In this series of blogs I’m going to discuss what I believe should be the fundamentals for becoming a pro guitarist. These are in no particular order, they’re all mega important.
Relative pitch is defined in the dictionary as: The ability to recognize or produce a tone by mentally establishing a relationship between its pitch and that of a recently heard tone.
In terms that don’t feel so clinical: The ability to hear intervals. Do you know what a perfect 5th sounds like? Can you sing a major 3rd?
Interval recognition is one of the most overlooked skills in music. What is the point of learning scales and chords if you don’t know how to use them in a musical context? You can of course paint by numbers, meaning know what notes are in a chord or scale and just play one that matches. That technique keeps you safe, but it’s not always musical. It’s important to have that theoretical knowledge but you want to finish it off with your ear. The world doesn’t need more noodling guitarists. You know, the ones that keep fishing for notes and don’t come up for air. I believe as a pro guitarist it’s important to play what you hear. How can you play what you can’t hear?
Melody is the thru point in music. Ear training will not only allow you to play better but live the colors of a scale rather than peck at them.
Looking at this diagram:
C to D is a Major 2nd
C to E is a Major 3rd
C to F is a Perfect 4th
C to G is a Perfect 5th
C to A is a Major 6th
C to B is a Major 7th
C to C is a perfect Octave
First thing to do is spend some time in the Key of C getting used to each interval. Make yourself comfortable, it’s going to take you a while. Again, it’s not enough to know a Major 3rd exists but what color does it have?
Play a C note and then play an E note. Hear the distance between them? Play them at the same time. Hear the way they rub each other? It’s like musical porn, notes getting it on (Hey Now!!). Some intervals are dirtier then others and are exhibitionists. Others are more conservative and polite like your aunt.
Switching keys isn’t important here. Once you train your ear you’ll be able to hear intervals in any key. I recommend staying in the key of C.
I found a great app for the iphone for ear training called Relative Pitch (obvious name right). You can get the app and some other cool ear training apps here.
One amazing thing about having a great ear is you can write parts and figure out songs while you’re not at your instrument. You can also instantly get the ideas out of your head and to your instrument. Crazy town, right?
There is a very talented musician/artist named Jorscan. He wrote most of his first album without touching an instrument!! He has super Jedi skills!! He can hear what intervals a vocalist is singing and re –harmonize chords in real time. It’s quite a powerful skill.
I’ve been fortunate to work with some amazingly talented and established musicians in my career. Every one of them had a strongly developed ear and didn’t play from their fingers or hands but from their heart and mind.