Playing guitar by ear is a common goal for guitarists when they start ear training.

You can train your ears to give you the skills needed to easily play songs by ear.

Exactly how you should train your ears for playing guitar by ear will depend on quite how you want to play. The ear training needed if you want to play pop and rock chords by ear will be different from the ear training suitable for a lead metal guitarist, for example.

Here are some starting points in learning to play guitar by ear using ear training exercises:

1. Develop your relative pitch

Relative pitch is your ability to recognise notes based on their relationship to other notes. Examples include:

  • Playing melodies by ear – by understanding the role of each note’s sound in the current key/scale
  • Playing chords by ear – by recognising the degree of each chord in the progression (e.g. I, IV, V chords)
  • Improvising, playing what you hear in your head on your guitar – by understanding the intervals between the notes you’re imagining

Clearly, relative pitch is an essential part of being able to play by ear. Whenever you need to choose which notes or chords to play, you are relying on your relative pitch.

You can develop your sense of relative pitch with dedicated ear training exercises. Begin with some pitch ear training to hone your sensitivity to how high or low notes are. Then start practising interval recognition, or using a system like solfege to understand scales by ear. Build on this with chord type and chord progression ear training.

All of these exercises will feed one another, as they all develop the same core sense of relative pitch, but each also helps you with dif