The Art of Playing Guitar by Ear: A Journey of Sensory Substitution
Playing the guitar is as much a physical experience as it is a cerebral one. For some, the tactile sense is heightened, while for others, the auditory sense reigns supreme. As a blind guitarist with 18 years of experience, I have journeyed through the complexities of learning to play the guitar by ear, turning the sensory ‘disadvantage’ into a profound strength. This blog post is dedicated to sharing my experience with you, providing insights into how to play guitar by ear through a process of experimentation, muscle memory, and pattern recognition.
The Power of Experimentation
Learning to play guitar by ear begins with an open mind and an adventurous spirit. The process is akin to a child exploring a new toy, driven by curiosity and a sense of wonder. This is the essence of experimentation. By plucking each string, exploring different frets, and manipulating the strings in various ways, you begin to map out the sounds of your guitar.
Start with simple tunes that you are familiar with. Attempt to play them on your guitar, even if it sounds off-key initially. You may not hit the correct notes right away, but through experimentation and active listening, you will gradually be able to discern pitch variations, tune your guitar correctly, and eventually play melodies by ear.
Building Muscle Memory
Just as a dancer memorizes choreography, a guitarist must remember finger placements, chords, and patterns on the fretboard. This is where muscle memory plays a critical role. Muscle memory is the phenomenon by which our muscles adapt to repeated motions and can perform them fluidly without conscious thought.
The process of building muscle memory can be slow, but it is essential. Practice chord shapes and scales regularly, even if you can’t hear the music yet. Your fingers will learn the precise movements required to produce each note, chord, and scale. It’s akin to learning a new language – at first, it seems alien, but with repetition, it becomes second nature.
Pattern Recognition and Memorization
The language of music is full of patterns, and recognizing these patterns is crucial in learning to play guitar by ear. Chord progressions, scale patterns, and rhythm patterns form the backbone of most songs. By memorizing these patterns and understanding their relationships, you can predict what comes next in a song or piece of music.
Start by memorizing common chord progressions and scale patterns. Play them repeatedly until your fingers can find the right places on the fretboard without conscious thought. Then, try to identify these patterns in the music you listen to. It’s like solving a puzzle – each piece you identify helps you understand the whole picture better.
Playing the guitar by ear is a deeply personal and rewarding journey. It is not an overnight process, but rather a voyage of discovery that unfolds over time. Embrace the journey with patience, perseverance, and a love for music. The process of experimentation, building muscle memory, and recognizing patterns are the foundational pillars of this journey.
Remember, learning to play guitar by ear is not about the destination, but the journey itself. Every chord you master, every scale you memorize,
every song you play by ear is a testament to your progress. And most importantly, it’s a celebration of your unique approach to making music – a melody that speaks the language of your soul.
Music Recommendations to Start With
Here are some classic songs to start your journey. Try to pick out the chord progressions and rhythm patterns:
- Metallica – Sad But True
- Ted Nugent – Cat Scratch Fever
- Rob Zombie – Living Dead Girl
- Godsmack – Awake
- Five Finger Death Punch – The Bleeding
Resources for Learning Guitar by Ear
There are many resources available to help you on this journey. Here are a few that I’ve found helpful:
- JustinGuitar: A comprehensive site with free guitar lessons for all levels, including lessons on ear training.
- MusicTheory.net: This site offers lessons on music theory, which can be very helpful in understanding patterns in music.
- FretJam: This site focuses on guitar theory and technique, and includes lessons on ear training for guitarists.