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Guitarists, Develop Your Ears
Written by Gary Fletcher


Without ear training playing guitar is a bit like painting by numbers. You put colours in the spaces indicated to recreate a painting. But you're not really making music and you don't really learn why one colour works better than another.

Only when you can hear its language can you really claim to make music and this is a good reason to make ear training a part of your study.

But as we all know, guitar practice time is limited, and adding ear training to our daily list of things to work on is not an easy commitment to make. Fortunately, there are many ways to develop your musical ear without your guitar. Here are a few ideas you could try.

Ear Training CDs

A good place to start on ear training is with a set of ear training CDs. These will offer you exercises to train your ear to recognize intervals, notes, chords, rhythms and so on.

You can listen to the CDs and practice identifying the notes in many places. Rip them to your portable music player or use some of your commute time to practice with your car CD or cassette player.

Ear Training Software

Ear training software has some useful advantages over CDs. One big advantage is that it can offer randomly generated exercises instead of the same ones. This ensures you test your ears and not your memory of the exercise sequences each time. Software can also include scoring to make learning into a fun game and propose gradually harder exercises as you get better.

You can buy ear training software for your home or portable computer or use on-line ear training from any computer. Or you can use software for handheld computers such as the iPhone or other smart phones for better portability.

Transcribing Songs

Ear training tutors are good at teaching you to recognize notes and chords, but the real objective is to learn to hear what is happening in real songs. So you have to spend some time listening intensely to them as you try to figure out what you hear.

At first it is hard to transcribe an entire song correctly. Expect to make plenty of mistakes but don't worry about them, you're learning and you have to take one step at a time.

Here are some different things you can try to identify in music you hear:

  • The melody
  • The chord progression
  • The key
  • Just a few chords, the verse, or the chorus for example

Remember to check your transcription when you next have your guitar handy.

Developing your ears is important if you want to become a musician. When you can hear and understand what is going on in music you will open up a whole new musical world. It's as if you are in a place in a foreign country and instead of hearing a meaningless jabbering you can follow and participate in the conversation.

Gary Fletcher is a writing guy who spends too much time not playing guitar.
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