Introduction to Ear Training: How To Play What You Hear
If you can sing what you are hearing, you can then begin to find the notes on your instrument.
I’ve always had a good ear, and good feeling, for music. I was lucky to be born into a family where my parents sang all the time, and where I got to hear a wide variety of music from a very early age. I believe that there are many different kinds of intelligence, and that musical intelligence is one kind.
I had the opportunity to learn drums when I was 9, and my parents gifted me with piano lessons when I was 12. When I was 13, my interest shifted to guitar. My mother arranged for me to have lessons with a classical guitarist named Joe Dugdale who played at pubs and restaurants around Nanaimo, B.C. When I went for my first lesson, Joe said: “so, what do you want to learn?” I told him that I wanted to learn Classical Gas by Mason Williams. “He said that’s not easy to play!” When I told him that I wanted to try it anyway, he proceeded to teach me. He also gave me a tab of the song. I still play Classical Gas once or twice a year just for fun. If I work hard at it, I can get it right.
Joe Dugdale also gave me my introduction to ear training. When I told him that I wanted to learn songs by Cream and Led Zeppelin, he showed me how to slow my record player down to 16 rpm, so that my 33 rpm records would play at half speed. The sound was one octave lower, but still in the same key. He would point out the sound of Jimmy Page’s vibrato, which is various obvious at half speed. (Vibrato is a slight, rapid change of the pitch in the note produced by moving the string up and down, as a violinist might do, or side to side, as some blues players prefer.)
He showed me how I could find the same notes in different positions on the guitar, so that a solo, or a chord progression, might be played in three or four different ways. Some songs, or parts of songs, can be played more easily in some positions than in others.
He also told me that if I could sing what I was hearing, I would be able to find the notes on the guitar (this applies to other instruments as well). This simple method, of listening to the notes, singing along with the notes, and finding them on the guitar, became the basis for my ear training. In this way, I learned how to play guitar solos from songs like Stairway To Heaven, and Sunshine Of Your Love. I’ve since learned to play many songs this way. Now, with most pop songs, if I hear the song once or twice, I can already play it. In many cases, I already know what key the song is in, before I pick up the guitar. As you can imagine, there are many levels of this ability. I do it as a mental exercise everywhere I go.
The process of slowing things down to half speed is now available with a variety of digital applications. You can then hear the music at half speed. It’s much easier to learn things correctly that way.
I went on to take an ear training course in college later, and, what I had learned from Joe Dugdale made the class easy for me. I’ll share more later, about how I have come to use this understanding with people who can’t hear pitch accurately, or who can’t sing along with the pitch easily. Some people call this “tone deafness”, but personally, I think it’s largely a lack of understanding of how we can use our voices and hearing. There may be some genuine cases of “tone deafness”, but for most people, it’s a question of developing sensitivity.
Increase the quality of music in your life!