Ear Training With Steve Vai – Part 1 – Singing is Believing

A valuable method of training your ear is to practice singing the notes that you play on the guitar. I’d like to offer you some specific advice on how to go about doing this on your own.

A good way to start this training method is to stay within one scale and key and make sure that you can follow with your voice any melodies or licks that you play. Obviously, you can only sing one note at a time, so you’ll probably want to stick with playing single notes, at least for now, so you can zero in on specific pitches. Let’s say you’re using the A-minor pentatonic scale, illustrated in FIGURE 1A, as your starting point.

Figure 1
Listen Figure 1A

FIGURE 1B is an example of a line to play and sing simultaneously. This drill can be challenging, but it’s ultimately rewarding.

Figure 1B
Listen Figure 1B

The next level of this exercise is to venture outside the fixed structure of one scale and add chromatic passing” tones — the notes that fall between the scale degrees — to the lines you’re trying to sing and play. FIGURE 1C is an example of how you might go about doing this within the A-minor-pentatonic pattern we just looked at. Venturing away from the fixed structure of the diatonic key presents a great challenge to your ears and will strengthen your “pitch-recognition muscles” immensely. If you practice this drill every day, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how quickly your ears will “grow.”

Figure 1C
Listen Figure 1C

An essential element in ear training is the thorough understanding of intervals. An interval is the distance or gap between two notes: if you start on an A note and go up two frets to B, the intervallic distance between the two notes is a major second. If you were to go up four frets from A to C#, the interval between these two notes would be a major third.

FIGURE 2A depicts the A-major scale and indicates the intervallic relationships between the tonic (root note) and all the other notes in the scale.

Figure 2A
Listen Figure 2A

FIGURE 2B shows the chromatic scale, starting on A and covering an octave and a half, with the intervals indicated. I highly recommend memorizing all of these intervallic relationships; a good way to do this is to recite each interval name while playing the notes of the scale.

Figure 2B
Listen Figure 2B

There are many different exercises one can do to strengthen interval recognition. Here’s one that I like: get a tape recorder and record yourself playing pairs of notes, using root notes combined with either major or minor thirds, as illustrated in FIGURE 3A.

Figure 3
Listen Figure 3A

Play random pairs of major or minor thirds all over the guitar neck and, after each pair is played, wait a moment and then say either “major” or “minor” to identify the interval. After filling up a 60-minute tape with this random stuff, listen back and try to identify the intervallic relationship by saying major” or “minor” before your voice on the tape provides the answer. The purpose of this exercise is to train yourself to quickly identify major and minor intervals in all keys, anywhere on the guitar.

The next step is to proceed to other intervals, such as fourths and augmented fourths, which are one half step (one fret) higher than fourths. FIGURE 3B shows random pairs of fourths and augmented fourths; again, fill a 60-minute tape with pairs of notes, then go back and try to identify the intervallic relationships.

Figure 3B
Listen Figure 3B

Another idea is to make a tape of fourths combined with major and minor thirds, or fourths and augmented fourths combined with major and minor thirds. Then, continue this approach using all of the intervals in different combinations.

Another good exercise is to play every type of interval against a fixed root note. For example, if you choose the key of B, begin by playing a low B, and then play a variety of higher notes against this low B. After the higher note is played, identify on the tape what the interval is, and then move on to another interval. This type of exercise is illustrated in FIGURE 4.

Figure 4
Listen Figure 4

By the time you’ve gotten this drill down cold — to the point where you consistently attain a near-perfect score — you will have established a firm grasp of intervals. You may have to make three or four 60-minute tapes, each in a different key, but, in time, you’ll end up knowing this stuff inside out. The study of intervals is something that many musicians work on their entire lives.

I’ll be back next Lesson with some more ear training advice.

About Nick Mitchell

Nick Mitchell is a talented guitar shredder and a skilled writer who has been providing valuable insights and tips to guitar enthusiasts for many years. He is the lead writer and editor of https://guitars-lesson.com/, a website dedicated to providing guitar enthusiasts with expert tips, lessons, and reviews. Nick has been playing guitar for over a decade, and has honed his skills through years of practice and dedication. He is well-versed in various genres and styles of music, and is particularly passionate about rock and metal. He has a deep understanding of the technical aspects of guitar playing, and is able to convey this knowledge in a clear and easy-to-understand manner. In addition to his skills as a guitar player, Nick is also an experienced writer. He is able to take complex concepts and make them accessible to readers of all skill levels. He has a natural talent for explaining difficult concepts in a way that is easy to understand, making him an ideal teacher for guitar enthusiasts of all levels. Nick's articles on https://guitars-lesson.com/ are always well-researched and informative, and cover a wide range of topics, from the basics of guitar playing to advanced techniques and gear reviews. He has a keen eye for detail and is always looking for ways to improve his own playing and the content of the website.

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