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What to practice

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New Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 1
Topic starter  

I started playing guitar one year ago and have been taking lessons weekly. My lessons are heavily academic and I would like to complement the academic side by learning how to play songs in more of a freeflowing fashion. I know how to read music but would like to learn to play using my ears as opposed to my eyes. I would also very much like to learn how to combine chords and melody while playing as opposed to playing just chords or just melody. Does anyone have any suggestions?

Eminent Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 12

Playing every melody you hear is a great start. Like when you watch TV, play the melody in the jingle, play the theme song, on and on. Just sound it out and be patient.

Combining chords and melody involves a lot of finger dexterity. Knowing your chords, and knowing where your chord tones are in the chord, is a big deal. The sounds I think you're describing are chords strung together with scale notes and sometimes just plain chromaticism.

Reputable Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 368

You answered your own question far better than anybody on this board could. Get started immediately. Don't wait any longer, just do it. Don't wait for suggestions or motivations from anybody. Just get started the best way you know how.


Noble Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 1704

Hi Welcome to GN.
Let me start by saying that I do not know how to read music and I've never taken a lesson. I've learned how to play guitar by ear. The method I use is simple. Pick one of your favorite songs, sit down with your guitar, a piece of paper and a pencil.

I would suggest that you try to pick something that sounds simple to you. Something that has 2 or 3 chords in it. Make sure you have a way to start and stop the song quickly. I sometimes use iTunes, my iPod or Audacity.

Once you have the song queued up, play the song and try to find the root note of the first chord of the song on your guitar. That will usually be the key of the song. It may take a few times to find the right note and you may have to keep restarting the song but be patient, you will find it. Once you are positive that you have identified the first chord, stop the song and write down chord name.

Now that you have the first chord you can move onto the next one. The chord progression may change when you reach the chorus of the song so make sure you follow the entire song through. I would suggest listing the chord names out for each verse and then the chorus.

I've always found it helpful to write down the lyrics first. This way, when I find the root note for each of the chords, I can write them over the corresponding lyrics. When you are done you should have something like this:
Comfortably Numb - Pink Floyd

Bm A
Hello, is there anybody in there?
G Em Bm
Just nod if you can hear me, is there anyone at home?
Bm A
Come on now, I hear you're feeling down,
G Em Bm
Well, I can ease the pain, and get you on your feet again.
Bm A G Em
Relax, I need some information first, just the basic facts,
Can you show me where it hurts.

You should notice that the chords may not always be major chords. B is the root note of the Bm chord in the example above. So listen for that carefully. This will help you develop your ear.

Teamwork- A few harmless flakes working together can unleash an avalanche of destruction.

Active Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 8

For the combined melody-chord part of your question:

Do-it-yourself method: Hopefully, you have been learning scales. If not, learn the G-scale on the first 4 frets. Play a G-C-D chord progression; keep it simple by playing the chord on the first beat. On the next three beats, play notes from the G-scale. There are several notes of the scale right under your fingers when your hand has formed a G-chord. Notice that when playing a G-chord, a C-note doesn't sound so good. When you switch to the C-chord, the C-note sounds great. Change from G to C to D chords, but only play notes that are in the G-scale. That's the exercise. On to the fun:

Learn a melody in the key of G and play it with the above exercise in mind; that is, try to play the melody while your hand is in the position of the chord. When there is space in the music, throw in a strum of the chord or some bit of the chord. You have to keep track of the chord changes while you are playing the melody. It's not easy at first, but like everything, it gets easier the more you do it.

Some excellent lessons (available at

Dan Huckabee - Easy Guitar Solos - Carter Family Style - Book and CD. If you enjoy the
"Carter Family Style" you'll love this lesson! It's basically the old style of strumming the chords while you
weave in the melody notes. Presented like a one-to-one private lesson; these are nice, well thought out arrange-
ments that are easy & fun to play. The lessons are simple to follow & take you step-by-step, one phrase at a
time, explaining every detail clearly, slowly & simply.

Dix Bruce - Basic Country Flatpicking Guitar - DVD - Dix Bruce carefully teaches lead
and backup guitar to nine great and classic country, bluegrass, and folk standards, ballads and hot break-
downs played by musicians the world over. Dix demonstrates the basic "bass note / strum" technique and
shows how melodies can be easily integrated into known chord patterns.