Tip: Playing Melodies by Ear

We’re continuing the series of lessons that get us started playing guitar by ear. We’re going to begin looking at playing melodies first.

Before we learn a melody by ear, you’ll want to make an observation for yourself about playing by ear on the guitar. As much as I love the guitar, I realize that it is not the best instrument to begin learning to play by ear. The reason is that notes are laid out on the guitar in a way that invites confusion for the player.

Even after you pass the beginner’s stage, you might find yourself spending a lot of time figuring out where to play something on the fretboard, or asking why a chord shape doesn’t look like it logically follows another chord shape, even though it sounds terrific.

If you don’t already know how to play another instrument by ear, learning this skill with the guitar is not your best choice. Learning to play by ear on the guitar is like learning to draw like this: tape the drawing paper to your back; look at mirrors to see what you’re doing; and reach your arm uncomfortably back behind yourself to stab out a couple of hopeful strokes.

I’m not kidding: learning how music works, and how to play by ear is actually pretty easy and super fun – but not if you’re learning how to play the guitar at the same time. If you’ve already moved past the beginner’s stage, you will be able to pick out melodies on the guitar, but you might learn even quicker if you used a piano keyboard to do it – even if you’ve never even had a piano lesson. That’s how intuitive playing the piano is.

Thanks for reading.

Copyright © 2008 Darrin Koltow

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