Question: Hi Tom Hess, I'm 19 years old and I have been playing guitar for almost 2 years now. I am passionate and intensely committed to reaching my musical goals. However, I hit plateaus and I start to feel overwhelmed with the information and applications needed to reach advanced levels. I understand the importance of guitar ear training. I also understand that my music theory guitar knowledge must go beyond "information". I try to put the two together, but I have difficulties with doing so. I dream of being able to listen and recreate anything that I play in my head. Generally I learn songs by ear copying note for note, but when I try to mirror the emotional feeling through my own style, I get lost. My question is, what are some specific things I need to do in order to harmonize my aural skills with music theory so I can understand things like: "Why certain notes sound like something in one musical context, and how those same notes may sound different in another." I would greatly appreciate any input you may have on this.
Tom Hess's Answer: The best place for you start is by learning how all of the music theory guitar concepts you know sound in actual music. This will help you to know how to practice guitar and apply theory at the same time. For example, after you learn about scale degrees in music theory, the next step is to learn how each scale degree sounds (functions) and what feeling it evokes in music. For instance, the 3rd of a minor triad sounds the same (has the same feeling) regardless of whether the triad is D minor A minor Bb minor etc… The same is for all other scale degrees. Learn what all of these specific sounds are (this takes ear training) and you will then be able to use these tools in your guitar playing style regardless of what key or musical context you are playing in.
The same is true for chords. After you learn about what a V chord is in music theory (for example), the next step is learning to hear and identify it in music whenever it occurs and to hear its resolution tendencies (and then proceed to learn about the other chords' functions and sound). To further understand this, check out this guitar solo lesson and the video within that discusses several concepts about note function, note choices and how they affect guitar phrasing.
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