Tip: Almost Rules for Playing by Ear

We’re continuing our lesson series Playing Guitar by Ear, which is geared to newbies. Newbies to both guitar and playing by ear. We’re getting ready to actually play a melody by ear – on a piano. Remember from the last issue (Portable Music Maker) that learning to play by ear on the piano is a zillion times easier than guitar and that what you learn on the piano you can transfer to guitar playing. If you don’t have a piano or keyboard, don’t worry: We’ll look at places where you can get a virtual keyboard. This is software that simulates, visually and sonically, an actual piano keyboard.

Almost rules

Let’s talk about some skills that are almost required to play by ear, but that you can easily build. I call these skills “almost required” These skills will massively help you play by ear.

One of those almost required skills will probably seem obvious to you, but we need to mention it: listening. You have to listen, with concentrated effort, when you’re learning to play by ear. That means putting on headphones, tuning out all distractions, and imagining yourself crawling inside or surfing on top of the sounds coming from your CD player or computer. Spend time listening without singing. Singing is also important, but listen first, then sing. By doing this, you devote your full attention to the impressions the notes are making on you.

In a sense, you’re listening with your feelings. Music is the kind of thing that directly affects your psyche; it can immediately trigger emotions within you. So, when you listen with concentration to a piece of music, you’re actually listening to your emotional responses to it.

We don’t need to go overboard with this. For instance, when you hear Steve Vai or Yngwie Malmsteen fire off a billion notes in 1 microsecond, you’re not going to be able to identify the emotions that each note – or actually note change – has on you. But, with some training, you will be able to identify the overall feeling that you get from listening to such a dense concentration of notes.

We’ll continue with “almost-rules” next time.

Thanks for reading.

Copyright © 2008 Darrin Koltow

This first appeared in the Guitar Noise News – September 1, 2007 newsletter. Reprinted with permission.