Something that is often overlooked by aspiring guitarist is ear training. Ear training can help you to play, write or sing what you hear whether it be a song on the radio, an idea at a rehearsal with other musicians or even a melody that has been stuck in your head. There are countless examples of musicians that would learn by singing along with the track and then slowing the song down by simply singing the song slower. I remember reading an article that stated that this was the way that Stevie Ray Vaughn learned how to play from the great guitarists before him. There was a time when musicians did not have devices that enabled them to slow a song down for difficult passages much less loop small sections so that one could hear the same phrase over and over.
To get started, try singing the guitar part of your favorite song along with the track and then again without the track, a capella. If you notice that you are having trouble singing the correct pitches or rhythms then you have a weakness that should be worked on! Early on this was a sore spot for me and it took a very long time for me to get decent at this skill. In my case I had to start by matching my voice to one single note on the guitar. This seemingly simple task gave me much trouble and was extremely frustrating. At the time I was pretty fast with my fingers yet still couldn’t match my voice to a single pitch much less sing a phrase correctly.
What really helped was blocking my ear canal with my finger while singing the note starting low vocally and sweeping up to the pitch. This sort of “tuned” my voice to the note on the guitar and helped me to hear it inside my head. Once I was able to match that one note correctly I played a note one fret higher or one fret lower on the guitar and started the process over again. The next step taken was to sing along with riffs that I knew how to play like Day Tripper by the Beatles and scales that I had under my fingers like the minor pentatonic.
Try to add this type of practice into your routine ever time you pick up the instrument even if its only for a few minutes… you will eventually get past the one note like I did and be on your way to having a great ear that will serve you well on your musical journey.
There are many tools out there to help you with ear training. Here are a few that you might find useful.