Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Ear Training Challenge - Take it.

Many guitar players are often searching for that missing practice element that will make a difference in their playing. My contention is the #1 "secret" to playing well - if there is one - can be found in learning songs and solos from the recordings - using only your ears.

A lot of players may know a lot of songs, but how many of them were learned with the help of TAB's? If the answer is "a lot" then this challenge is for you.

Conversely, many players DO spend a good deal of time learning songs by ear. But many of these cats may be missing one critical element - analysis. After a song or solo is learned, it should be checked over to see what makes it tick. It is during this process that really valuable observations happen.

The more you do this, the more these observations become increasingly clear. Insight like this can be very handy the next time you are required to improvise, or work your way through an unfamiliar song.

So here is the challenge.

ONE MONTH, nothing but this process for the entire practice month.
Here is what I want you to do.

  • Pick a guitarist that you know is good and really like how they play (eg - David Gilmour of Pink Floyd)
  • Pick your favourite album (eg. Dark side of the moon)
  • Learn EVERY SINGLE guitar solo on the record, using only your ears
  • As you complete track one, go back and figure out:
    - What key the song was in
    - What chords were played behind the solo
    - What scale was mostly used in the solo
    - What notes were chosen and how many of them were chord tones from the underlying rhythm part
    - Were there any triads, or chord fragments present in the solo, played as single note lines
    - When there is a bent note what was the note bent to?? A chord tone or non?
    - What was the time signature
  • Track how long time-wise did it take you to complete. (Track this so you can see your progress and your ears improving.)
  • Move onto track two, progressing until you complete the album.
  • Pick a new album and carry on...
    - If you choose another album of the same artist, you will gain a MUCH deeper insight into that players habits and approaches.
    - If you pick an album from the same genre, it will give you a better understanding of that genre.

Print this out and fill it out like a questionnaire as you do this process.
Use a software like Transcribe! to assist you.

Some people will say "this is too hard"... or that "I guess I just don't have good ears". If this is you, you need to read this... in fact, read it any way!


  1. Excelent post / lesson / challange - thx, I'll take it on.

  2. You will not get the innovative exercise places such as note inversions and progressions, range recognition and melodic dictation.

    Training Evaluation questionnaire

  3. Zsolt - very cool!

    Ruby - not sure I understand your comment? I am not saying don't do deeper training just a 30 day challenge to get people to break a dependency on TAB. Once the door to ear training is open and a person realizes that he/she can do it. Then a whole new world of learning becomes available.

  4. Wow, i had no idea your blog was this in depth man...Awesome resource and thank you for all your efforts to help others. I am going to take this challenge upon myself. I'll be studying one of my favorite guitarists Audley Freed and his work with Cry of Love. Thanks again Jeremy :D

  5. Thanks JD and glad I can help a brother (or sister) out! Do it! Stick to it, be disciplined, don't waver. One month is little to give. I guarantee you will get something out of it - but don't forget to analyze!

    Let me know how you make out

  6. I most definitely will. I write/perform a lot of original music, however i do play covers as well, and transcribe has been a godsend with trying to learn leads accurately. I'll be using it for this assignment as well. JD = Jim ;)

  7. Jeremy,
    Excellent blog; I have learned a lot from it and feel my playing has improved substantially as a result of reading it. I was wondering, at the conclusion of this transcription/playing by ear analysis, how do you recommend someone go about "stealing" some of the new licks they have figured out by ear (if you recommend they do this at all)? Should a player break these solos/licks down into smaller, more digestible chunks and play them in different positions/keys all over the fretboard? Do you feel that a player then has to make a conscious effort to implement these licks into their improvisations/solos or do these licks start to unconsciously creep into one's playing merely as a result of learning them by ear/ repeatedly playing them along with the record?
    Keep blogging and take care,

  8. Firstly, Thanks Tyler and sorry for the delayed response. Been pretty busy.

    Personally I think the best approach is to just keep learning more and more licks. Provided you understand the harmonic background (i.e. this line works over a minor chord)then i think these come out through osmosis over time. The best approach is to always try to make the lines yours. Once you learn the line pull it out and fiddle with it in different keys. Maybe drag some notes or extend others. Just REALLY listen to what moves you about the line.

    The bottom line is the best players I know when I ask them - which I always do - say they have done a TON of lifting. MOST don't even bother with technique books etc... They learned almost ALL of their stuff with their ears.

    It is really the common thread.

    I will keep blogging. Comments like yours fuel me to do so.