How to learn the guitar through ‘Active Listening’

How to learn the guitar through ‘Active Listening’

How to learn the guitar - Active listening

If you’ve been learning the guitar for a while and feel your progress may be slow you may want to try ‘active listening’. You want to know how to learn the guitar but there are so many methods out there. And you want to progress quickly because you’re mate who started a week after you is so much better. Why is that? Why have they managed to learn the guitar so quickly and you’re stuck on the same chords and songs?

Well one of the reasons someone progresses so quickly comes down to the their ears. Yes that’s right, if you want to know how to learn the guitar properly then you need good ears. So what do I mean by good ears? Well when I talk about ears I’m really talking about your listening skills and how much good music you’ve been exposed to.

What is active listening?

jonny lang - guitar star

Active listening is a different type of way to listen to music. Ordinarily you will get a playlist from Spotify or an album and stick it on in the background whilst you carry out your tasks. This type of listening is called passive listening. The interaction between you and the music is limited because your brain is distracted by various tasks. So it focuses it’s main attention on the task in front of you and the music essentially becomes ambient blur to set the mood. If you’re a standard music lover and just like to listen to music then that’s perfect. The music is achieving its purpose. But if you are someone wanting to know how to learn the guitar better then this type of music interaction is not very useful.

This leads us on to ‘Active listening’. Active listening requires listening to specific music – high quality and relates to principles you’ve been practising – and absorbing it distraction free. So active listening means you have to essentially sit with one or two songs for a sustained period of time without doing other tasks. At uni students can do this type of listening for hours. That’s very intense but they get very good very quickly.

Why is Active listening important?

Jazz guitar lessons

When you listen to music actively you will start to absorb ideas from the musicians. These ideas may never have come to you but they sound great and are now in your mind. When you’ve heard them enough it’s like lyrics of your favourite song. You don’t know why you know all the words you just do. Well these rhythms, melodies, chord changes, techniques etc start to become part of your go to instincts on the guitar. You start trying melodies and ideas that you’ve never tried before. When you analyse what you just did you realise it was a B.B. King lick or a Herbie Hancock fill. And because you’re listening to great musicians you end up sounding great when you play.

Be selective about who you actively listen to

Lionel Loueke - Great Bass guitarist

When it comes to active listening you don’t just want to listen to random stuff. The active listening is meant to serve a purpose – better rhythm, melodies, chord choice, techniques etc. So if you have a specific thing you want to improve on ask friends and fellow music lovers which musicians and artists feature that sort of thing in their music. From there you just need to actively listen a lot until you start hearing those ideas appear in your playing.

How long should you Active listen for?

I would suggest at the beginning to spend at least ten minutes doing active listening. After a week or two you should notice things creep into your guitar playing that you’ve never tried before. Over a period of time you will have the capacity to active listen for longer. I would say a good amount of active listening if you want to improve at a good rate on the guitar would be thirty minutes a day.

I hope this has helped you in your quest to become a better guitarist. If you’re looking for guitar or piano lessons feel free to get in touch. I teach at the Maxwell Park Community Centre on Mondays to Fridays and via Skype/Facetime.

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