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How To Use Your Ears To Identify And Fix Your Guitar Playing Mistakes

Mike PhilippovI would bet that you take your ability to hear and listen to your guitar playing for granted. It probably seems silly to think that anyone can possibly not know how to listen to their own playing. However, in reality most guitarists practice as if their ears have plugs in them and do not know how to identify the causes of their guitar playing mistakes. The consequence of this is slow or nonexistent progress and A LOT of frustration!

Why Does This Matter For Your Guitar Playing?
If you don’t know how to identify the causes of your guitar playing problems, your skills will never get better. Your ears are the main tool that helps you understand what the challenge is so you can begin to correct it. You must either rely on your own listening skills or have someone else more experienced evaluate your guitar playing to tell you what you must practice next to improve your musicianship.

Time To Get Your Ears Tested
For the rest of this article I will conduct with you a special test that will help you understand just how good (or not good) your ears are at spotting problems in your guitar playing. Your objective is to answer with a firm yes to each point I will ask about. If you answer with anything other than a firm yes, your listening skills are poor in the area being tested and need to be improved.

Can You Detect Your Guitar Technique Mistakes By Listening?

  • When you make lots of mistakes in the exercises you are playing, can your ears tell you EXACTLY which pitches are not being played cleanly?
  • When you start making mistakes during faster playing, are you able to pinpoint whether this happens because of sloppy synchronization, lack of articulation with the pick, notes ringing together, noise from strings that aren’t being played or some combination of these problems?
  • If your synchronization falls apart between the picking and fretting hands, can your ears tell you exactly on what note the problem begins?

Unless you have answered positively (with a “yes”) to each point above, your ability to listen to your own guitar playing needs additional work.

How To Overcome Problems In This Area Of Guitar Playing
The first thing to do to make it easier for your ears to notice mistakes (and their causes) is to play slower. As another strategy, it will help to overemphasize the original challenge by making the music more difficult to play. This will make it easier for your ears to pinpoint the problem in your technique without having to play slower. Watch this guitar practice method video to see an illustration of this approach.

Can Your Ears Detect Your Flaws In Playing Vibrato?

  • Can you tell (from listening only) the difference between vibrato done in quarter notes, sixteenth notes, triplets and eighth notes?
  • Can you tell from listening if the pulses of your vibrato are locking in with the rhythm of the song you are playing?
  • Can your ears tell you if your vibrato is perfectly in tune during your playing?

If you failed at least one of these questions, you have some work to do to make your vibrato better. Watch the video below that will show you how to test your progress with practicing vibrato and you will see how your ears play a crucial role in improving this area of your musicianship:
Can Your Ears Detect Your Flaws In Improvising?

  • While soloing, can your ears tell you if the pitches you are playing actually fit the chord you are soloing over?
  • While soloing, can your ears tell you if the phrases you are playing actually connect seamlessly with the phrases that came before?

If you answered No to either question above, here is what to do next:

To free up your ability to perceive all nuances of your improvising (while playing), you must become fluent with skills such as fretboard visualization and knowledge of scales and chords in the keys you are soloing in. This will enable your ears to perceive all the nuances of your improvising in real time and become aware of any flaws that need to be fixed. Learn more about mastering guitar scales and fretboard visualization in this guitar scales guide.

Can Your Ears Detect Problems In Rhythm Guitar Playing?

  • Can your ears detect if your playing is perfectly tight with the drums while you are playing your guitar riffs?
  • Can you hear when your palm muting during guitar riffs becomes unintentionally softer?
  • Can you observe when your picking hand articulation becomes suddenly weaker on more difficult sections of the music?

If you didn’t answer with a firm Yes to the above questions, what you must do first is develop your sense of timing without your guitar by clapping your hands against a metronome click. Your challenge will be to detect (with your ears) when you are clapping completely in time and when the timing is off. Additionally, it will help you to practice rhythm guitar riffs with a variety of articulation and palm muting feels to develop your ears ability to tell the difference between them.

As you can see from all of the above, your ears are absolutely critical to improving a variety of areas of your guitar playing. What you should now do is assess your current level of progress in these musical skills and begin taking the suggested actions to refine your listening abilities and make your practicing more effective. The more consistently you do this, the faster you will get to become the guitar player you want to be.

About the author:
Mike Philippov has authored many articles and guitar practice resources that are studied by guitar players around the world. Visit his guitar practice website to greatly improve your skills as a guitar player.

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