This tip is a continuation of my post Ear Training For
Beginning Guitar Players.
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.