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Ear training

Hi Mr. Byrd,

I've been a fan of yours since Son Of Man and I also really like COV! I've been playing guitar since age 14 and I have gotten fairly good.

However, even though I practiced technique and learned the fretboard (as well as a lot of music theory) I neglected developing my ear. I was wondering if you ever did ear "training" or if your ear developed naturally since you started at age 9. When you hear a song can you easily identify the chord progression and the notes/scale steps in the melody. I think before I ever become a really great guitarist I need to be able to understand just about any song just by listening to it. Do you have any advice or opinions about this?

Thank you,

Re: Ear training

I think ear and eye training go together. Yes, I hear a piece of music, and I know what's going on. People well versed in sight reading and ear training, will probably see mental images of notation while listening to music. People who -for example- play the piano by ear, and who know theory, will probably envision the patterns on a keyboard while hearing music.

I recognize modes, and have mental images of the scale patterns on a fingerboard.

Knowing all the modes, and all the places where the notes within each of them fall across the strings, and up the fingerboard, as well as being able to recognize the modes and to name them upon hearing them, go together.

If you don't recognize the basic "color" of the scale modes, you won't see the visual element, and if you don't know all the possibilities on the neck, you won't see them.

To learn "mode recognition", the easiest place to begin, is on the white keys of the piano, where the so-called "Church modes" reside. Learn those first, and then start playing "blind"; blindly drop your hand onto the keys, and play up eight white key notes. Try to guess before you open your eyes, and then look where you ended up. If you landed on 'D', well, you just played the dorian mode. If it's 'E', it was mixolydian. When you can recognize those modes, the next step is to recognize them outside of their natural key (IE transposed). The guitar in invaluable for this because unlike the piano, you do not need to change fingering to transpose; you simply move the pattern up or down the frets. Learning to recognize the modes outside their natural residence on the white keys of the piano, insures that you're actually recognizing the modes, and not just the starting pitch.

The next thing to learn, are so-called "synthetic" modes. These are scales that have sharps and flats when played in their white-key key center. Harmonic minor is but one example of a synthetic mode.

The guitar is a rather difficult instrument geograpically speaking; you have both horizontal transposition, AND linear transposition capacities, and a standard tuning which interposes a third interval between only two strings (The G and B). Learning ALL the possible positions anf fingerings of every possible mode, is something you can spend your entire lifetime coming to grips with. I consider myself perhaps only halfway there; spending an evening with Howard Roberts once was a very humbling experience, but that's also the beauty of the instrument.

I feel like I'm started writing a book here, but the best thing for you to do, is to find some good books and perhaps also instructional videos.

Good luck to you, -B

Re: Re: Ear training

Hey James,

Thanks a lot for taking the time to answer my question! I understood everything you wrote. Learning to recognize the modes using the white keys of the piano is a great idea (but if you started and ended on E, wouldn't that be phrygian? :o) ). It's nice to know that you devoted a lot of time to developing your ear. Despite being a good guitarist I have always felt a bit inferior to musicians who have great ears. I will continue to practice my ear training with a great book/cd I bought, Ear Master Pro software, and the music I listen to.


Re: Re: Re: Ear training

For the basics of what James is talking about I highly recommend the HotLick instructional video by Al Pitrelli called "Applied Theory for Rock Guitar and Beyond". Unfortunately it is out of print and was only ever available on VHS so have a look on ebay for it, some of it might be on youtube? (everything else seems to be!)

But essentially Al focuses on the "church modes", playing the modes over a basic root note on a keyboard. What makes this particularly helpful is he will tell you certain famous songs where the particular mode that is being covered is used.

This is probably hands down the best video I have ever seen on this sort of thing - its accessible and fun to learn from.

Andy - webmaster

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