Playing music by ear and its profound effects on the brain
By Alex Boivin, guest writer, The Rock and Pop Music Academy of Boulder
In todays guitar lesson we’ll talk about strategies to learn music by ear, and how to gain some music theory insights from doing so.
When you play and listen to music you are using your brain in a powerful way. Playing your instrument sets off a series of cognitive fireworks in your brain. In doing so you are engaging almost all areas of your brain. Learning your favorite songs by ear will make you an even stronger musician. When combined with music theory this allows you to have a better understanding of how to compose music.
Musicians often get stuck in the middle of writing a song. Having a vast resource of chord progressions allows you to make good decisions on where to go next. Sometimes the melody or chord progression comes first or vice versa.
To help strengthen the ear here are some basic tips to start with.
- Listen to both Major and Minor chords.
- Listen to intervals. There are some very convenient music apps and tools on smart phones and the internet. This can make ear training a lot more fun and effective. Apps such as “EarBeater” and “The ChordSounder” on SongMaven.com
- Sit down with a guitar and figure out a simple melody. This could be something as easy as “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” or “Seven Nation Army” by the White Stripes.
- Figure out the chord progression by ear: (if you are having a hard time locating the exact chords on the guitar then just try to find the root note of each chord).
- Pick out the melody: Even if you’re a guitarist that doesn’t sing you can still play the melody out on the guitar.
- Figure out an easy riff to one of your favorite songs even if it’s just part of it.
Just add theory
Now that you have some tools to get your ear better you should combine it with some basic music theory. Have you ever wondered why the same chord progression is used in thousands of songs? It’s no coincidence. It’s not anything that advanced music theory would need to explain. It’s simply because it sounds good!
Understanding the basic way chord progressions work through music theory however will demystify a lot of the things you are hearing and playing. This will give many concepts and ideas to feel inspired to write your own music.
There is no doubt that playing an instrument can change the brain function and structure for the better. When playing a musical instrument you are engaging every area of the brain at once, especially the areas of the brain that deal with the auditory, visual and motor functions. Just like working out your muscles disciplined/structured practice strengthens those brain functions allowing us to apply that to all areas in life.
Playing the guitar should be fun and can be one of the most rewarding things in life. Not only is it fun to play music you enjoy, but there is something very special when you hear an audience applaud after giving a performance that you worked so very hard for.