Here’s the scene: It’s summertime in Baltimore and the living is relatively easy. A future rock star sits at his record player (or cassette machine) as Mom goes off to work in the morning. Mom returns in the late afternoon and the young rock and roller is still there, learning songs and solos by ear with varying levels of success. Put the needle back and try again. Hit rewind and try again. Trial and error.
Back in the days before the Interwebz – aka, The Stone Age…you know, the 70s and 80s – we learned most of our music by ear. Sure, there was “sheet music”, but this was often written for keyboard players and singers. If you were a budding rock guitarist, you had to learn most stuff by ear, or from the guy down the block. He learned it by ear also, or from the other guy down the block from him. You get the picture.
Nowadays, there is a proliferation of information at our fingertips. Any guitarist looking for TABs can find plenty of high quality ones for sale in books and magazines as well as tons of mixed-quality TABs – mostly of the very low variety – for free online. The musical casualty of this Information Age – besides the neighborhood record store – is the time-honored art of learning music by ear.
This is a shame, because nothing quite empowers you on your instrument as the ability to decipher a tune, chords, or a riff by ear and then play along with it. And my students who have done this can testify to its power. Transcribing songs by ear is, at minimum, a fun challenge, and for some students, an addiction! (more…)