#1
Guitar newbie here! I was wondering how long it took folks to learn to play something by ear, or at least get close to it. Was trying to pick out a melody the other day and while I could tell that I needed to adjust a note in a chord higher or lower, I had no idea what chord it would create or where I would put my finger to do so.
#2
I've been playing for over five years now, and I can pick up melodies pretty easily, the most recent one I've learned by ear is the outro to Ants of the Sky by BTBAM.

I still struggle with chords though, but I think I could be safe saying that I can learn songs by ear. You will progress faster if you do ear training though, you could start with simple melodies like twinkle twinkle little star to get things rolling.
#3
I learned by ear from the start, I was taught an old standard folk song by one of my uncles, he and his brother taught me other songs over the next few years, and I started learning songs off the radio in the mid 60's.

I think everybody should try learning songs the old (hard) way, listen to it over and over and over again and pick out the chords a little at a time as you listen to it. IN some cases I would get the album, yeah the old vinyl ones, or a cassette tape and use that. Cassette was better, I could play just a short section, stop and rewind and try again.

How long does it take? Depends on the person. I was singing along with "Wake Up Little Susie" on the radio when I was 2 years old, so I've been a musician my whole life. It was just there from the beginning. I probably already had the ear for it when I started learning to play guitar in 1960 at age 5. So with me it was natural, it was already there. Other people can develop the ability, but how long it will take varies greatly from one person to the next. I could sing lead or harmonies by age 8, my first time onstage in front of a live audience (about 200) was around age 10 I think. Been doing it ever since...but it came naturally, the only thing that took lots of practice was getting good at guitar. All the rest was just there...It's been in my head as long as I can remember.
Hmmm...I wonder what this button does...
#4
I think I've been able to do it all along. Even when I was 9 years old, I could work out the basic melody of a song on a keyboard in just a few minutes. I think there's a spectrum of people that just "have it" and then on the other end of the spectrum there are people who are completely tone deaf.

Granted, you get more and more refined as you get to know an instrument. For example, in electric guitar, a lot of us started with simple classic rock songs like "Smoke on the Water" and "Iron Man," etc. There are several ways to play any song, but each one has a different timbre or tonality. As your ear gets more and more sophisticated, you can tell even where it was played on the neck, just by the sound of it. An example of that is when people play AC/DC riffs. A lot of people play them with power chords, which does a pretty good job of recreating Malcolm Young's riffs. But if you listen closely, he's playing open chords on most of his material, not power chords. And if you want to nail his tone, you have to play open chords as well.

Being able to determine whether you're playing something faithfully to the original as-written is also largely determinant on how well you know the music. If you've listened to it enough times that you can "play it in your head," then you'll be more likely to discern whether your playing is off or not.
#5
When i started out i was learning from tabs, but i always felt so limited because many tabs had errors in them and many styles of music don't have a large amount of tabs available. So around the three year mark i dropped tabs completely and only learned by ear. If you commit to it you can learn to do it in a short amount of time, although you might need aid to do it. (Software to loop sections/slow down the music etc).

Nowadays i can learn pretty much anything by ear (Jazz and fusion voicings still get me pretty hard) without any software. But now the real challenge is to ingrain things into my ear so i can improvise with it. Singing things help with this alot.
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."
#6
Learning by ear is a skill you develop through actually doing it - trial and error - keep at it. I started that way through necessity because there weren't tabs for most of the music I liked at the time. I also learned other things with tab - which helped as well.

Learning by ear will make improvising and writing music infinitely easier - so focus on it. It should be a primary focus.

I can learn just about any rock, pop, or blues tune in minutes, but I've been at this for 20 years.

The main benefit isn't in being able to learn songs quickly however, it's what the skill does to your ability to play what you hear in your head!
#7
The other standpoint.... Pretty much never. In my case, I have rather bad hearing overall. About 20% loss in the right ear from childhood ear infections and also shooting-induced losses.
Also, tinnitus.
So, there has never been a point at which I could say "that sounds like an "A" or "That's a G chord". Just doesn't work for me.
I have improved somewhat over 40+ years of playing... I can now generally figure out a melody line, and I can construct nice-sounding chord-melody passages and all. I can certainly hear "clams"....
But figuring things out "by ear" is a slow and painful process for me.
#8
I guess I should clarify - I have no trouble hearing the differences in notes or being able to sing them, harmonize them, whatever... It's translating that intuition into an instrument that I'm curious about. I'll play tabs and sit there and think, "Hmm, that note's too high - we need to drop it an octave" or "nope, that needs to be flat," but I have to walk the note down the fretboard until I find the right one instead of knowing that it's 3 frets down or whatever. That's what I'm curious about - how long did that knowledge of the fretboard and its relationship to notes/tones take people to acquire?
#9
If the question is "How long does it take to learn the notes by sound?", the answer really varies from person to person. The ability to hear a G and know that it is a G is called Perfect Pitch. Some people spend a long time trying to develop the skill and cannot and others seem to be born with it.

My sister went to college for music and spent 4 years taking aural training classes and was not able to develop perfect pitch. It just may not be a realistic goal for some people.

What everyone can learn however, is relative pitch. This allows you to pick out tones relative to other tones. Using this skill, you can find the first note of the melody by trial and error on the fretboard, and then find the other notes because they have a specific sound in relation to the first sound. You do this by learning the intervals and what they sound like. This can also take a long time, but it is considerably easier than trying to develop perfect pitch.

You used the example of knowing if a sound is 3 frets down, or where it is on the fretboard. This requires two skill sets. First is to develop relative pitch to know that the sound is 3 semitones away from the first sound. In this case it is referred to as a descending minor third. Next you need to know how to play a descending minor third on the fretboard. To do this you need to learn your interval shapes.

All and all what you want to learn is a combination of ear training, music theory, and fretboard knowledge. They are all commingled subjects but they all play a different role.
#10
Thanks APBluegrass! Very informative answer Would you suggest lessons for theory, or is that something that is approachable on your own?
#11
Ingrid, you could go either way. I like working with a teacher because I am more confident that the information that I am getting is accurate. There is a lot good information on the Internet, but there is just as much, if not more, bad information.

I am not aware of any good books that teach music theory for the bedroom guitarist, but someone here may be able to recommend one for you. If you have the resources to take lessons, you may find that to be the quickest and easiest way to learn what you need but everyone's learning style is different so what works for me may not work for you.

Cheers!
#12
Quote by Indrid_Cold
I guess I should clarify - I have no trouble hearing the differences in notes or being able to sing them, harmonize them, whatever... It's translating that intuition into an instrument that I'm curious about. I'll play tabs and sit there and think, "Hmm, that note's too high - we need to drop it an octave" or "nope, that needs to be flat," but I have to walk the note down the fretboard until I find the right one instead of knowing that it's 3 frets down or whatever. That's what I'm curious about - how long did that knowledge of the fretboard and its relationship to notes/tones take people to acquire?


For melodies it was always pretty fast for me, I could guess pretty well, and if it was wrong, the right note wasn't far off. When you learn scales, it becomes even easier, and you can do it at speed. It's hard to say how long it took me, because I'm still not completely perfect at earing out anything at any speed.

I was also kind of an idiot, and believed all that crap about theory being a limiting factor etcetera, until I sort of discovered a lot of it on my own, and then realized that I should look into other stuff, because that would be much faster. There are still some things I don't use, but I try and understand anything I come across, and see if I can use it.

So, if you're not a douche like I was, and learn the major scale pattern right away, you could get quite good at that quite quickly.

Chords are a bit different, I was worse at chords until I discovered the major scale. It was so hard to ear out chords, and then I understood, and that's what made me realize that theory is a good idea.

So, if you learn harmony, the key from the point of view of chords essentially, then that will help you a lot as well.

How long? Idk, it depends on you, how much you practice, what you practice (a good teacher can get you there the fastest), and to what degree of awesome you consider "being able to do it".

Guitar is infinite. You can always get better.
Last edited by fingrpikingood at Jan 29, 2015,
#13
When TAB is not at hand.

Then you only got your ears to figure the stuff out you want to learn and if you can slow things down it might be a plus if the pitch does not change.

I started with some teacher showing me some licks. Then I progressed to teaching myself with TAB books. To get an understanding I was listening to the music and following it in the TAB book first. Then I knew what different TAB sounded like and if it was more or less correct.

I got the Jimi Hendrix Concerts TAB book once and I put on Are you experienced? Instantly I could see the TAB was not right and it was meant for that release of that name.

But my ears developed and my guitar skills too so by 2001 and the first kind of serious band we played covers by a Danish '70s band Gasolin'. We could get a best of chord book or I did but it was up to me to use my ears to get the main guitar points applied.

I can recall the band deciding to a ballad from the second album and so I had to learn my parts in it. Now guitar solo no problem! I always improvised in the same style it took.

But it started of with F sharp minor and E minor so during the first play to the music I was at the 2 fret. Small breaks at D and E for chords. That was mainly the verse and intro.

It just did not sound right! Hmm..... Move the F sharp and E minor 9 and 7 fret ad som Hendrix type fills (little wing style) and that was it.

The next rehearsel we pulled it of rather fast and even got it down later for a promo cd.