What? Why on earth would I want to do that??? I’ll tell you! There are pretty much two ways to learn guitar. Get lessons and get playing. When you get lessons, you are being told what to do in bite size chunks that make it simpler to learn. Every learn guitar system out there employs this model. The chunks might be less noticeable, but all of them involve mastering some item then moving to the next item until you become a pro. This method works quite well and you can achieve a lot doing it, so I’m not knocking it at all.
However, when you get playing, you are deciding to use a technique know as “playing by ear”. This involves getting a guitar and listening to songs you want to play and simply learning them by trying to copy the notes until you get it down. This is by far the harder way to do it, but the rewards are immense. The best way to really learn your guitar is to use it to make the sounds you want to make! Before you get overwhelmed and think I’m crazy, don’t worry I’m going to give some pointers below on how to make the “hard” way a little easier. Many, many guitarists learned by playing by ear, but the truth is that most of will employ a mix of techniques to master guitar. This is what I recommend.
So how do you go about doing this? First get a good method going. Figure out what kind of lessons you can afford and work with your schedule. It would be awesome if we all had the time and money to get a private tutor. One on one teaching from someone who knows their stuff and can show you what you need to do is pretty much impossible to beat, so if you can do it, definitely do it. Now for the rest of us, you’re going to have to find a lesson system. Look for one that is going to work well with you. Online or in book or maybe at a local community college are all good options. It doesn’t really matter what lessons as much as you are willing to do them! The best guitar lessons are the ones you actually do! Now go do them! Well after you finish reading this article anyway.
Next get working on a regiment of playing by ear that works for you. Even just doing a daily drill of “find the note” with children’s tunes can help improve your skills. Once again the best kind of playing by ear is the kind you’ll actually do.
The first method I’ll call find the note because it sounds like a kid’s game and that’s the best way to do it. You know the songs; they’ve been drilled in you since you were a kid! Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, Happy Birthday, Mary had a Little Lamb, etc, etc anything you can easily hum the tune. Well do just that or find the song online and just start singing or playing it. As it loops put your finger on a fret and pluck a note every time you hear the first note of the song. Is it the same note? No, try the next fret. If you can tell if the note is higher or lower then move the appropriate direction. If not don’t stress it, that skill will come to you as you learn, suffice it to know for now that further up the fretboard and neck is a higher note and the reverse is lower. Once you have the first note, find the next one keeping in mind that the next note is very, very likely to be within the first 12 frets.
The next method is similar but employs some cool technology so you can more easily do this with “real” songs. Get online and get a slow down tool. Roni Music makes one for $50 called the Amazing Slow Downer. You can use theirs or find a different one, it doesn’t matter as long as it slows down your music file without changing the pitch. The critical part is that it doesn’t change the pitch. Doesn’t help if it’s slower if you’re learning the wrong notes! Once again you’ll employ the find the pitch game, but since you can slow down the song so each note stays playing for a long time you’ll be able to hunt around for the note for longer. In fact, many of these tools will even let you loop just one section so you could have it loop the first couple notes or maybe even single note for as long as you need to find it! Technology is so cool!
So there you have it, some really good tips on how to learn to play by ear. Now get off your seat and start rocking!