7 Tricks to Learning to Play Guitar By Ear

February 09, 2017 4 min read

Man playing a acoustic guitar with a guitar strap.

Ever seen someone play a song they’ve never heard before? They take that guitar into their hands and all of a sudden it’s like some sort of musical magic is running their veins. But, while it may be one of the most impressive skills out there, learning to play guitar by ear isn’t actually as difficult as it first appears.

For real!

It isn’t some mystical voodoo that only the special among us will ever understand. It’s not some special talent that you

either have or don’t have.

It’s a skill that can be taught and developed, and with practice, it’s a skill that can be owned.

Learning to Play Guitar By Ear

Of course, there are some musical Gods out there who can naturally pick up a guitar and rock the beat to any song on demand. These players have an innate understanding of music in their bones. Perhaps they ingested musical styles and chord progressions with their baby food?

Who knows!

But, for mere musical mortals, the great news is that learning to play guitar by ear is a skill that can be acquired over time. And, once you’ve got it down, it’s one of the most awesome skills you’ll ever have.

Can you learn how to improvise like your favorite guitar hero?

Yes, you can!

And, with a little dedication, you’ll be strumming your favorite tune, dazzling your friends, and wearing that guitar strap like a rock God!

In this article, we’re sharing some tricks and tips to help you learn to play the guitar by ear.

Read on for the full scoop.

7 Tricks to Learning to Play Guitar By Ear

1. Make Mistakes

Learning to play guitar by ear is a process, and it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time. Small incremental changes are the order of the day.

At first, you’ll get it wrong way more often than you’ll get it right. This is something that you should embrace.

You’re going to make mistakes. In fact, you’re going to make lots and lots of mistakes.

Embrace them!

Mistakes are a natural and required part of the process. Actually, your mistakes will make you a better guitar player if you’re willing to give yourself the chance to make them.

Playing the guitar offers you the freedom to experiment. And we’re not just talking about customizing your shredder!

Experimentation is the bedrock of learning to play guitar by ear. And, this gig is a marathon, not a sprint.

The more you allow yourself to experiment, the more you’ll train your ears to not just identify the notes you want, but to creatively embellish those notes as well.

2. Start Small, Then Build

When you’re first starting out, the trick is to start small.

You wouldn’t think that you could operate on someone’s heart after your first lecture in med school, right?

The same is true for learning to play guitar by ear.

Begin with straightforward isolated notes, intervals and chords. Then start connecting these skills to real music.

You’ve got to get down with the basics first. Only once you’ve mastered those basics like a pro can you move on to more complex things.

3. Break it Down

When learning to play guitar by ear, you will need to develop your skills incrementally. The best way to do this is to break everything down into small, bite-sized chunks.

For each skill you need to acquire, break your practice down into small units.

If you want to learn to work out a melody by ear, start by firstly attempting to identify some common melodic patterns and then move on from there.

Small chunks of learning all add significantly to the whole picture.

4. Patterns

Once you’re able to recognize small chunks of music, you’ll notice something right off the bat.

Patterns occur frequently in music.

Melodies and chord progressions will almost always contain sequences of common patterns that you are now familiar with.

Once you start to notice these patterns, you’ll become better at remembering the chords to songs. You’ll be able to figure out songs by ear more quickly too.

5. Sing

One of the most important aspects of learning to play guitar by ear is being able to link the notes to the music you hear in your head.

How exactly do you do this?

You do it by singing.

Your voice is an important bridge between skills here and you’ll need to embrace the notion of singing simple melodies in the correct key.

If this is something that comes naturally to you, get singing!

If not, the good news is you don’t have to be blessed with an amazing singing voice to do this effectively! All you have to do is be able to hit the right note.

With this, break the learning down into chunks again. Begin by learning how to match pitch. Then move on to the tones of the major scale.

6. Work on Your Rhythm

Your sense of rhythm is not pre-set for life, it can, and will change over time.

When learning to play the guitar by ear, the pitch of a note is undoubtedly important, but so too is the timing of the notes themselves.

Focus on developing your rhythm. Listen out for rhythmic patterns.


Because to play songs by ear you’ll have to match the overall tempo and the timing of notes in the melody with your strumming pattern.

Work on your rhythm as much as you’re working on everything else.

7. Listen to and Study Your Favorite Songs

Once you start to build your skills, you might want to improve your learning by listening to and studying your favorite songs.

One of the things that will happen naturally when you’re learning to play by ear, is you’ll start to deconstruct the songs you hear subconsciously.

To improve your skills, do this consciously instead.

Listen to your favorite songs. Then decode them. Try to play the song. Match its rhythm. Pick it apart.

Not only will you become a much better guitar player, you’ll really enjoy the learning in the process.

Learning to Play Guitar By Ear – One Trick at a Time

Ready to take the guitar playing world by storm?

Like everything, learning to play the guitar by ear begins with a simple action and it gradually builds from there.

Got any questions or need any advice? If so, get in touch! We’re always happy to help.