Another way to expand your ears ability to hear is to further define the chords that you know on the instrument. For example you may know how to play an Emajor chord but can you recognize an Emajor chord in a song without having the guitar in your hand? In other words your listening to a song and all of a sudden you hear an E, C, D, A, or G major chord and know without a doubt that you are hearing that chord? If you enjoy listening to music then this ability can be developed.
The first thing you need to do is to take every chord that you can currently play on guitar and give it a definition. Play an E major chord and then play an E minor chord. If they were both colors what colors would they be? The choice is yours and no one can say that you are wrong! Play the two chords again only this time decide what they smell like. A little more difficult you say, well give it some time and use your imagination! Play the two chords again and try to think of what they taste like, feel like, sound like, etc. By thinking of the chords in new way you will be accessing parts of your brain that you don’t usually use when listening to sound and this alone will help you to define what those chords mean to you. If you absolutely can not think of what a chord smells like, move on and don’t force it to happen it may take a little time. Maybe just stick with color until you have given numerous chords a color definition.
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.
For those that haven’t heard yet I will no longer be playing with 7 Million Jigawatts. It has been a good run. I have been with them for over 3 years and in that time I have made some great friends and grown as a musician. The band helped me to improve my vocals by singing harmonies. Improved my rock and pop guitar playing including learning a ton about tone and gear. (thanks Jake!) Had a lot of fun playing bass and keys together. Put my home studio and recording engineering skills to the test when recording our 5 song ep “Taking Flight”. I had the wonderful opportunity to record on Melissa’s jazz project. 7mj fans are in for real treat when Melissa releases the tracks for that disc! Melissa, founder of Dream Town Media, is also working with some great artist helping them to develop and promote their projects. Dream Town Media handles a wide spectrum of services from online marketing to publishing to branding. Jake Tobias, founder of Tobiasound Studios, is available for recording. He did a great job recording, mixing and mastering my show at Bakers last year that is available to listen to on the jazz trio page. Jake and Melissa are always working hard to support local music/artists and our community. 7MJ will continue to rock hard pushing into the new year with a new lineup so I hope the you will check them out. My last show with them will be Friday, December 17th at Rogers Roost in Sterling Hts. Hope to see you there.
However the time has come for a new chapter. Time for me to work on some other things. It is time I finally quit talking about writing a third Fingerstyle disc and really do it. In the mean time I will also be recording a live disc for release in mid 2011. The first date for recording will be on Friday, Jan 21 at Lazy Daze Lounge in Downtown Rochester.
Also, It’s time I get back to my true passion- jazz. As luck would have it I recently got a call to book the jazz trio- slightly modified to focus on Latin jazz to fit at Cantina Diablo. The timing couldn’t be better to get the guys together and work out some new material. We have recorded a little bit from our shows and you can listen to a couple of clips on jazz trio page. Check the shows page for complete show info but as of now we are playing at Cantina Diablo in Ferndale on 12/3 12/11, 12/18, 12/30 12/31 and then all Saturdays in January and February starting January 8th.
Of course Jon and I will still be playing together as 45th Parallel acoustic duo doing classic and alternative rock along with our original music- especially Jon’s. Did you know that Jon Vidal is an incredible song writer? If you haven’t done so you definitely need to check out his solo discs. We are about half way done recording his 3rd disc at Studio 1946. We hope to have it done early next year and also considering recording a live disk as well. Stay tuned for more info about that. You can visit 45duo.com or like us on FaceBook for complete show info but here is a list of our next couple: Sat, 12/4 @ Liberty Street Beer Co in Plymouth, Wed, 12/22 @ Dooley’s in Sterling Hts, Thursday, 1/27 @ OCG in Royal Oak & Friday, 1/28 @ Library Pub in Novi.
Hope everyone has a great holiday season. All of my different projects as well as 7MJ are available for private parties and functions. If you would like more information email or call. I would be happy to discuss the possibilities.
About 8-10 years ago I found my self in a little bit of a rut- sort of burned out on guitar. Then there was a series of events all of which help me to find fufillment in playing acoustic guitar. A couple of them I already wrote about in a previous post about Tuck Andress. It was around this period that I started playing around with alternate tunings. Just when I had thought I had seen it all I attended a Preston Reed clinic and concert and started using the body as a percussion instrument. One concept that came to mind was “NO RULES!”.
When you take the guitar and completely retune the instrument it is like starting over. Your normal chord shapes and structures will not necessarily work in the new tuning and you have to abandon your previous views on how to compose. People often ask me how I write my tunes and honestly they are almost all different but for the most part I like to start with a melody line and then fill in the bass notes. By the time the melody and bass are together there are only so many possibilities of what other notes you can fit with six strings, four fingers and a thumb! It is fun to start with a drum beat some times but I have found that I often get too caught up in the groove of the percussion and bass until I can no longer hear a melody or even a second section. Over all exploring what the guitar has to offer in any given alternate tuning can be a nice break from the theory-driven aspects of standard tuning.
I saw Preston Reed perform again recently only this time it was the as a music fan instead of a guitar player. It was just as inspiring but it a whole new way. Up till this point I had been focused on the complexity and technique of his playing, this time around I was swirling in the compositions.
So today I would like to leave you with one of my favorite quotes:
“Wes Montgomery played impossible things on the guitar because it was never pointed out to him that they were impossible.” Ronnie Scott
Anyone wanting to learn to play guitar surely has a long list of guitar players that they like and would like to learn. A while back I put together a list of suggested listening for my students at AAW. The list is mostly made of of my favorites but most would agree that these guitar and bass players are some of the most influential and innovative players to date. If you have not already done so I definitely suggest checking out their music. This list is in no particular order and I know there are many missing so please feel free to add more in the comments!