Applying Ear Training to Guitar Playing
Applying Ear Training to Guitar Playing
Q: I’ve done some extensive reading through both the FAQs in the Ear Training One Note Complete book and online and have found them to be very helpful. I was hoping you could clear up a few more things for me before I get started. I just received Ear Training One Note Complete in the mail and the Fanatic’s Guide to Ear Training and Sight Singing is on the way, now that I see how important it is to do both together. From what I’ve read, the Fanatic’s Guide to Ear Training and Sight Singing will help me with key retention, as my tendency is to rely on old habits and desperately cling to the C note so I can compare it with the note that follows the cadence. I’ve been travelling down the ear training road for little over a half a year now. After playing guitar for five plus years and developing a knack for key friendly songwriting, I found myself frustrated and feeling limited by my inability to play by ear. I have become very good at taking the ‘recipe’ approach to song writing – give me a key, figure out what my chord options are, and I’m good to go. However, I always wanted to be able to solo, improvise, and layer notes and melodies between chords (or even over chords, using a multi-track recorder), rather than just strum chords… to have my musical ability catch up with my songwriting ability so to speak. I’ve always loved music, and having gained the ability to create it over the past five years has been a very powerful and satisfying experience. Yet, I feel confined to playing chords and scales by memory, always having to concentrate too much on the playing aspect of things and plotting what my fingers’ next move will be. After several frustrating years of trying to learn scales and the many, many ways to play them on guitar (so many, that nothing ever sticks, thanks in part to the one fret shift between the 2nd and 3rd strings), I decided that ear training and then applying ear training to guitar was the way to go.
First came my attempt at the David Lucas Burge Perfect Pitch Course. Then I realized relative pitch was probably more useful for my needs and tried the David Lucas Relative Pitch Course. I gained a good understanding of intervals, but two months later was looking for an ear training program specifically geared towards the guitar and complexities of the fretboard. So I started on the Guitar and Bass Ear Trainer, convinced this was the answer. This ear training also required me to use my guitar while I ear trained, so I figured this was a very practical application since I would be applying ear training to my guitar playing. My computer would play an interval or sequence of notes as a question, and I would have to answer by playing the interval and notes back. Of all the ear training methods mentioned above, I started having mini break-throughs with the Guitar and Bass Ear Trainer Program. Progress was very slow but it was coming. I added one interval at a time (minor 2nd through perfect five) and the intervals were starting to stick. But I was having trouble adding on the rest of them when I hurt my shoulder and needed to take a break from ear training. This led me to do an ‘ear training’ search on Amazon one day where I came across your books and methods and was intrigued by the idea of ear training by key, especially with my knack for key friendly songwriting.
So, needless to say, I am glad to have stumbled upon your resources before I became too entrenched in learning by intervals. Based on my previous ear training attempts I have some questions I hope you can clear up –
- 1) In the David Lucas Burge Perfect Pitch Course, he has pianists learn perfect pitch on the key of C, and guitarists learn using the key of A. Do you have any insights as to why he thinks the key of A is better for guitarists? I thought of this because it seems there are some similarities between David’s approach to learning perfect pitch and your approach to learning relative pitch (for each of the 12 notes in relation to a key). Your CDs use the key of C. Does this mean that the CDs are geared for piano players and not guitarists?
- 2) David’s program seemed to suggest learning on your specific instrument. Will ear training to notes played on a keyboard hinder my ear training as a guitarist? The high notes on a keyboard particularly throw me for a loop, as they do not have the same sound quality as the high notes on the guitar, at least not yet. Those high keyboard notes just seem so faint.
- 3) The one thing I really like about the Guitar Bass Ear Trainer is that the program forces you to think in terms of finger positions on the guitar fretboard. This was a very practical application. The main reason I stopped the David Lucas Burge Perfect Pitch Course and started the Guitar Bass Ear Trainer program was to utilize the more practical, apply it to your instrument approach. I figured that being able to identify a note or series of pitches by ear really would not help me unless my fingers automatically knew where to go on the guitar fretboard. How can I start applying ear training program to playing the guitar in a practical hands on way? To get the ear knowledge to match the finger knowledge, so to speak, without having to rely on learning the multitudes of scale patterns? (side note – I have a good working knowledge of theory but I do not read music and have relied on tab or chord diagrams to learn songs)
- 4) The David Lucas Burge Perfect Pitch Course spoke about how correcting mistakes was a vital part of ‘culturing the ear.’ In other words, if you guessed the wrong note on an exercise, take the time to stop, and compare your wrong note answer with the correct note answer. Should I be doing the same with your exercises, correcting my mistakes? Or is that just another way of developing interval based relative pitch?
- 5) Last, but not least – My previous Ear Training experience has told me that the learn it ‘one note at a time’ approach works well for me. Can I use this approach with Ear Training One Note Complete? I saw a FAQ that suggested an order for learning notes for the Fanatic’s Guide to Ear Training and Sight Singing – C – E – G – B – D – F – A – C# – Eb – G# – Bb – F#. Would this same order apply to Ear Training One Note Complete? What would be the best practice regimen to learn the notes one at a time?
Sorry for the length of this email, but as you can see I have found my journey down Ear Training Road to be a confusing one with many twists and turns thus far. I am hopeful your course can get me on the right path to lasting success.
A: Nice to hear from you and see that you have been giving Ear Training some taught. I don’t think the David Lucas Burge or the Guitar and Bass Ear Trainer Program would be the right way to go to achieve your goals. Let me first answer some of your questions. For Perfect Pitch it doesn’t matter which note you start on. The notes Burge chooses are more for convenience on the instrument rather than some great frequency secret. When you learn Perfect Pitch you learn it on one instrument, therefore Burge has you use just one instrument or sound to learn perfect pitch. As you develop Perfect Pitch on one instrument you can continue to other instruments or you can just imagine what the sound you hear would sound like on the instrument you have perfect pitch on to get the answer.
Keep in mind that the overall key an ear training exercise is in isn’t based on instrumental considerations. It is important to work in all keys when your doing ear training because you need to develop the ability to quickly know what, let’s say, the b6th in the key of Gb is. So applying ear training to your instrument also requires a fair degree of music theory and knowledge on your own instrument in order to apply your skills.
When people start with the my ear training they commonly find that they have problems when they try to identify sounds played by other instruments. This problem goes away over time because your recognition skills improve to the point that the kind of sound doesn’t matter. The Fanatic’s Guide to Ear Training and Sight Singing is particularly important for this. It is also common to have problems with extremely high and low notes. Again this improves over time as you focus in on the unique sound of each notes within a key center which will eventually allow you to start using these skills and applying ear training to your playing.
If you want to use a more direct approach with your instrument to be applying ear training, try playing the note you hear on the CD rather than saying what you think is the correct answer. You could also do a direct approach by getting the book Single String Studies for Guitar Volume One. Playing the exercises over a drone will help you use your ear to know if you are playing the correct note. I would wait till your up to about 50% correct answers on the Ear Training One Note Complete CD before trying this. You can use the ‘one note at a time’ approach but I would always take some time out everyday to listen to all notes. To give you an analogy, you can’t know what the color red is unless you also know all the other colors. Your mind will be adjusting as it learns more notes so it is important that it hears all notes often. You can use the sequence C – E – G – B – D – F – A- C# – Eb – G# – Bb – F# but really any sequence will work, there are no secrets here.
I think you’re on the right track. Make sure to work out of the Fanatic’s Guide to Ear Training and Sight Singing and I suggest you get a book like Music Theory Workbook for Guitar Volume One to improve your understanding of music theory and recognition of notes on the guitar. This will go along way in helping you quickly apply your new ear training skills. Mostly be patient. You have started out wrong so it will take time to unlearn intervals and start relying on the unique sound of each note in a key. Then, after learning to contextualize the keys, you will be able to start applying ear training to your instrument.
It is also recommended that you read Bruce Arnold’s Blog at his artist site. It contains more discussion of the musical topics found in these FAQs as well as other subjects of interest. You will also find the “Music Education Genealogy Chart” located here which shows you the historic significance of the music education products found on the Muse Eek Publishing Company Website.