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Playing By Ear -  Understanding 'Playing by Ear' and Its Importance 

May 13, 20235 min read

Greetings, guitar enthusiasts! Get ready as we delve into the fascinating world of 'playing by ear'. This term is familiar to many, but do we fully grasp its profound implications?

Understanding 'Playing by Ear' and Dispelling Myths

The concept of 'playing by ear' often gets shrouded in misunderstanding. Some may think it's merely deciphering a song without the aid of sheet music or tabs. While that's part of the equation, there's much more to the story.

At its core, 'playing by ear' involves hearing a melody - perhaps it's a catchy tune stuck in your head, a compelling riff during a jam session, or a rhythm from your favorite album - and being able to identify and reproduce it. It's akin to possessing a musical sixth sense.

However, let's dispel a common myth: the notion that 'playing by ear' is a talent bestowed upon a select few. This couldn't be further from the truth! Just like mastering a bar chord or nailing a solo, 'playing by ear' is a skill that anyone can acquire. It simply requires a bit of knowledge and a healthy dose of practice.

The Significance of Recognizing What You Hear

Consider how you interact with colors. When you see a color, you instantly identify it without hesitation. We learned to recognize colors at a young age until it became as natural as breathing. That's how we aim to train our ears with music. The goal is to identify a chord progression or a melody without conscious thought. Music should become your second language.

Linking Emotions with Sounds

A useful strategy to better understand what we hear is to associate it with a specific emotion or feeling. A major chord often exudes a joyful, uplifting aura, while a minor chord tends to evoke a more somber, introspective mood. This emotional connection enhances our musical experience and facilitates quicker recognition of sounds.

The Advantages of Playing by Ear

'Playing by ear' is not merely a party trick; it's a vital skill that can elevate your musical prowess to new levels. It prepares you for improvisation, enables you to jam seamlessly with other musicians, and deepens your understanding and appreciation of music. It can even aid in songwriting by allowing you to capture and express those spontaneous melodies that spring to mind.

One of the most notable benefits of truly mastering 'playing by ear' is the speed and precision it brings to learning new songs. Picture this - all you need is the recording. No more struggling with sheet music or constantly pausing a YouTube tutorial. Just you, your guitar, and the melodious sounds filling your ears.

But it gets even more thrilling. Imagine this: you're driving in your car, your favorite song playing through the speakers. Instead of merely tapping your fingers on the steering wheel, you're mentally deconstructing the song, chord by chord, note by note. You're connecting the sounds you hear with your inner musical understanding. Then, when you get home, you pick up your guitar and voilà! You're playing the song. Sure, there might be a few hiccups, but you quickly correct them because you've internalized the song. You've heard it, felt it, and understood it. That, dear readers, is the true power of 'playing by ear'.

The Path of Successful Musicians

Every guitarist has a unique way of infusing their emotions into their instrument. Some are technically inclined, others rely on pure emotion, but the truly successful players have a unique edge. They've honed the skill of 'playing by ear' - a potent practice of connecting what they hear and the emotions they feel directly onto their fretboard. This creates a dynamic and personal musical language that resonates with listeners.

Take musical legends

like Paul McCartney, Jimi Hendrix, and Stevie Ray Vaughan, for instance. These icons didn't just wake up one day with an innate ability to 'play by ear'. Instead, they meticulously cultivated this skill, bridging their emotional world with the sounds they were hearing and translating that connection into their guitar playing. Their journeys are a testament to the transformative power of the right mindset, relentless practice, and emotional connectivity in music. They stand as shining examples that with the right tools and dedication, anyone can develop this remarkable ability to 'play by ear'.

Obstacles and How to Surmount Them

Like learning any new skill, 'playing by ear' comes with its own set of challenges. It might seem overwhelming at first, and you might struggle to distinguish different chords or notes. But remember, every pro was once a beginner. Every challenge is just another stepping stone toward becoming a more seasoned musician.

Believe in the Possibility

Mastering any new skill requires patience, practice, and above all, self-belief. It's crucial to trust in your potential to learn this skill and unlock a whole new aspect of your musical abilities. Every great musician started from scratch, faced challenges, and had moments of doubt. But they all believed in the possibility of growth and improvement. So, it's time for you to believe in your ability to learn 'playing by ear'.

We're all in this journey together! I'd love to hear about your own experiences with 'playing by ear'. Any bumps along the way? How did you navigate them? Feel free to share your stories in the comments section below. Your experiences could be the stepping stone for others, and together, we can build a vibrant, supportive community of passionate guitarists.

In our next blog post, we'll delve deeper into the importance of understanding what you hear and how a solid grasp of music theory can turbocharge this comprehension. We'll explore the Major Key as a framework, a fascinating concept that will open up new perspectives in your music creation and appreciation. Stay tuned!

That's all for today. Remember, learning to 'play by ear' is more of a marathon than a sprint. Embrace the learning process, practice consistently, and before you know it, you'll be jamming out your favorite tunes by ear with confidence and style.

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Andrew Gingerich

freteleven founder

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