Ear Training Lessons that Work

Guitar Noises #11: July 23, 2021

Welcome to another edition of Guitar Noises, a newsletter about learning guitar online. For anyone just joining us, you can check out the archives for all the topics I’ve written about so far.

I started the guitar lesson site Guitar Noise more than twenty years ago. In the past year I’ve seen more changes (and challenges) in online teaching than the previous ten years put together. It’s an exciting time to be learning guitar with so many free and low-cost options. But with so many things to choose from how do you decide which lessons to go with?

What premium guitar lessons would you like to try?

This newsletter mostly focuses on free lessons, but I’m constantly checking out the growing market of pay sites. The last premium site review I did was for Country Guitar Online (TL;DR - it’s worth subscribing).

What are some premium guitar sites or products you’d like to know more about? (eg. The Beato Book, Tony’s Acoustic Challenge, JamPlay, TrueFire, Fender Play) Let me know in comments, or reply to this email. I might pick one of your suggestions and do a deep dive review.

What online lessons left you feeling cheated?

Have you spent money on guitar sites and learned so little that you wanted your money back? Share the site name privately with me, or in the comments. There are lots of “new” systems out there and I’ve already got my own list of folks to avoid. But I’d like to know about any time wasters or bad experiences you’ve had.

A lot of readers got a kick out of Radio Guitar One in the last newsletter. It’s an online radio network that broadcasts a variety of guitar music in different styles. It’s free, available twenty-four hours a day and you can find it here www.radioguitarone.com.

Now on to this week’s topic:

Ear Training Lessons that Work

One of the coolest guitar teachers on YouTube is Tomo Fujita. He cracks me up when he says things like “save your paper.”

Guitarists sure like printing stuff. If it’s not guitar tabs it’s scale charts. Who doesn’t like having a binder full of chords and lyrics to flip through?

Somewhere along the way, learning guitar turned into a visual process. The charts and diagrams are really hard to commit to memory and we rely a bit too much on the paper.

Here’s a friendly reminder: music is for your ears. It’s not a visual medium. Learning guitar is not like putting together a piece of IKEA furniture. You’re not supposed to be looking at the instructions over and over again. It’s your ears, not your eyes, that should be guiding you.

A lot of people will say “I’m a visual learner.” And that’s fine if you are.

If you’re a visual learner you might just have to work a little bit harder at doing things without visuals. I’m sorry not sorry if your math teacher told you to work smarter not harder and you never got over it. If something is difficult for you, you should be working at that more than the stuff that comes easily. Pushing through the hard stuff is how breakthroughs are made.

I used to think ear training was all about figuring out songs by ear. After getting some guitar wisdom I realized that ear training is so much more than that. Developing a better ear for music is just as important as learning to improvise. In fact, I believe ear training and improvisation are two of the most important things you should be working on everyday. It doesn’t matter your level, you should devote 5 to 10 minutes to both ear training and improvisation every time you practice.

Two Ways to Practice Ear Training

I’d like to share two free courses on ear training. You don’t have to pick one or the other. They’re both excellent, so it’s a good idea to use both.

The first way is still great for visual learners. The website Musical U has a free lesson called The Ultimate Guide to Interval Ear Training.  It’s quite long. It feels like reading through several chapters of a book. There are audio examples for you to practice hearing different intervals which is how you will begin to know what is going on on a song by listening. Whenever a major point is touched upon there is always a link to more lessons that elaborate on that part of the lesson.

There aren’t any diagrams to memorize. Just read, listen to the examples and keep your guitar nearby.

If you were to print out the The Ultimate Guide to Interval Ear Training it would run more than 30 pages. But because you’re learning to use your ears this is a good time to start saving your paper.

Next up is a series of video lessons by Justin Sanderce. Recently Justin Guitar was reorganized and this course now makes a lot more sense with the order of lessons simplified.

From Justin Guitar:

Ear Training makes you a better musician. Period. This class takes only 10 minutes per day, but it'll transform your playing and relationship with music. Unlock all your musicianship potential with fun and practical lessons. Learn to hear specific elements of a song, identify notes, chords, and much more!

If you’re not sure what ear training will mean to you, check out the intro section which features 3 different videos that will get you warmed up for ear training. If you’re game, there are 20 more videos that will run you through Justin’s own grade system for ear training.

There is no simple trick that will improve your musical mind and ears overnight. There is a fair bit of work to be done. Even for musicians that have played for a long time it is an ongoing process. If you’re into guitar for the long haul you should be working on ear training regularly. Over time it will make a difference that you notice.

One final thing

If you need more convincing of why looking at the dots is bad for your guitar playing check out this classic comedy sketch featuring Mark Knopfler, David Gilmour, Lemmy Kilmister and Gary Moore. I believe it’s from a show called French and Saunders, but I’ll need someone to fill me in on the show’s history. This has to be the most famous skit they did.

That’s all for now. Have a great time with your guitar today.