Tip: More Near-Rules for Playing by Ear

We’re continuing our lesson series Playing Guitar by Ear. We started looking at near-rules that help you massively in learning to play guitar by ear, in the last installment. This time, more near-rules.

Almost rule number next: sing. After you listen, and believe you have the melody in your head, sing. You don’t need any instructions to do this: you’ve probably been singing all your life. But what you may not realize is that singing reinforces the music in your head. If all you did was listen, the first time you tried to sing your notes would not match the notes you heard. In other words, your intonation would probably be poor compared to the more precise notes you get when you sing more frequently.

When you’re learning a tune by ear, sing the melody again and again. Isolate parts of the melody you’re not sure of, and repeat those several times. It may also help if you close your eyes when you sing, so whatever your eyes are seeing doesn’t distract your mind from the sounds you’re creating.

Think of how babies learn to speak: they babble to themselves, besides doing other things. That babbling helps them reinforce the sounds they heard mommy and daddy teaching them. If the baby never babbled, and instead tried to learn the language just by thinking about speaking, he wouldn’t get very far.

So, whether you feel certain that you know a melody or not, sing it.

A major scale pattern

Another skill you’ll want to have and almost ought to have: playing at least one major scale pattern.

You don’t absolutely need to know a major scale pattern to play by ear, but it’s a big help. Learning (at least one) major scale pattern is kind of like the employees at a food store organizing the food: you know, you can find the canned peaches together with the canned pineapple chunks in one aisle, and the eggs are in a separate aisle with the cheese.

If the employees at the food store suddenly stopped organizing the food this way, and started putting one carton of eggs with the pasta and another carton of eggs at the other end of the store, you, the food buyer, would have a tough time buying your food. You could find all the food you need, but it would take much longer and you’d get pretty impatient and upset also.

That’s why we have major scale patterns for music: to keep our fingers from having to “think” every time our inner ears told them to play a note. When you organize the major scale into a pattern on the fretboard, your fingers can automatically go to the right note.

We continue learning to play guitar by ear next time. Thanks for reading.

Copyright © 2008 Darrin Koltow

This first appeared in the Guitar Noise News – September 15, 2007 newsletter. Reprinted with permission.