Janus Buch
Janus Buch
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Why guitarist struggle with aural Part three

Why guitarist struggle with aural Part three

In the third part of this article series, we will take a closer look at some other important reasons why guitarists struggle this part of their overall musicianship. As discussed in part two, a lot of the reasons why guitarists struggle with aural skills stems from the guitar being constructed and played out the way it is. While this is true, the way we learn guitar and what we do (or don’t do) once we can play has a significant influence on why guitarists struggle with aural skills.

The way we learn guitar might be hurting us

When starting out on the guitar, most people will try to learn by themselves using either youtube-videos, tablature, or a combination of the two. This is not necessarily bad as youtube and tablature in particular has made playing the guitar accessible to lots and lots of people who might otherwise not be playing at all. But learning in this way can have some negative consequences for the player, that people may not be aware of.

Because tablature is such an intuitive system to learn, it does not force the playing to develop his/her overall musicianship along with their guitar playing abilities. By learning this way the guitar player often ends up relatively strong in some areas and very week in other areas of their musicianship with aural skills often being one of the latter. Tablature and youtube-videos is essentially a method of “put your finger here, play that string = produce this sound” and this is great for learning a particular song for example.

But it is a method of practicing musical dictation. Just like the regular “write out whatever I say”-method of normal dictation will not develop the writer's imagination or ability to write independently, musical dictation (learning through tablature or youtube-videos) will not develop the player's aural skills or overall musicianship - by themselves. This does not mean that tabulature can’t be useful, but it should not be your only way of learning to play.

Lack of playing with other musicians

In the age of the youtube rockstars, it’s normal for guitar players to spend almost all their time practicing/learning alone by themselves without being involved with any real-life playing. I have certainly been guilty of this myself, and this is not to imply, that it’s a sin playing over backing tracks, loops, or things like that. But as with tablature, a lot of players fall into the trap of ONLY doing this and you really should be using your instrument in other ways too.

If you are guilty of this as well, you need to get out there and play together with other real musicians. The benefits of doing so are countless and they include everything from improved overall musicianship to just feeling more inspired when practicing. But it will also do wonders for your aural skills.

Playing with other people simply forces you to use your ears in a way that playing over a backing track does not. Only listening to guitar will only train your ears in a certain mid ranged frequency. In order for you to fully develop a good overall musical ear, we have to train outside our comfort zone. Playing with live musicians will help you do this.

While this installment didn’t include actual exercises for you to do, the two things mentioned are major reasons why many people struggle with their aural skills. Part 4 will have some more exercises, but challenge yourself to learn something by ear every week and play with real musicians as much as you can and you will find that your ear will start to develop automatically.


About the author: Janus Buch is the headteacher at Bredballe Guitarskole where he has been offering Guitar Lessons in Vejle for the last couple of years, helping students progress fast and reach their guitar playing goals.

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