start on and where does the harmony go from there?
Once you get comfortable with listening to music in this way, grab your guitar and start getting interactive by playing along, which leads us to tip number two…
Tip Number Two: Transcribe Music. Another great way to train yourself to really hear what your playing is to practice transcribing music. When you do this, you are depending entirely on your ears to guide you through a song. Learning to do this well takes time and discipline, but it’s an invaluable skill that is key to your success as a guitarist. Here’s what you need to know to get started.
First, pick a song — it’s best to start out with something easy, such as “Happy Birthday” — and sit down with your guitar. Start by playing a random note and then work your way through the rest of the melody from there. Keep playing the song until you’ve got it mastered. Once that happens, try to figure out the melody again starting from another starting note.
Take the time to identify what the names of the intervals are that make up the melody, listening to each specific interval as go work through the melody. Try to do this with a couple songs every day. When you’re comfortable working through the melodies, start trying to figure out what chords would go with that melody.
After you’ve mastered familiar songs, start transcribing guitar solos by ear. Keep challenging yourself with more difficult material and, eventually, this connection with music will become as natural as breathing!
Tip Number Three: Sing! Sing! Sing!
Singing is a great way to connect your ears with the music, Yes, you need to sing out loud, but don’t worry if you don’t have the greatest voice. The idea isn’t to record your next hit single, it’s to build an understanding of how the music is put together and how to associate that with the sounds you hear. Here’s what you need to do:
Start by simply singing the major scales. Once you’ve become comfortable doing that, add the natural minor scale, the harmonic minor, the pentatonic scale… you get the idea. You can also test your skills by singing intervals and arpeggios. If you are able to read music, sight singing is also a great way to teach yourself how to understand and identify musical concepts.
Here’s the bottom line: If you want to become a solid guitarist, you simply have to learn to exercise your ears as much as you exercise your fingers. Use these tips to get you started and, remember to lean on theJamPlay community if you need help… that’s what we’re here for! Have fun, good luck, and keep learning!