Have you seen artists collaborating freely and confidently on stage and thought,
“If only I could do that just by following my instincts…”?
There are two ways you can achieve this. One is intense practice of scales which will develop your creativity in choosing notes using relative pitch. The other way is to practice perfect pitch. If you know what a certain note sounds like you can start by playing that note on your guitar directly.
Let’s examine your options in more detail. Here are the top 5 aural skills needed to turn you into a guitar maestro…
1. Ability to Identify the Notes of Scales
Identifying notes within scales is a fundamental skill you need to have when playing guitar professionally. If someone hums a tune, you must be able to play the chords of that scale or you just won’t be considered a good, trained guitarist.
A bar-room pianist is able to play the tune you hum in your head and you have to achieve at least that level of ear training with your guitar.
Here’s an example of taking a sung melody and playing it on guitar:
Think of the last time you watched musicians collaborating on stage. Do you think everything they do is exactly rehearsed beforehand? Much of the musical coherence is actually the result of intense listening skills.
2. Ability to Detect Errors
Listening skills are a must for guitarists these days. The guitar as an instrument is no longer bound in the dark ages of pure theory. Guitarists have found new ways to experiment with the instrument… however that also makes more room for errors!
A guitarist with a well-trained ear will be able to hear the difference between an A major chord and an Amaj7 chord:
You might get close when covering a song but it never sound quite the same when you play it on your guitar if you don’t have this ear for mistakes. Maybe you are playing close to the original but it’s not the exactly the same.
3. Ability to Understand Timing and Rhythm
Listening to music is not only about a guitarist listening to guitars. As a guitarist, don’t limit yourself to being a person who only appreciates and understands the guitar!
What we often forget is that we started out as guitarists because we loved music in the first place. So it is safe to assume that music must be seen as an art with great techniques to experiment with. A guitar locking perfectly with drums or any percussion instrument creates a tight sound and the precise timing adjustments create a treat for the ears.
Also, if you are into genres like Metal and Djent, polyrhythmic counts are too hard to simply remember, so you must listen to the timings carefully and play the guitar accordingly.
4. Ability to Express What You Imagine
Many singer-songwriters tell beautiful stories through their songs and often end up singing it before they actually write any music down. How do they do it? With essential aural skills.
What you think is important; all your creative work comes from your mind. Theory acts as a guide to which chord or note should come after which, but to achieve the ultimate freedom in composing music, you have to achieve a state of listening to yourself so you can play what you have in your mind.
5. Ability to Hear the Details
I have listened to many experienced guitarists who can play a riff perfectly or pick out all the chords in a song… but something is still lacking. It doesn’t sound like the actual record they’re trying to replicate.
This can occur if we don’t listen to the details. For example, in some Coldplay songs, fairly simple chords are being played but the intimate detailing in sound is superb. If you listen closely you can find small, sweet arpeggios within the song along with the chords. It seems at first like it’s just a nice-sounding chord, but it is actually built with a set of complex arpeggios.
Essential exercises to enhance aural skills
Here are four ear training exercises you can do to enhance the essential aural skills we’ve discussed.
- Humming notes does wonders for your sense of pitch. When you hum a note, you not only practice singing that note, in the process you also train your ear and will be able to hear what note or pitch is being played.
- Imagine a melody! Imagine it in minute detail. Think about how your perfect tune will sound… and then try to play the notes on your instrument.
- Always try to cover any song by ear first. Although it will take time, ultimately you’ll be able to identify all the songs that use the same elements (such as chord progressions) just by hearing them.
- Play online ear training games and use ear training MP3s to enhance your aural skills.
Use exercises like these to hone the 5 aural skills mentioned above and you will quickly become a more confident and capable guitarist.
There are lots of guitar techniques you can discuss and spend time working on… but at the end of the day, it is aural training which will help you be a better musician and become the maestro that you always wanted to be.
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