Ear Training

Ron Carpenter sent the following email in response to my last newsletter and it’s definitely worth passing along. Here it is.

Here’s an idea I got from the Jamie Aebersold jazz course. It helps get your ideas out and I have found it to work equally well on both necks. I have many times had a musical idea or phrase bouncing around in my head. I sit down to my guitar in search of this new line or lick, only to find in a few moments I have slipped right back into the comfort of what I already know. Aebersold’s idea goes like this:

Take a small recording device (tape or digital) and scat sing or hum along with the song your working on. Do it 2 or 3 takes. Then, sit down to the guitar, play back your scat, and find the notes you were humming or scatting. The idea is your vocal instrument is a lot closer to your brain than your hands and guitar, so the musical ideas you scat have more fidelity to the idea in your head..

I find this more difficult than covering a hit record. Most records I can find the pocket(s) the studio player used and the riffs are executed from those pockets. My scats aren’t on anyone’s record. There may be odd intervals, dissonance, or other musical concepts not often on commercial recordings. So, finding my notes, from my own voice recording is more challenging.

The benefit? I once played with a jazz quartet. We had worked up about 75-100 tunes out of various fake books. Over time my steel guitar parts were unique and different for each song. Like today’s music a lot of those old tunes followed the same progression so , it’s easy to play the same licks from one to another. But that steals from the performance. Each song should be itself, separate and unique from the others. Recording my own ideas, learning those ideas, and practicing them can make each song on your playlist attention grabbing and beautiful.

Best of all, it’s just an idea, doesn’t cost anything, and your spending time with steel guitar.

Ron Carpenter

Personally I keep a guitar setup near me in the room where I watch television. If I hear a tune on a commercial or during a television show or whatever, I’ll jump up and get behind my guitar and work out the melody before it leaves my mind.

Some of you may not have access to a guitar that readily. If that is the case, the idea Ron Carpenter had with the recording device is great to keep it until you get to your guitar. Many cell phones today record several seconds of audio or video. The recording doesn’t have to be of great quality, just clear enough to capture the sequence of notes you may want to hunt out on your instrument.

Another good exercise is to take a major triad, the 1, 3 and 5 notes of a major chord, hum them to yourself with 1, 3, 5, then back down 5, 3, 1. Now change the inversion. Hum 3, 1, 5 to yourself, then hum 5, 3, 1 to yourself. You can also do this with minor, diminished and augmented chords. You can hum a dominant 7th or a major 7th chord.

Just remember to change the inversions and practice all the inversions. This is really great for training your ears. Another good way to exercise your ears is to pick out any simple melody of a tune you’re familiar with, then try to hum the scale tones in your mind and figure out the scale tones to the melody.

For example, Mary Had A Little Lamb would be 3 2 1 2 3 3 3 2 2 2 3 5 5 – 3 2 1 2 3 3 3 2 2 3 2 1. Remember to sing out the numbers and not the lyrics. This will get the numbers in your head. Master this and you’ll be able to play any tune in any key.

You’ll find this to be really difficult at first but you’ll find like anything else, the more you do it, the better you’ll get at it. Obviously, once you get to where you can do this with some sort of ease, you’ll also find yourself finding melodies and such on your guitar easier without having to hunt for them. This is a skill that will serve you well for as long as you play music.

We get a lot of emails from all over the world asking us if we know of teachers in their area. We have several listed on our website but we need more. No matter where you live, if you teach steel guitar or are willing to, please let us know and we will add you to our list. There are people who want to learn and have no one to teach them. Pass your skills along and keep the steel guitar community thriving.

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