Diary of a Bad Guitar Player: Helpless at Ear Training

With the #Guitar30Challenge behind me, I am trying to keep things rolling, playing every day for a least 30 minutes and focusing now more on building up a repertoire of songs in fingerstyle. This week I was working on The Beatles’ In My Life (arrangement by Fred Sokolow) and Neil Young’s Helpless (from Fingerpicking Neill Young’s Greatest Hits). These are fairly simple songs for fingerstyle guitar and the chief challenge for me lies in getting the separation of parts down so that the melody really pops and flows smoothly while the other parts provide harmony and pulse in the background. You can hear my work in progress on Helpless here-

The other thing that I am turning my attention to now is ear training. My ear for harmony and pitch is by far my biggest weakness as a musician. I have never learned anything by ear and I even struggle picking up basic chord changes by ear alone. This is one the biggest shames I have in my playing and something that early on in my guitar-playing life convinced me that I was never going to play at a high level. I was convinced that “a good ear” was a talent that I simply lacked and if anything I could only make modest improvements on this front. I realize now though that this was bullshit. It was a cop out. I could see this clearly during my work on scales over the last month. My ear improved as I played new sounds. I would start not hearing much other than strange sounds and then I would begin to understand them, begin to hear where they belonged in context. My improvisations may not have been great, but they weren’t tone-deaf ramblings through the scales either, they had context and a feel for the sounds.

My ear sucks because I am lazy. Pure and simple. I didn’t want to take the time doing incredibly dull shit and being laughably bad and that is what I need to do at it to actually improve my ear. So no more. Painfully boring exercises, here I come. Humiliating attempts at singing intervals, slow crawling repetitions of scale tones, failed tests to name intervals, I am here for them. No more excuses. No more sucking.

I am using two free apps for assistance in this torture. The Complete Ear Trainer app and the Perfect Ear app. Both are Name-the-interval games and both are the ego equivalent to getting a football in the nuts. So far my experience with them is good, if you consider popping them open and enduring humiliating defeat after humiliating defeat as “good.” Apart from these apps, I am using my guitar and keyboard to play notes and trying to match them with my voice to learn the sounds. I am open to suggestions here, so if anyone has any helpful advice or less embarrassing strategies for ear training, please leave it a note in the comments section.


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