A long time ago, when I started playing guitar, we didn't have much sound equipment at home. My dad took our heavy old Magnavox hi-fi to an electronics shop and had it converted to play as a loudspeaker for the Yamaha box guitar we had mounted with a portable DeArmond pickup. The net result was an amp'd acoustic and that was about it. There was no stereo in the room, and cheap boom boxes weren't on the market yet.
My parents paid for me to take guitar lessons from 5th through 12th grade, studying jazz and popular music. It was all formal training, reading music, and working from one song to the next, with increasing difficulty over the years.
It wasn't until I went off to college that there was a stereo in the same room where I practiced. My roommate had the stereo and this would be the first time I ever played along with records. It changed everything. After 8 years of playing, it would be the first time I ever tried playing by ear.
At the beginning, it felt like I didn't know how to play. What note should follow what? All those years of practicing wasted, and I'm feeling like a total beginner again! Talk about frustrating! But then, after about a month of practice, it started coming together, and a whole new world was opening up for me.
Lots of formally trained musicians never learn to play by ear. They can be masterful classical performers, but have no trained ear for improvising. It's sort of a left brain/right brain sort of thing. Ear playing is all intuition and feel.
When you play by ear, you start instinctively recognizing various chord patterns and style. Good ear players can play most popular music on a "casual" (sitting in) basis, without rehearsals, fitting in with other players on their first set.
Which gets to the point of this post. Our son Matt has had formal music training since first grade on piano and trombone. However, his growing passion is the guitar. And he can't read a lick of music on one. For guitar, he is a pure ear player. Ask him what chord he's playing, and half the time he has no idea. But it's the right one.
He's been playing guitar for a few years now, and recently, his improvement has been incredible. Almost on a daily basis he is playing some new classic hit song. I'm asking myself, where is he getting all this material? Now I know.
He's getting free lessons from the all-time greats right off the internet. You can too. All courtesy of Youtube. Check it out. It's all out there.
Wanna learn from John and Paul? Click here.
Velvet Revolver and Slash more your style? Then try this.