Tips on How to Play Guitar by Ear

Learning to play music is not as simple as it may seem at first. Sure, there's an abundance of guitar tabs and sheet music available online, but do you actually get into music by learning how to play mechanically?

After all, there's some theory involved in there, and it's a real art form, meaning that you need to learn the "language" to speak it well. One of the best methods to understand it is to start learning to play by ear. But, as you already may know, it takes some effort to do so and some may even feel like it's an impossible task. With all this said, we decided to look more into the matter and reveal a few tips on how to learn music by ear.

Start With Intervals

One of the basic things that you'll want to do is to learn basic intervals and how to recognize them. Even if you're not really into learning music theory, intervals are essential and there's some basic theory involved here. You'll also need to think about it both in chromatic and diatonic aspects, which means that you'll also need to know how scales work.

It's also important to recognize intervals not only when two notes are played at the same time. The easiest way is to learn to recognize them by playing the bottom note first and then play the note above it.

After you get a hang of it and feel like you can recognize some intervals, try and play these notes at the same time, and even starting with the higher note first. Figuring out the intervals and how notes relate to each other will be your starting point for recognizing both chords and melodies.

Figuring Out the Song's Key

Your next step will be to learn how to figure out a song's key. One of the basics here is to know to recognize the root note of every individual chord and then go from there. Again, you'll need some basic music theory knowledge for this.

And when you know how notes and chords of certain scale work with one another, you'll be able to recognize these "movements" of chords and notes and what key the song, or a certain song section, is in.

Cover Individual Shorter Song Sections One by One

Going further into the matter, one of the main mistakes inexperienced musicians make is trying to cover more than they're capable of. So if there's a song that you want to learn to play by ear, you can first tackle individual sections one by one and then learn the whole thing when you're done.

Doing these "baby steps" will feel like a chore at first, but patience is what will get you through it. And if you notice that this certain part presents a challenge, you can divide it even further and go slowly measure by measure.

Slowing Things Down

While we're at it, one of the best techniques for learning songs by ear is to slow things down. This is what guitar players used to do back in the old days by slowing down the RPM when playing vinyl records.

But while these methods altered the pitch of songs, these days you can use different software and music players to slow things down and not change the pitch at all. Doing things slower will help you a lot. After doing it for a while and combining it with your knowledge of intervals and music theory, you'll be able to learn songs by ear at normal speed as well.

Singing It out Loud

Learning how to play music by ear is all about connecting what you do on your instrument and what's actually going on in your brain. But to get what your hands are doing closer to what your brain wants, you'll have to sing melodies and root notes of chords out loud to make things easier.

So whatever you play, do your best to sing it. When you're practicing any scale on your guitar, sing along to it. You can also try and improvise a solo and sing every note. It might sound challenging, but it's crucial for your development as a musician and an artist.

Listen to a Lot of Different Music Genres

Finally, we'd also like to point out the importance of listening to a lot of different styles of music. Even if it's something that you don't like, give it a try and even try to play it on your guitar.

By having a different perspective, you'll open up new horizons and will start recognizing things that you never did before. After a while, you'll be able to recognize patterns and notice some "standard" chord progressions and how intervals are used to create different moods. This will all help you in learning how to play music by ear.
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