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Play Guitar By Ear - Music Theory
Traditional guitar lessons and method books are usually based on
classical theory principles, unfortunately classical theory and
ear training falls short of
the mark for the modern guitarist who wants to
play guitar by ear.
A great acronym for the guitarist who wants to play by ear is
L. U. C. K
L = labor
U = under
C = correct
K = knowledge
with the emphasis on "correct" knowledge, here is an example of
what I mean "correct" knowledge or should I say appropriate
Classical theory clearly states "you cannot have parallel fifths
in your music writing", considering 'power chords' consist of the
root note and it's fifth this would mean well over 60% of modern
compositions such as "Layla" by Eric Clapton, "Won't Back Down"
by Tom Petty etc could not exist, simply because the opening
chords are power chords (firths) moving to other power chords in
a parallel sequence.
We have already discussed two learning hazards for the guitarist
who wants to play by ear (a) printed sheet music - in a different
key than the recorded version (b) TAB - being at the mercy of the
ability of the person who contributed the song.
It's now time to add another learning hazard - music theory! Now,
I'm a big fan of music theory "as long as it serves you well!"
Music theory is in a constant state of flux, as it needs to be to
be able to describe the sounds that are developing as music
continues to develop and reflect today's society and the human
intellect's constant need to hear more and more complex
Make certain your theory or music studies relate to the music you
want to play otherwise it's a waste of time and money and will
leave you more confused than when you started.
In summary, classical theory is appropriate when applied to
classical music but does not convert well when trying to explain
or communicate modern music. It's like "trying to play tennis
with a cricket bat", you simply have the wrong tool for the job.
By the way, when I'm talking about 'modern music', I'm referring
to music after the 1930's.
What type of theory should you study when learning to play the
guitar by ear?
If you a learning to play classical guitar by ear, study
classical theory, if it's not classical guitar you want to play
by ear, study 'Jazz theory' for music written from 1930 onwards.
Don't be put off by the term 'jazz' ... blues, rock, fusion, jazz
and country music etc., can all be explained under the umbrella
of 'jazz' theory.
Okay, that seems pretty straight forward, classical theory for
classical music, jazz theory for everything else!
I wish it was that simple, remember our acronym? Labor, Under,
By now you should be seeing a common theme - 'quality of
information', is the name of the game ... dedication alone just won't cut it!
Since we now live in the information age, information itself is
no longer the issue, the key is the 'quality' of the information.
The ability to focus on only quality information that is
relevant to the music you intend to play will put you on the fast
track to playing the guitar by ear.
How to Play Guitar
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Stephen J Reid
Guitarist & Musician
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