I have been really caught up the Cancer Council's Relay For Life this past week - hosting the 'Guitar Heroes Pavilion' at the event in my local area so I haven't had a chance to get behind the video camera and do anything there. The Cancer Council - for those of you who don't know, host an event every year to raise money for cancer research. It runs for 24 hours, and teams of people are sponsored to do laps. One of my mates did the whole 24 hours by himself a few years ago - last night he only did a measly 10 hours of walking!
So I have only had time to write down these thoughts this week - but I think they are quite valuable for us all.
One aspect of musicianship that is often overlooked amongst guitarists is the fundamental activity of enjoying and playing music. And it isn’t wearing a dog collar and leather pants, picking up chicks or stage-diving from great heights.
It is developing the art of listening.
You may now be thinking ‘Oh of course I hear music!’ But it is a deeper level of hearing ability that I am referring to. The ability to hear the relationship between two chords, or two notes; how a note sounds against a chord, or being able to play a melody back by ear after hearing it.
I have known two people who possessed highly refined listening skills. One was my grandfather, who was an amazing pianist and would sit and improvise with Sinatra and Tony Bennett albums with consummate ease, and then play Stravinsky’s works back from memory with the same air of confidence. The other was a gentleman named Geoff Chapman, who I had the good fortune of having lessons from in high school.
Geoff is blind, and has never seen anything in this life. When I first met him, other people told me he would click his fingers and hear the reflections of sound back from the walls and spaces and know how to get around that way. At first I dismissed it as rubbish, but it is true. He used to carry a stick in public so other people would know he was blind, but he really didn’t need it.
Geoff would listen to pretty much any piece of music once, and then name the notes back after he heard them.
I was intimidated by Geoff in this regard. He would ‘hear’ what fingers I was using to form a chord and suggest I change it to help with tuning. I used to feel foolish trying to improvise in front of him - with a master’s perception of sound - and not know what chord I was playing on, or what notes I was hitting.
There are a number of things that determine the type of player we will become, and developing good listening habits will greatly influence where we end up.
If you have never done anything like this before, start by picking out a simple melody.
‘Happy Birthday’ is a great place to start. How many times have we heard or sung that tune? Nursery rhymes, national anthems, or very melodic pop songwriters are a great place to fund tunes to work out by ear. Paul McCartney has a wealth of songs to dive into. Neil Finn is another very melodic songwriter who would be worth looking at.
Or you could play a chord and sing one of it’s notes against it. Pick any two notes, play them one after the other, and then try and sing them without the guitar as a reference.
And start to work out chord progressions. Learn to identify common patterns by ear. Look for other songs that use the same pattern, and that way you will have something else to reference back to.
Certain chords can be associated with a song, and that can help you identify the chord elsewhere. A 7sus4 chord is the opening to A Hard Day’s Night, a 7#9 chord is found in Purple Haze and Foxy Lady; and James Taylor has built a career out of sus2 and sus4 chords (especially A and D with a capo).
Finally , use your ear to scat sing solos over chord progressions. Don’t even hold the guitar as you do so. if you must rely solely on your voice, you can’t fall into any familiar patterns. And if you find yourself singing something you really like, work it out on the guitar!
Melodic Soloing Part 2 - The Importance of Listening
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