Learning Music, a Journey in Listening - The First Step

Learning music needn't be hard. It may sometimes appear that way but that's more to do with how it's presented than anything else. I'm proposing a series of blogs to help demystify the study of music using methods that I've found effective over many years. The learning can be summed up in two essential premises

Premise no 1 -  Words are only useful when they can describe what you are hearing.

All the blabbering on in the world won't make a scrap of difference if there's no actual music involved. Don't put the horse before the cart, you have to listen to musical sounds to have any idea of how they work. Learn to recognise the sounds you are making, then use words to describe what you're hearing, not the other way around.

Premise no 2 - Enjoy the journey, forget about the destination.

It's not complicated, in fact it's very simple, but it can take time and sometimes sticking with something over a long period of time can seem hard, or at least daunting. It really is however a case of enjoying the journey, if you can do that, and find a journey that is enjoyable you'll make real progress.

If you're looking for a quick fix then you'll ultimately be disappointed. You've seen the 'Play like a Rock god in 5 minutes' ads, they don't work. Of course they don't work. If you want a quick easy fix I'd suggest you look elsewhere, there are plenty willing to offer that.

To the task at hand

Get your guitar, let's say a three string tuned GDG.

  • Play the open string in the middle (D) and listen intently to it, close your eyes and focus on it.
  • Stop playing and in silence hear that note back in your head (this is the trick)
  • Sing it out loud
  • Do it again
  • and again
  • etc.

Once you've got that

  • Do the same thing with the note on the first fret of that same string,
  • and then the second.
  • Now go back to the open string again, play, listen, sing.
  • Do the same for the note on the second fret.

Keep playing, listening and singing these two notes until you can:

  • Play listen and sing D on the open string
  • Listen in your head for the E note on the 2nd fret, without playing it
  • Sing the E note
  • Play the E note to see how close you got. If you missed it play listen sing again.
  • Rinse and repeat.

Give yourself time to do this, it won't happen overnight but it will happen with a little practice every day.

They say that the longest journey begins with a single step. This is actually a mistranslation, old Lao Tzu is more accurately quoted as saying that the journey begins from where you are now. This is how learning works, take something that you can do and build on it. You then have a new thing you can do and you can keep building.

See you in a fortnight Grasshopper.

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Comment by The Phrygian Kid on April 23, 2015 at 5:00pm


so few of these blogs talk about incorporating your ears into the process..

i think the last one to do so was.. well one of mine.

bravo, guys you can only benefit from these exercises ******

Comment by Bad Finger (Eric) on April 22, 2015 at 7:48am

I have found great success in using this method myself, Patrick.  Chronic sinus congestion and seasonal allergies mess up my hearing pretty badly if I don't use some medication to reduce the symptoms so hearing pitches I sing compared to the instrument is sometimes difficult for me.  When I feel like something is not going well, I get out my chromatic tuner on my phone which has a real time trace of all 13 notes.  I train my ears by alternating between playing the note and singing the note while watching the trace so I know what the note sounds like and feels like.  It works well for me.

Comment by the anonymous pick on April 21, 2015 at 7:31pm


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