Can You Learn Guitar by Ear? (Explained)

learn guitar by ear

If you are just starting to learn guitar, or you have been learning for a little while you may be wondering if it is possible to learn guitar by ear. Well, it is, and for many years, that is how guitar players learned.

In this guide, we will go over some of the most common questions about learning guitar by ear. How to do it, how long it takes, and what takes to do it.

Can you really learn guitar by ear?

Yes, it is possible to learn guitar by ear. In fact, for many years that is how guitar players used to learn. Listening to records, and learning by playing songs. This is done by hearing skills to listen carefully to the notes being played and then attempting to replicate them on your own instrument.

However, not everyone can learn guitar by ear. The reason is that it can be extremely frustrating in the beginning. You don’t if someone is playing a chord or a melody. You also do not know if what you are playing is actually right or not.

Perhaps there are even 2 guitars playing on the song, and it will be easy to feel discouraged.

You also don’t know exactly how complex a certain song is, and in order to learn guitar by ear, you need to choose simple songs at first. 

Some guitarists can teach themselves how to play if they are dedicated and motivated enough. Your hearing and musical ability will also play a big part in learning guitar by ear.

Ultimately, it depends on the individual and their ability to learn by ear. Some people find it easier than others, but with enough practice, anyone can develop this skill.

It takes a lot of practice and patience, but it is definitely possible to do. In fact, as you progress it will be easier to learn new songs, and you will develop your musical hearing. 

Although we do not advise you to only learn by ear, it can be very good for you to practice it even if you are having classes, or you are learning with videos on Youtube.

How learning guitar by ear works

When learning guitar by ear, the student listens to a song and tries to play it. By listening attentively to the notes being played, and trying to replicate them as close as possible.

They may not know the notes that are being played, but they can figure out the melody and chords by ear. 

It becomes easier to pick up songs and learn guitar by ear if you know how to build chords.

Essentially, you are training your ear, to identify musical pitches and intervals. When you’re learning guitar by ear, you first need to develop a good ear for hearing individual pitches. 

You can do this by singing along with a variety of songs, both melodies, and chords. Once you understand that whatever notes you sing, you can play on the guitar it will be a lot easier to learn new songs.

This will allow you to figure out chord progressions and melodies by ear.

How do people learn guitar by ear?

Guitar players learn guitar by ear, by following these steps:

  • Pick an easy song, preferably one you already know
  • Listen to the song a few times
  • Try to count how many different chords you hear
  • Try to replicate the same chords and progressions
  • Write down the chord shapes as you identify each chord
  • Listen attentively to the melody
  • Try to understand how many notes are played and what is the interval between them
  • Try to play the melody and incorporate it with the chords you already know

If you keep practicing your musical hearing ability you will become a better musician. It will allow you to pick up chords, and melodies, and even know in which key songs are being played.

Even if you do not know which key it is, you know the sound. That is what is important.

How to learn chords by ear

The best way to learn chords by ear is to first identify whether it is a major or minor.

Major chords will often sound happy, and minor chords sound somewhat sad. Once you identified if it is a major or minor chord, the next step is to listen to a song and identify the chords that are being played.

You can start trying to play several chords while you hear the music, and you will easily notice when you play the right chord.

How to learn melody on guitar by ear

There are a few different ways to learn melody on guitar. One way is to find sheet music for the melody you want to learn and use that as a guide. Don’t worry if you do not know how to read music, it is not a requirement.

Try to isolate the melody line from the chord changes. Once you have isolated the melody, practice singing it. You should be able to sing over the song, and it should sound perfect.

Once you know that, try to sing the same melody line, and try playing notes on the guitar to find the right note that matches the melody.

As you practice this you will start to notice the note intervals quicker, and you will pick up any melody or solo very fast.

How long does it take to learn guitar by ear?

You can expect to learn guitar by ear in about 6 months to a year. Depending on your individual ability and dedication to learning the instrument. Some of us are born with more inclination to music, and with a better hearing sense, but it is also a matter of how much you practice.

Learning guitar by ear can take a lot of time and dedication in the beginning, because you do not know exactly what you are doing. However, as your playing and hearing ability gets better, you start picking up simple songs in a matter of minutes.

It is also important that you take the time to select the right songs to learn by ear. You want to make sure you start with fairly easy songs and increase the difficulty as you move along.

Can you play music by ear?

Yes, you can play music by ear if you develop your hearing ability. This skill can be developed through practice and ear training. Playing music by ear often requires a deeper understanding of music theory, as well as the ability to listen critically and identify intervals, chords, and chord progressions. 

Some musicians are able to play by ear from very early on, while others may need more time to develop this skill.

Although playing music by ear is not limited to any particular style of music, it is often used in jazz and blues improvisation. It is an important learning step for improvisers and solo guitar players.

How hard is it to play guitar by ear?

Playing guitar by ear can be extremely difficult in the beginning. It can even take one to two months until you start picking up a complex song.  Because it requires the ability to accurately perceive and reproduce musical sounds without the use of sheet music or tablature. 

As you practice hearing training over and over again you will notice that it is easy to identify chords and melodies and learn new songs by ear. 

How do I learn to play a song on guitar by ear?

One way to learn how to play a song on guitar by ear is to first listen to the song and identify the melody. Once you have identified the melody, you can then begin to sing or hum to it.

You want to make sure you are singing or humming the same notes in the melody. Then you need to look for those notes on your guitar fretboard. When you hit the right note, try to find the other notes, and remember to use the same rhythm as you heard. 

To learn the chords you need to identify if it is a major or minor chord and move on from there.

How do you memorize music notes by ear?

There are various ways that one can learn to memorize music notes by ear. It involves understanding the intervals between notes and associating them with specific pitches. 

Once you have learned the intervals, you can then begin to associate each note with a particular pitch, which will allow you to memorize melodies and songs by ear.

One approach is to break the music down into smaller parts, such as measures or phrases. You can then work on learning each individual part until you have it memorized. 

Another approach is to listen to the music over and over again until the notes become embedded in your memory. You can also practice singing or humming the notes, or clapping the rhythms.

Is playing by ear genetic?

Recent studies have shown that there is a genetic component related to our musical hearing ability. Although genetics might play a role in determining your predisposition to music, and your musical hearing ability, they should not determine whether you can play an instrument by ear.

Almost anything can be learned if you are willing to practice and dedicate yourself to the fullest.

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