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One Great Way for Guitarists to Ear-Train
Inspiration is so precious yet so abundant to those fortunate to be sensitive to its movements.
This hub--written in record time, for me, at least--is in response to a recent question I received from a fellow Hubber regarding ear training--an oft neglected topic for guitarists. In fact, living legend Steve Vai made mention--with an awesome demonstration, I might add--of that same topic during his recent Guiness Record-breaking online guitar lesson (sponsored by Boston's Berkelee College of Music, I believe).
Without further ado, below is a description of a tested, proven, and--thankfully!--fun ear-training method for guitar players. A recording device will be needed, but it does not have to be digital (in other words, tape recorders are OK).
A great ear-training method for guitarists is to record yourself playing random notes on one string--the High E, let's say--for at least 10 minutes, with the intention to match the notes during playback (so, immediately after the device--MP3 / tape-recorder / Ipod / etc.--plays the recorded notes, YOU correctly identify them, playing them back on your guitar).
It would also be best to verbally name them as you play them back--"C", "G#", etc.--but that would require knowing the names of the notes on the fretboard. And a fretboard poster could help with that. However, if you're not there, yet, don't let that stop you from the various self-tests for ear-training described in this article.
Specific Instructions for Single-String Ear-Training:
When you record, start with the open string (the High E in this case). This way you'll know where you began when you play it back. Allow the string to ring for about 3 seconds and pause another 7 seconds--more or less--before going to the first random note on the string. Play that note, holding it for 3 secs, then pause for 7 secs and go to another random note and repeat the process.
Don't go above the 12th fret with the random notes until you are ready. This way you'll be testing yourself first on all the notes within one octave. When you have gotten to the point where you are correctly identifying all or most of the notes presented in your single-string self-tests, it will be time to test identification of notes beyond an octave (such open High E to the 16th fret, or to the 19th fret).
Ear-Training on Six Strings, Separately
Obviously it is not quantum physics to apply the High E string's instructions to each of the remaining 5 strings. Just consider each string to be a separate 'test', and duplicate the instructions provided in the above paragraph. As usual, don't go beyond the 12th fret until you have successfully proved yourself in the 0-12 range.
Ear-Training on Six Strings, Together (Up to the 12th Fret)
Continue to broaden your horizons and apply this method up to all 6 strings as one test. This time, however, don't go beyond the 12th fret at all (this is typically more than half of the fretboard on any acoustic or electric guitar).
Ear-Training on a Full Fretboard (Ideally for Electric Guitar or Acoustic Cutaway)
Because number of fret-spaces involved in this self-test, I suggest first splitting the fretboard into two horizontal territories: 0 - 12th fret and 12th - highest, whether your highest fret is the 20th, 21st, 22nd, or 24th. By the way, if you went and got your electric saw just now, you indeed suffer from a severe misinterpretation of splitting.
Test yourself first on the lower frets, then the upper ones. Only after this should you self-test using the entire fingerboard. By the way, you can extend comfortably up to around the 15th fret on an acoustic guitar and higher on an acoustic cutaway.
Well, yes, of course. A test just isn't as fun without scoring. Here are some scoring suggestions:
- Make the number of matching opportunities--you know, the test 'questions'--test-friendly. Use 50 or 100 as the number of 'questions' so you can tally your score more easily. I am writing 'questions' in this way because these are non-verbal but they are questions nonetheless.
- Make a note of the intervals you consistently get wrong. You might have a hard time with minor 3rds (G to Bb, for example), or Major 9ths (open A to 14th fret, for example). If so you can pinpoint the problem much quicker by paying attention to it from the beginning so that error patterns reveal themselves to you.
So there you have it: four levels of ear-training for guitarists via self-tests.
- Single-String Ear-Training
- Ear-Training on Six Strings, Separately
- Ear-Training on Six Strings, Together
- Full Fretboard Ear-Training
Sound good? Let me know how it goes if / when you try this.