Learn to Play Guitar by Ear
Playing by ear sounds like a pretty daunting task for most beginning guitarists. It’s actually not as hard as you might think, but it does require a bit of work. Fortunately there are a few “tricks of the trade” that can make it considerably easier.
I hear lots of people say they don’t have the ear for it, but if you can hear the difference between the highest note and the lowest note on your guitar, then you can learn to play songs by ear. It’s just a matter of refining your sense of pitch.
One of the most important aspects of playing by ear is learning the sound of various intervals. An interval is the difference in pitch between two notes. For instance the difference between the root note of a scale and the third note in that scale is called a third. The difference between the root and the fifth note is called a fifth and so on. Once you recognize the sounds of these intervals, you can use them to decode the melody of a song.
It’s not as hard as it sounds. You know the theme song to the iconic theme from the movie Jaws? The first interval in that song is called a minor second. If you listen to that theme song a few times, you’ll never forget the sound of a minor second. In a later section, I’ll give you examples of intervals from popular songs for every interval of the scale. Once you know these, you’re well on your way to learning melodies by ear.
Of course, music is more than just melodies. You’ll also want to be able to recognize the various chords as well. If you’re into most popular music, you need to know the difference in sound between minor, major and 7th chords. These chords comprise 95% of what you’ll hear on the radio.
When you start to learn a song, the first thing you’ll want to know is which key the song is written in. Most of the time, the opening chord tells you the key of the song. You can figure out the chord progressions by listening for the lowest or root note of each chord and using your knowledge of intervals to discover the chord sequence.
It also helps to have a good understanding of music theory and common chord progressions, which can give you a clue as to where the song is headed next. After you’ve figured out a few songs on your own, you start to get a feel for it and playing by ear gets easier and easier as you go along. You start to be able to use your experience as much as your ear to learn songs and this will speed up your progress tremendously.
Once you can do this, you’ll be picking up songs in a matter of minutes!