This is Part 2 of the response to this question, in which we will be focusing on how to develop your ear. If you would like to read Part 1, where I focused on improvising with faster lines and talked about fretboard knowledge, you can check it out here – http://www.juandhas.com/2014/lines-ear-time-feel-part-1-fast-lines-improv-fretboard-knowledge/
With that all said and done, let’s get started!!
Your ear is one of the most important facets of your musicianship. In fact, I would probably go so far as to say that it is the most important part of your musical knowledge. Therefore, this means we should probably be working on it whenever we can, yet, often times it can still be neglected.
One of the most straight-forward methods of improving your ear is transcription. By learning pieces by ear, you not only improve it, but you also can learn vocabulary or new ideas from musicians you look up to. Do learn from those you look up to/enjoy, it’ll make the experience more interesting and prevent it from getting tedious. For lesser-experienced transcribers, I would recommend slowing down whatever it is you are transcribing and working from there (if you desire a challenge, feel free to do so at regular tempo). This allows you to hear the details and focus more easily. Through transcription, your ear develops in a manner that can be immediately applied to real situations and allow you to interact with the musicians around you.
Speaking of interactions, let it be noted that the more you play with other musicians, your ear will also improve naturally (provided you’re listening to the environment around you.) Look out for little ideas that you can use in your own soloing/comping, whether they be rhythmic, harmonic or melodic.
Another point, I’d like to mention is building your relative pitch. The fundamentals of your ear revolve around how well you can hear intervals, scales and chords, as well as different tonalities. I.e. if you hear a minor chord, you should know what that sounds like as opposed to a major chord (or any other chord, for that matter). The better your knowledge of these fundamentals, the more skilled you will become at using your ear. That said, this beckons the question…how do we practice this?
For starters, singing what you play can show marked improvement in your ear training abilities. You can sing the scales you learn, or vocabulary you’re working, on to further solidify the idea in your mind, thus, having the sound readily available should you want to recall it immediately. I actually suggest that when it comes to learning scales, that you play them in different intervals (E.g. play G Lydian in 3rds) to not only immerse yourself in the tonality, but the intervals themselves. One can also play scales from the lowest point of the guitar to the highest, without any set fingerings. This way, you are playing these scales purely by sound and sound alone.
If you can, get a hold of the Berklee Ear Training books (there are probably others of a similar nature, but these are the only ones that I am familiar with). Learning the solfege system, as well as how to apply it, will further solidify the intervals and tonalities in your ear and provide a useful skill to work with. When working with these though, I suggest only using your instrument as a tool and not a crutch. Focus on using your ear to sing the melodies and don’t use your instrument aside from getting the starting note/tonality and double-checking yourself. You can probably also try this with tunes from a Real Book or any music you have readily available.
I hope that this helps provide a little guidance in what can be considered a very vast topic. Should you have any questions, requests or want any guidance, please do feel free to get in touch via my Facebook page, Twitter or even through the contact section of my website. Stay tuned for Part 3: where I will wrap up this brief series with a discussion on Time Feel!
– Juan Dhas