#1
I'll get straight to it. I consider myself a pretty able guitarist, and know quite a bit of music theory, but my definite weak point is my ears. I.e., I can't work out nearly anything by ear. Most luck i've had is if I get some simple melody stuck into my head, it takes me like 10-15 minutes to work it out, but a song? or even a fast riff of some sort? no.
How do you suggest I go about improving this? I am genuinely astounded by people that will listen to a song and go 'ah, it goes like this' or 'this chord sounds like a C'. Only riff I've actually worked out properly with no help is the 'Fake Tales of San Francisco' by Arctic Monkeys, and come on, that's piss easy..

What I currently do: I've downloaded the miles.be Functional Ear Trainer and practice every day (http://www.miles.be)

and

The ear interval trainer
(http://www.musictheory.net/exercises/ear-interval)

Is this the right way to go about it? Learning intervals etc?
Thanks for any replies
#2
Are you getting 100% accuracy on the musictheory.net ear exercises in all keys?

No? Keep going.

Yes? Then start working on chord ear training. start with simple major and minor triads and then work your way up by adding in one chord at a time.

An hour of chord and an hour of intervals a day should be good.

TIP: For chords. knowing and singing the solfege can really help
Last edited by Deadds at Feb 19, 2014,
#3
Welcome to the world of learning by ear, the learning curve is steep, but the rewards are great.

There are a few things i recommend doing in order to improve your ear and start learning by ear, so i will list all that i do/did.

When starting out you want to do really simple stuff, preferably something you know since you were a kid. Let's say songs like "Happy birthday" or the like. You really need to know EXACTLY how it goes by heart when starting out doing that.

Secondly, you want to get some sort of software to allow you to slow songs down, loop sections and raise/lower the pitch of the song. Programs like Transcribe, Anytune, Amazing Slow Downer and the like are among the top ones for this. It will save you a lot of time and make the learning curve abit smoother.

Then you want to start with (preferably) music you like, but that is not that difficult. Luckily for me when i started out i was already into all genres of music, or atleast i didn't dislike anything. So i started with songs played on the radio, the big pop hits, cause they usually have simple melodies. But yeah, find music that you like that is not too complex, try to learn it without slowing it down, but if you need to slow it down it's no big deal.

Then you really build from there. Start simple and build upon that.

A few tips:

1. Sing everything you play. You don't have to be a singer to do this. It helps build a connection between your ears and what you are doing on your instrument. Often when i learn stuff nowadays (atleast melodies) i will sing them first and then find them on the guitar.

2. Take everything bit by bit. When starting out you don't want to sit down and learn an entire song in one sitting. You may instead want to take out a specific part of the song (like the verse or chorus) or even you one phrase. The important thing is that you do it a little everyday. One phrase a day is better than sitting down one time a week and learning a whole song.

3. Do the intervall training, but connect it to something musical, it's the easiest way to memorize it. I had real trouble deciding if what i heard was a perfect fourth or fifth before, then i realized that the fourth is used in amazing grace. (From "A" to "ma" is a perfect fourth) And i realized that a perfect fifth is "twinkle twinkle little star". You have to find actual music that uses these intervalls in the beginning until you can memorize them by sound.

4. Learn from everything, not just guitar. There are so much cool stuff being done that is not done on a guitar. I often find myself learning vocal lines to improve my phrasing/melodies, or learning basslines to add with my chords. Everything is up for the taking, even drum parts!

5. Keep at it, and don't get discouraged. Learning by ear and playing by ear is one of the hardest things to do in music, mainly because its very steep learning curve. But if you do a little everyday as i said and start simple you will eventually find that everything gets much easier. Learning by ear is one of those things that improves all aspects of your playing. Technique, tone, articulation, phrasing, dynamics etc.

I hope that was helpful in any way. Learning by ear is hard, but it's the thing i am most happy with that i am doing. I wish i started sooner.

Good luck!
Best Regards
Sickz
Fusion and jazz musician, a fan of most music.

Quote by Guthrie Govan
“If you steal from one person it's theft, and if you steal from lots of people it's research”


Quote by Chick Corea
"Only play what you hear. If you don't hear anything, don't play anything."
#4
As stated by Sickz, overly simple stuff is great to start with, Christmas songs etc. Some simple classical melodies can be good to work with as well. Try to use something that stays in 1 key for now. I worked out Bach Air, Canon etc to the classical tracks by ear, now am working on stuff like Vivaldi. If I really get stuck on fingering or something I look at a tab for that part, but try not to. This way you also come up with original ways of plying stuff too.
#5
Thanks for all the tips, really useful!

Just one last question, how long did it take for each of you to be able to comfortably work out most songs by ear?
#6
Quote by mickel_w
Thanks for all the tips, really useful!

Just one last question, how long did it take for each of you to be able to comfortably work out most songs by ear?


Depends on what i am trying to figure out. As said, i started with popular songs on the radio with catchy melodies, so by now i am very comfortable with that. Most of the time i can pick out the vocal melody for an entire radio hit after hearing it 2-4 times now.

Now if we are talking jazz and fusion stuff that is an entirely different question, even though i have been doing it a lot lately it is still hard for me to just hear jazz lines and go "oh, they are played like this". Unless it is a slow melody, i still need to slow down and loop jazz songs to get them down. I can't do that on the fly very well.

Same with styles that i am new to. I got really into country music like Brad Paisley, Chet Atkins and the like a while back. That was really hard for me aswell cause i had not learned any country before.

You'll have to live with that learning music by ear is kind of learning different languages. Each style has different characteristic traits that will be hard/easy for you to pick out, depending on how much you have done it.

So to your original question, some stuff it took me 1-3 years to get really comfortable, some stuff i am getting more comfortable with right now, some stuff i am not comfortable at all with. But i like that, it just shows that i have much room to grow and improve my ear still.

I will say though, with aid of slowing down and looping stuff you can learn pretty much anything you want after a few months, but it will be hard. When i was first learning jazz stuff i had to take like 5-8 notes a day, cause otherwise my head would start to hurt.

Cheers!
Fusion and jazz musician, a fan of most music.

Quote by Guthrie Govan
“If you steal from one person it's theft, and if you steal from lots of people it's research”


Quote by Chick Corea
"Only play what you hear. If you don't hear anything, don't play anything."
#7
To add my own question re: ear training: How long does it take on average to get really proficient at it?

I mean, I know this invites a response that it all depends maybe on innate talent, on how much you train, on where you are starting from, on what you mean by "really proficient, etc." I'm just trying to get a very general idea if I add specific ear training exercises to my repertoire, including working out songs I am hearing by ear, interval training exercises, solfege stuff, etc., and do that sort of stuff maybe a few hours a week consistently, are we talking over 5 years or less than a year, or what?

The reason I ask is that, honestly, there are so many things on my list to learn, technique and recording and engineering and learning various songs, that I have to prioritize. If ear training was a really slow process taking years to develop, honestly I think I would want to make it a low priority (I mean, just playing any music and improving will help my ear over time even without specific exercises, right?) On the other hand, if I knew that daily regular practice with ear training exercises could lead to me within under 2 years being some one who could readily hear a song on the radio or at a concert, tell what key it is in, tell generally how to play it or able to work it out without too much struggle, then I would probably make it a higher priority and sticking to it. Maybe it should not be like that, but the more I feel like I'm going to have a significant reward in the not-too-distant future, the more I can keep myself plugging along. A skill that will take over 3 years to develop even with regular, focused practice...well, that's a bit too remote for my taste.

Statements like, "it takes time," or "it's a slow learning curve," are really so vague as to how long this takes in concrete turns, as to be sort of useless to me. So, I know it may be hard to nail down, but can anyone who has personally learned this try to guesstimate how fast an average person might progress at this sort of thing?

In my experience, even pretty tough skills actually can be picked up in something like 6 months or so with regular, focused practice, and after that it is just a matter of honing the skill, moving from merely being proficient to being effortless/mastering the skill. Optimistically, I'd love to hear opinions that ear training is like that, and I can really focus on hitting those exercises of the next six months with that to look forward to...and if it takes a bit longer, no big whoop. But I don't want to have unrealistic expectations.

Ken
Bernie Sanders for President!
#8
Quote by krm27
Stuff.


The thing is, ear training doesn't only have an impact on your ear, it improves all aspects of your playing. So even if it took longer to develop it i would say it is always good to prioritize it highly. A good ear helps you learn quicker, it helps you to develop articulation, tone, phrasing and everything. And you learn songs with it, so you will be developing your technique at the same time.

Now i understand your question and that you want an answer like "if i practice learning by ear for 6 months i will be at this level", but it doesn't work that way. Learning by ear is almost like a separate thing from guitar (don't confuse separate with unrelated, of course learning by ear helps you play guitar by a greatly). Learning by ear and ear training is more to develop the MUSICIAN rather than the GUITARIST.

Also, i want to say that people often confuse ear training with sitting down and listening to recorded intervalls and being able to name them. That is not ear training, that is one aspect of it. I honestly believe that if you just sat down and learned a bunch of songs by ear, you will have more benefit from that, it's the ear that is important.

It opens the world up for:
1) learning any song you like, regardless if there is tab or not.
2) improving your improvisation.
3) Improving your playing in general, as you become more connected with tone and other elements of music.
4) Developing your own style easier.

I could write a book about why learning by ear is good and important and why every musicians should do it. But i think it's a better use of my time if i run off and transcribe some Pat Martino.
Fusion and jazz musician, a fan of most music.

Quote by Guthrie Govan
“If you steal from one person it's theft, and if you steal from lots of people it's research”


Quote by Chick Corea
"Only play what you hear. If you don't hear anything, don't play anything."
#9
Quote by krm27
On the other hand, if I knew that daily regular practice with ear training exercises

You might want to try with real songs, rather than some training program. That's nice, but you'll get so much more from songs (You'll quickly notice that although you're playing the right notes, it's still not the same phrasing, you'll hear pull offs and slides that clue you in on what fingering is being used - something interval training programs don't go into- plus you'll be able to play a whole bunch of new material

Quote by krm27
A skill that will take over 3 years to develop even with regular, focused practice...well, that's a bit too remote for my taste.

I'm in a similar boat.. I played cover songs for about 15 years. I have those pretty much down now. My technique is fine. I've the basics of theory down. But I learned everything from tabs and have a terrible ear. Recently I've started using 'Amazing Slow Downer' and listening to a few basic songs and figuring them out. I feel an improvement already after a couple of songs

Statements like, "it takes time," or "it's a slow learning curve," are really so vague as to how long this takes in concrete turns, as to be sort of useless to me. So, I know it may be hard to nail down, but can anyone who has personally learned this try to guesstimate how fast an average person might progress at this sort of thing?
How much salt should I add to my dinner? Perhaps someone who adds salt to their dinner can let me know.

I can really focus on hitting those exercises of the next six months

I'd go with learning real songs if I were you. You'll notice a slow and steady improvement. It's worth putting the time in. No one can say where you'll be in 6 months.
Last edited by innovine at Feb 19, 2014,
#10
It takes as long as it takes.

And it's not a binary thing.

It sounds like you're doing all the right stuff. The reality is that it's not like you're going to wake up one day and suddenly be able to hear everything perfectly. Instead, you're just going to gradually get better and better every day, with occasional jumps.

What you're asking is like asking, "how long does it take to be able to learn how to have a conversation in french?"

Well, you know, after a few months you can probably have a clunky, halting conversation so long as the person talks very slowly and doesn't use any big words. After 2-3 years you'll be able to be functional but you'll speak with an accent and have a hard time when people talk fast, use slang or technical language, etc.

After 5 years, maybe you'll pass for fluent but not native. After a decade, maybe you'll pass for native.

Same with music. Keep at it. You will see progress.
#11
Quote by mickel_w
I'll get straight to it. I consider myself a pretty able guitarist, and know quite a bit of music theory, but my definite weak point is my ears. I.e., I can't work out nearly anything by ear. Most luck i've had is if I get some simple melody stuck into my head, it takes me like 10-15 minutes to work it out, but a song? or even a fast riff of some sort? no.
How do you suggest I go about improving this? I am genuinely astounded by people that will listen to a song and go 'ah, it goes like this' or 'this chord sounds like a C'. Only riff I've actually worked out properly with no help is the 'Fake Tales of San Francisco' by Arctic Monkeys, and come on, that's piss easy..

What I currently do: I've downloaded the miles.be Functional Ear Trainer and practice every day (http://www.miles.be)

and

The ear interval trainer
(http://www.musictheory.net/exercises/ear-interval)


Is this the right way to go about it? Learning intervals etc?
Thanks for any replies



A musician isn't shit without their ears most people that learn by tab don't even realize half the notes or chords they're playing are completely wrong.. I don't know how many times I've pulled out a tab to a song I wanted to learn, and it was totally off so I'd go on to transcribe it instead of using that tab. Music is a language the more you keep trying to speak it the better you'll get at it I would say it takes a good 5 years to get to the point where you can just listen to something and transcribe it pretty fast, but it also depends on the persons talent for it so there's a whole lot of factors when it comes to learning by ear.
#12
Quote by HotspurJr
It takes as long as it takes.

And it's not a binary thing.

It sounds like you're doing all the right stuff. The reality is that it's not like you're going to wake up one day and suddenly be able to hear everything perfectly. Instead, you're just going to gradually get better and better every day, with occasional jumps.

What you're asking is like asking, "how long does it take to be able to learn how to have a conversation in french?"

Well, you know, after a few months you can probably have a clunky, halting conversation so long as the person talks very slowly and doesn't use any big words. After 2-3 years you'll be able to be functional but you'll speak with an accent and have a hard time when people talk fast, use slang or technical language, etc.

After 5 years, maybe you'll pass for fluent but not native. After a decade, maybe you'll pass for native.

Same with music. Keep at it. You will see progress.


That's a really good analogy.

And black_devils, I realise that, it's just my ear is my weakest point and that's something I want to work on to improve it
#13
Quote by mickel_w
That's a really good analogy.

And black_devils, I realise that, it's just my ear is my weakest point and that's something I want to work on to improve it


Then it doesn't matter how long it takes. Just focus on improving it until its not your weakest point, then adjust your priorities once again.
#14
Well, crap, I kind of expected those responses. I was kind of hoping for some one to give me some outer limit like, if I'm of reasonable intelligence, able to learn most things as quick as average person or better, then with 3 hours of practice a week (say, trying to figure out songs/melodies/chords by ear), then I'll probably get to the point where I'll pretty much recognize the notes/intervals being played as I hear them, and be one of those people who can hear a song, pick up the guitar, and play it back in any key, in a year, or two years or less than 5 years.... I started playing guitar at 42, so I've some extra urgency, like I'd like to be able to have that kind of skill before I turn 50.

I really love jam bands, music festivals like Bonnaroo, High Sierra Music Festival, etc., and ultimately I'd really love to be able to join or start a jam band, or attend those sorts of festivals and just randomly jam with people. So I'd imagine ear training is a high priority. I just want to "Master" my ability to hear what is happening, musically, ASAP. Which, again, is my own issue, and probably not realistic to look for more specific estimates from others as to when I might be where I want to be (and I guess that's also a moving target, as I get better, I'll notice other things I am jonesing to master). So maybe a more relaxed attitude and not worrying so much about the outcome / destination would be a healthier mindset.

Ken
Bernie Sanders for President!
#15
Quote by krm27
Well, crap, I kind of expected those responses. I was kind of hoping for some one to give me some outer limit like, if I'm of reasonable intelligence, able to learn most things as quick as average person or better, then with 3 hours of practice a week (say, trying to figure out songs/melodies/chords by ear), then I'll probably get to the point where I'll pretty much recognize the notes/intervals being played as I hear them, and be one of those people who can hear a song, pick up the guitar, and play it back in any key, in a year, or two years or less than 5 years.... I started playing guitar at 42, so I've some extra urgency, like I'd like to be able to have that kind of skill before I turn 50.

I really love jam bands, music festivals like Bonnaroo, High Sierra Music Festival, etc., and ultimately I'd really love to be able to join or start a jam band, or attend those sorts of festivals and just randomly jam with people. So I'd imagine ear training is a high priority. I just want to "Master" my ability to hear what is happening, musically, ASAP. Which, again, is my own issue, and probably not realistic to look for more specific estimates from others as to when I might be where I want to be (and I guess that's also a moving target, as I get better, I'll notice other things I am jonesing to master). So maybe a more relaxed attitude and not worrying so much about the outcome / destination would be a healthier mindset.

Ken


How long have you been trying to play by ear? If you have been doing it for at least a year, you should have some idea of your rate of progression - if you continue to work at it, then just extrapolate from there. Just continue to try and you'll get there. Reminds me of a friend in college who was a composition major. He said most people can compose, but they never get anywhere because it's a lot of hard work and the progress is slow. Same with playing by ear. Same with learning a foreign language...

Right on with the jam band idea and Bonnarroo.
#16
I've been using UG tabs to learn for 2.5 years, but have not really tried to learn by ear except the last few weeks, starting with simple kids songs, Happy Birthday, etc.

I can pick up what key a song is in, like on the radio, with a bit of trial/error and then jam with it, doing my own thing that fits with the song. But to recreate what is being played, that's kind of a different nut to crack.

Ken
Bernie Sanders for President!
#17
Quote by krm27
Well, crap, I kind of expected those responses. I was kind of hoping for some one to give me some outer limit like, if I'm of reasonable intelligence, able to learn most things as quick as average person or better, then with 3 hours of practice a week (say, trying to figure out songs/melodies/chords by ear), then I'll probably get to the point where I'll pretty much recognize the notes/intervals being played as I hear them, and be one of those people who can hear a song, pick up the guitar, and play it back in any key, in a year, or two years or less than 5 years.... I started playing guitar at 42, so I've some extra urgency, like I'd like to be able to have that kind of skill before I turn 50.


I think most of us would be happier if it was that simple.

The problem is that ear training really depends on what sort of musical background you have. A lot of people, for example, who learn as kids and stay with it never have to do much in the way of dedicated ear training.

But even taking that out, compare you - started at 42 - to someone who, I dunno, played for a couple of years when she was 20, then stopped until she was 35, and then picked it up again, and at 40 realized her ear wasn't where she wanted it so started working on it?

No two paths are the same.
#18
Ear training is sort of a misleading term. In training your ears, the biggest skill you build is actually your memory. Anything you remember, you can work out. Getting good at identifying intervals is the easy part, remembering them accurately in sequence is the challenge.

The best thing you can do is work on your ears consistently. Like, every day.

I recommend doing on a daily basis:
-Interval/chord recognition with the online resources
-Sight singing
-Working out real music

do 10-15 minutes of each daily, and your ears will get in good shape after a while. For sight singing, I recommend the "Ottman Guide to Sight Singing", or "A New Approach to Sight Singing". Being able to make melodies yourself, unaccompanied, is by far the most productive thing you can do.
#19
Quote by krm27
I've been using UG tabs to learn for 2.5 years, but have not really tried to learn by ear except the last few weeks, starting with simple kids songs, Happy Birthday, etc.

I can pick up what key a song is in, like on the radio, with a bit of trial/error and then jam with it, doing my own thing that fits with the song. But to recreate what is being played, that's kind of a different nut to crack.

Ken


All that sight singing and interval training is okay but I would say learn actual songs for awhile before you do that. Try to also improvise on tunes that you know on one string, like the Happy Birthday, then add two strings. This should get you to develop an intuitive feel for the intervals on the guitar.

I would say try playing without tabs using True Fire, Lick Library's, and youtube videos. Most of the guys that break the riffs, licks, solos down are very accurate, esp the True Fire and Lick Library. Your ear and musical memory will improve because you are much more focused on the music. Ever watch a subtitled foreign film and it's tough at first but then you find that you are tuning out the voice and only using your eyes to read the subtitles? That's what you don't want to do and that is what happens when you use tab. You want to focus with your ears.

Soon your technique should improve in whatever genre you are playing and you will start to learn the musical motifs of the genre you are learning. This is analogous to seeing full words instead of just letters - you hear motifs instead of just notes. You should be to able to listen to stuff like the blues and hear licks and be like ' oh I have heard SRV and Albert use that one many times '.
#20
Quote by sweetdude3000
All that sight singing and interval training is okay but I would say learn actual songs for awhile before you do that. Try to also improvise on tunes that you know on one string, like the Happy Birthday, then add two strings. This should get you to develop an intuitive feel for the intervals on the guitar.

I would say try playing without tabs using True Fire, Lick Library's, and youtube videos. Most of the guys that break the riffs, licks, solos down are very accurate, esp the True Fire and Lick Library. Your ear and musical memory will improve because you are much more focused on the music. Ever watch a subtitled foreign film and it's tough at first but then you find that you are tuning out the voice and only using your eyes to read the subtitles? That's what you don't want to do and that is what happens when you use tab. You want to focus with your ears.

Soon your technique should improve in whatever genre you are playing and you will start to learn the musical motifs of the genre you are learning. This is analogous to seeing full words instead of just letters - you hear motifs instead of just notes. You should be to able to listen to stuff like the blues and hear licks and be like ' oh I have heard SRV and Albert use that one many times '.



I like your approach that's what I'll usually do I don't look for tabs I usually just go on youtube and find a very accurate video transcription of the song on youtube it's way better than tabs. While on the other hands I'll also be transcribing a song that i'm try to learn at the same time killing two birds with one stone lol.
#21
i'd start with the basics. because if the basics are solid, then being able to hear more difficult things, like each note in a chord, chord progressions, and even fast riffs, become actually very easy.

you can use Functional Ear Trainer, but remember, that only teaches one aspect of hearing music. Functional Ear Trainer teaches hearing scale degrees, which is a definite must. but there are other things to work on with ear training. ear training is a life long pursuit. your ear is like any instrument and if you care about getting better at it, you'll take the time with it, just as you would your guitar! but what i mean is... i'm sure you spent a lot of time working things out on the guitar to get to the level you are at now. i'm sure you explored the guitar and many approaches to playing it.

you need to do the same with ear training.

every type of ear training will ultimately teach you a specific skill set.

this site has a free .pdf book that teaches a bunch of ear training exercises, but ALSO describes which musical situation these exercises will be the most help for!

The Ear Training Guide - Essential Ear Training Exercises
http://www.eartrainanywhere.com/store/products/ear-training-guide-essential-ear-training-exercises/


take a look. once you start approaching ear training, like learning a new instrument, you'll start to come up with your own ideas on how to explore and develop it, just as you did with the guitar.

wish you the best with your ear training mikel_w!
Last edited by birdbridge at Mar 3, 2014,
#23
Quote by mickel_w
Thanks for all the tips, really useful!

Just one last question, how long did it take for each of you to be able to comfortably work out most songs by ear?


For me it came agonizingly slow, and sometimes I still get thrown now and then. For example one of my students recently wanted to learn the acoustic version to BOTDF "Bewitched", and I finally realized I was dealing with two guitars capoed at different places (oh the love of studio multi tracks). But, my personal answer is over 20 years. I recall back in the 80's when I was trying to work out Hotel California and the solo. That was one of the most beneficial, agonizing transcriptions I'd ever tried to that point, but the ear training paid off incredibly, because I was so anal-retentive and OCD about it being right, I drove myself crazy doing it. Another was Sweet Home Alabama, and the first solo. There were so many subtleties to that damn song, and I had nothing but a cassette, that I paused and paused and drove myself nuts being "almost" there and not quite right. It too was an immense benefit, when it came to my own ability to hear and identify music, because everything after that was a piece of cake, by comparison

Best,

Sean