First, we should get a clear understanding on what is actually meant by “how to play guitar by ear”. In essence it’s the ability/skill to listen to a tone, melody, chord etc. and then play it on your guitar, without the support of books, pictures or video. Perhaps you have heard conversations among guitarist and them stating something along the lines of he has “good ears” – or for instance, Eddie VanHalen recently stated in an interview that he was blessed because he was always a “good listener”. Now at least in the context of the interview, we know that Eddie was referring to his musical and not his conversational skills.
I talked about this in my recent post the other day: when I started playing, I spent a good amount of my time with an old cassette tape recorder, listening to a riff or solo, over and over and over again. Rewind-Play-Rewind-Play-Rewind-Play (yes, I skipped hitting the “Stop” key and surprisingly my little tape recorder kept working for over ten years…).
Just to be clear, this can be excruciatingly painful at times, but it does have one major benefit – over course of time your listening gets better and better. You actually get to a point where you can just by listening to somebody playing actually “see” in your mind what he or she does on the guitar. Now, just for the record, I am far off from considering myself a good listener and I am extremely thankful for the invention of tablatures and videos, because they made the whole thing much easier for me later on.
Play Guitar By Ear – Make It Part Of Your Regular Practice
As I just mentioned, in my opinion there is nothing wrong with using videos, books, computer programs and other learning devices. I do it all the time, yet, I do always challenge myself by trying to play a tune by ear first, before I go online looking for a video or a tab. In my opinion this is very important as it helps me to maintain my listening skills. I must admit though, that for the most part and depending on the complexity of the tune, I almost always go back and look for tabs or video material to help me learning a new piece.
There is no point in starting a debate over as to whether or not it is better learning to play guitar by ear or by using some sort of media. I guess the truth is somewhere in between, I would recommend that you employ both approaches. After all, at the end of the day you want to be able to play something new and how you get there should be as easy and efficient as possible.
On that note, I want to actually recommend a really cool device to you, the Tascam Guitar Trainer. I’ve been using that thing for the past two years and it is absolutely killer. A comprehensive explanation and review will follow shortly.