Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Ear Training for Better Guitar Playing

Ear Training -
for better guitar playing!

Can ear training really help you become a better guitar player? Wouldn't you be better off just playing more guitar? And just what is ear training? Let's find out...

Those are great questions. Yes, to improve on guitar you need to practice consistently. However, imagine being able to get 100% more out of your practice sessions than you are right now. Could that be possible?

Understanding theory and scales etc. is important. Being able to read music can also be a useful skill. However, as important as these skills are, they also depend upon your specific goals with music. All great musicians, despite the many differences in genre, style, age, gender or cultural influence most definitely have one thing in common - great ears!

Ear training is crucial - no matter what your goals in music may be. Yes, even if you just want to hum n' strum some songs on the guitar. Why? Well, do you remember learning to read back in elementary school? You know how your teacher would ask you to write a report on the story you just read? You know, to make sure that you actually read it?

The teacher didn't only want to check that you read it. They also wanted to know how well you understood what you read! Now read that sentence again and let it sink in :-) What's the point of reading something if you don't grasp its meaning?

THAT is ear training. Being able to understand the music you're playing. Not through analysis (although that definitely has a place), but through lightning fast perception! Your learning of the guitar and music will increase 300%!!! In other words, it'll go through the roof.

Everyone's musical ears are at a different stage of development when they take up the guitar. For a lot of people, when they hear music, it's like they're listening to a foreign language. They don't have much comprehension of what they are hearing.

Others may have a little more experience and be able to grasp musical ideas and concepts more quickly. Still others (a rare few) have had just the right factors of Nature and Nurture and have highly developed musical ears.

If you're worried that your ear may not be that great or that you can't develop it, relax. It's easy to improve. See the ear training exercises at the bottom of this page for some ideas.

No Previous Experience with Ear Training?

Perhaps a cup of tea :-) and finishing this page could be helpful before jumping into the exercises. If you have actual physical issues with your sense of hearing in any way, just be sure to do whatever it is that the experts are advising you to do in order to take care of them. Playing guitar shouldn't be an issue.

NOTE: about hearing protection...a lot of people take their sense of hearing for granted. If you play music with a drummer, or are regularly exposed to any loud sounds, please see more about hearing protection.

What about being Tone Deaf?...I'm here to tell you - and you'll simply have to trust me on this one for now - that ear training is possible for everyone. If you enjoy music enough to have the inspiration and determination to take action on learning how to play a guitar, then you are NOT tone deaf! Let me ask you this... if you had to choose your 2 favourite songs, what would they be? OK. Now, if you were to be blindfolded, and then those 2 songs were played back to you, would you be able to tell them apart? Of course you could! If you were indeed "tone deaf", they would both sound like the same "mush".

Can You Benefit from Ear Training?

Yes. Ear training exercises are easy to do. There are some great ones below to help get you started. The good news is that once you start becoming more aware of the sounds you're hearing, your musical ear will take on a life of its own. It'll continue to grow without you even knowing it. As long as you follow the one rule that will make or break your results in music...

Pay attention! Always pay attention and listen to the best of your ability. Whether you're tuning your guitar, playing your guitar or engaged with music in any way. This is what's meant by connecting your ears to your hands. Simple. If you have some way you can record yourself practicing, that can also help big time. It'll make you more aware of the sounds you're playing. Oh yeah...just don't be too hard on yourself when you hear stuff you don't like - look for the stuff you like :-)

What About Perfect Pitch?

Who cares?! Perfect (or absolute) pitch is something of a myth that has been around for a long time. No one has actually been scientifically verified as having perfect pitch as far as I know. I've known musicians over the years who reputedly had "perfect pitch" - but when tested, ( I can tell you 'cos I was present) - while they displayed some impressive feats with recognizing the pitches, they were certainly not perfect!

NOTE: In a nutshell, perfect pitch is the ability to hear a random musical tone, and to know precisely whether that note is an A or a C#, etc.

My feeling is - and I'm not a scientist, so I'm not saying that my view on it is absolute ;-) - that a certain "pitch memory" occurs with a musician after many years. I myself seem to have it at times with guitars and my voice. It's usually only on the musicians "main axe" that this phenomenon occurs. In my experience, it's more of a memory thing.

The human brain is simply not "wired" for absolute pitch. If it were, these musicians would not only be able to know the pitches in standard A 440 tuning, but in A 432, etc. It's similar to being able to accurately guage distances. Who knows precisely, even 9 times out of 10 what 3.3 metres looks like? If someone does, it is probably more a case of memory than actual perception.

It's All Relative!

My point is, while there may well be some "freaks of nature" out there who could be rigorously tested and found to have some ability that we "mere mortals" are missing - it doesn't matter!

Relative pitch is the fastest and most accurate way to understand what you are hearing when you are playing guitar! Just ask Einstein ;-) Or many other recognized masters of music who had nothing more than a highly developed sense of relative pitch.

As a matter of fact, if you know anything about the classical/romantic composer Beethoven, you'll know that although he lost all his hearing, he continued to compose utterly fantastic music! Wow! How? An unerring sense of relative pitch, that's how. (Not to mention incredible will, courage and determination.) I love Beethoven's story!

Relative pitch is the only kind of ear training you need to concern yourself with. If you develop great relative pitch, you'll be" miles ahead" ;-)

Relative pitch is simply knowing what notes or chords you are hearing by comparing it to other notes or chords that are happening in the tune.

If you haven't got a strong background in music, you'll definitely find it helpful to study a bit of guitar music theory. That's because theory and ear training are like two sides of the same coin. If music is a kind of language, then theory is like grammar and spelling. To take this idea further, ear training would be similar to speaking. Be sure to Bookmark this Ear Training page so you can come back to it once you get a little understanding of theory. Otherwise, just stay here and develop your musical ears first :-)


You'll need some basic tools to help you do the ear training exercises. If you have a keyboard, that's easiest. If not, a piano or your guitar will work just as effectively.

If you don't know where middle "C" is, you need to see guitar music theory now. Find out where "C" is on either your keyboard or guitar and come right back. Without training your musical ear, all the theory in the world won't help very much.

Play either middle "C" or the "C"one octave below that. Men will usually need the "C" below. It doesn't matter which, as long as you're comfortable and not straining in any way.

Sing or hum that pitch. In other words, you want to match the pitch of your voice to the instrument. If it's too low for you, move up one octave.

If you can easily hold your voice steady on the pitch for several seconds, try a few more notes close by. If those are also easy, move on to Lesson 2.

f you're having some difficulty, or feel unsure about whether you are doing it correctly, relax :-) It only means you have some work to do in this area. If you are currently with a private teacher, get them to help you. If they can't, ask them why. Ear training is an extremely important area to work on.


Play the "C" note that's in your vocal "range".

Match the pitch with your voice.

Start sliding your voice up in pitch. It should sound a bit like a siren. Or a slow string bend.

you're aiming for a "notch" - it has a distinct feeling to it. It's called a perfect 5th, and means you are now singing a naturally tuned G note. The G note on your keyboard or guitar will be tempered tuning - this is actually "out of tune", believe it or not! The one you are humming is the accurate tuning.

Check with the instrument to make sure you're on a "G". Can you notice the slight difference in tuning? The instrument is in "tempered tuning".

If that drill was easy, you can aim for another "notch". The ma3rd. Starting on a "C", that would be an "E" on your instrument.

If you hit the "notch" vocally, you'll really notice the difference in tuning. Major 3rds should sound sweet. Sometimes, my guitar drives me crazy 'cos the 5ths and 3rds never seem to balance out :-( The downside of tempered tuning. The upside is we can play in all the different keys :-)

If you persist, your musical ears will really start to come to life. It's like going from black and white to color. You'll reap a lifetime of rewards from this time you spend developing your ears.

Where Do You Go From Here?

If you enjoyed these exercises and you can, I mean...hear... the value in how they will catapult your guitar playing and musical skills forward, I would strongly suggest learning more about ear training and guitar music theory.

Once you have these fundamental sounds in place, important guitar playing activities such as learning songs or even "lifting" from recordings become much easier. It's especially important to hear the natural tunings as guitar players because we are always hearing the "fuzzy" versions from tempered tuning. Another by product of ear training is that if you sing with others, you'll be able to sing great harmonies!

Thanks for listening ;-) and allowing me to be play a part in "inspiring you to keep dusting off your guitar." - Dave

Return From Ear Training to Articles

Return from Ear Training to Homepage

No comments:

Post a Comment