Stuck in your soloing skills? Do you want to know how musicians are able to play something simply by hearing it for the first time? This post aims to cover all this by showing you my ear training ‘secrets’, the methods I’ve used to help me play something by ear. By doing so I hope to give you the keys to this immensely useful skill that could otherwise lay dormant in the depths of your potential.

Let’s dive in.

What’s Covered

This approach of ear training is the 1st of a 3 part magical series:

  1. Scale & Interval singing exercises 
  2. Lead Vocal melody singing, Note identification & Transcription
  3. Creating ideas, singing them & playing them on guitar

What we’re going to do in this post is practise singing the major scale, since it’s the most commonly used set of notes, and knowing it inside out will give us a foundation for identifying chords, riffs and harmonies in the music we love and want to play with.

In a nutshell, we’re learning the most commonly used patterns by ear, so we can play them back with the UTMOST ease, you scurvy pirate. Y’argh!

Here is the C Major Open Scale which we can use as a reference throughout this post:

From here on out we’re sailing on the instruction of how to sing the major scale. Cast away!

Part 1

The first part of our voyage is playing the root note, then moving a small distance away from it.

  1. Identify the C Note
  2. Sing it to yourself
  3. Add more notes from the Major Scale, singing in 3 – 4 note groupings
    1. Identify the notes you will add: Here, we’re looking at the C, D, E notes
    2. Sing these notes in a quarter note rhythm (4 notes per bar)
    3. Play the melody on guitar
    4. Sing the note names (“C”, “D”, “E”, “D”, “C”)

We’ve just sung an ascending melody: let’s try singing descending also. Remember to play it on the guitar then sing the note names also, otherwise you’ll be walking the plank!

Part 2

Now we’ve gone out from the bay, let’s venture a little further from the root:

  1. Try other note combinations and rhythms, starting on the C note, then moving to other notes.
  2. Use only quarter and eighth notes.
  3. Start on notes close to C, like A, then moving to other notes close to C
  4. Only use 2nd and 3rd intervals

Look at the download below for a list of exercises to try that use the above methods:

Why mix the intervals? Why not play only 2nds, then only 3rds?

Because music usually has a mix of intervals, and are not played on their own. 

Part 3

Now we’re in high seas! Let’s move even further away from the root, as well as starting on different notes:

  1. Then try starting on C and moving further away from the C note using the C Major scale
  2. Start on the chord tones of C Major: the C, E, and G notes. Then move to other notes around these chord tones
  3. Try similar interval patterns starting from one chord tone, then on another, then on another.
    1. E.g. 5th chord tone: G, A, G, F, G
    2. 3rd tone: E, F, E, D, E
    3. Root: C, D, C, B, C

Start ear training with small intervals at first, like 2nds and 3rds, with the occasional 5th. 

For practising interval shapes, see the diagrams below in Davie Jones Locker:

Major 2nd interval shapes:

Major 3rd interval shapes:

I hope this post was a blast for ye! If you’ve got any questions I’m more than happy to help you. Just leave a comment or get in touch with me on a social media channel.

Take care, fellow travellers!

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