Flatpicking Guitar Network

For Fans of Flatpicking Guitar Magazine

No, not a verdict on this ear learning programme - but the title of Del's Ear Learning Phrase # 4. It's from a Bob Wills' CD and the song is "We Might As Well Forget It Anyway". When I heard the fiddle intro I thought there's something I ought to be able to apply this plan to with some success - a slowish song, a strong melody, but mostly quarter notes, easy to sing (albeit an octave lower) and the same melody is taken by the vocalist and therefore might well be easy to learn.


And indeed it was.


I didn't make a repetitive loop file and I didn't go near Transcribe!, instead I just listened to Bob Wills as intently as I could just a dozen or so times. With focussed listening it was easy to pick out that the opening run went up and immediately came back down using the same notes. There then followed (I thought - correctly as it happened) a semitone or two going up into the third phrase. The fourth phrase started on a note that wasn't quite the highest note of the first run.


All of this was then repeated with a slightly different fourth phrase the second time round. 


On the guitar I pretty much found about 90% of the above right away. A few more listens (without the guitar) focussing on the few phrases where I wasn't sure and I nailed the rest. I'd worked it out, from memory, in C, but when playing along discovered that it was in B. That was pretty pleasing, and it's entirely possible that my guitar wasn't tuned to pitch anyway.


So a fine success - albeit on a very simple couple of phrases. But I think a focus on doing this activity on simple phrases is the way to go. I'll build up to fiddle tunes once I've got a good foundation in vocal style lines.


Kind regards,


Views: 144

Replies to This Discussion

Derek, thanks for sharing your progress and conclusions.

Great theme song - works for me ;-), guess I'll have to go find it.


Ear Learning Exercise # 5 - In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed (The Allman Brothers)


Again, keeping it really simple, I choose just a couple of bars (essentially just once through the slow simple melody at the beginning of the tune). Good news it needed very fews listens and I was able to transcribe it all from ear pretty easily. I even choose the correct starting note first time on the guitar - but whether it was instinct or luck I can't tell. I certainly didn't consciously think "It's an E note" but I did think "It's kind of around here somewhere..."


Bad news was my singing out loud of this piece didn't help. It was an octave too high for me so I struggled with that aspect. I think that may turn out to be more of an issue on more complex lines.


Memory remains an issue, on the first piece I tried to learn - the most complex one so far - I listened to the segment scores and scores of times and can still 'hear it". Now I've simplified the target phrases to much more basic lines I'm finding I can 'get' them more quickly but consequently they're not sticking in my mind afterwards. Still, the aim of the exercise is to ultimately be able to play by ear much more efficiently than I can now. Long term memory requirements may need separate attention.





(shorter answer)

Hi Derek,

(1) "It was an octave too high for me . . ." Can you just sing an octave lower?

(2) "Memory remains an issue, . . ." - maybe you are still trying to memorize a series of tones in the right brain' - which may not be as adept at this, rather it tends to interpret (not store) intervals over a relatively short sequence of notes. I've wondered why you can know what note is coming next in a tune after only a couple of listens, yet it may take hundreds  of listens before being able to  reproduce it on your own, without a series of leading tones? Maybe Solfège (Doh - Re - Me - Fa ...) singing could help tie it into the 'left-brain' language centers.

On reflection it probably wasn't the octave itself, more my limitations as a singer (again), especially when the leaps between notes go from a semitone one moment to an arpeggio the next.


Memory is just a huge issue for me in music. I can spend hours, days, and weeks learning a song or a tune, and if i don't play it every day it's gone. And as there is little time at the moment for daily practice it is a problem. Case in point - I can't remember any of the arrangement of East Tennessee Blues that learned and I posted on my page here as way of introduction just a few weeks ago. I spent so much time on that tune... but now... gone!





Hmmm, well if it really isn't a range problem, I can only think of a few possibilities:

(1)  too much, too soon - regress to 3 note-phrases if needed

(2)  too fast, too soon - just like playing, I think singing needs to be learned (by the less fortunate of us) - unless you practice regularly, you probably won't be able to rapidly 'snap' between notes. Attached is the sing-along exercise I am currently using (I do it with solfege, but could be done with 'random' scatting also).

(3) It's not really in you head yet. Implications for (1) are obvious, for (2) - if it really is in your head, you should be able to slow it down as much as you like (5% ?), at least until ADD starts setting in - should give enough time to make even very sloppy and searching note transitions with voice (then make them better).


Memory - more another time, but can take hints from Sports Science and training repetitive motor skills (50 to understand, 500 to be proficient, 5000 to be a master, and 5000 to retrain something incorrect) - IMHO learning by ear gives a much better foundation, but you still have to do the reps. Also, how many times do you have to learn and forget, learn and forget, . . . before a tune becomes permanent? For me, maybe a half dozen spread over a year or more, fortunately the learn part gets much shorter, and the forget longer, each time. Again, tunes learned by ear (not software transcribed) that have been left alone for a few months tend to come back to me within 10 minutes or so (then polishing, as needed), but tab learned are a bit more of a crap shoot. (If All else fails - repertoire Sundays)





hi Derek!

couple of thoughts, first, like you I ain't that great of a singer. For me it's just important to know how it goes.... the vocalization can be helpful but really, I wouldn't worry about that part so much. If like me you can hear the melody in your head, that's the point. For folks that have a hard time with that, I think singing the melody can be a good way to test your knowledge of it. But I generally only vocalize when there's a note I'm having trouble with... or a chord that's hard to find (I find the melody note, name it, and then try all kinds of chords with that note in it, or something that would make sense against that note).

Like you I need lots of repetition. I even forget that I was working on something. It just falls off the table, it seems. Then I need to tackle it again, but of course that's a problem of refreshing my memory, rather than learning something. "Oh yeah, I was working on....."  

It doesn't surprise me one bit that Elizabeth Reed came quickly for you. That melody was learned early and has had many years to settle in. You know how it goes. That is a demonstration of Ganon's point.... reps and time will get stuff in your head.

So yeah, a list of current projects is always good. I have to refresh performance pieces every time I'm going to play them. Such is life.

Tried something slightly different with #6 - it was a Charlie Christian lick (yes, I know I'm pushing the boundaries of flat-picking with some of my choice of target material, but in my defence Dan did do a Swing special FGM a few years back in which one of the pieces of advice was to listen to Charlie!) and I simply listened to it on and off for a week, trying to sing it, trying to get it into my head. When I came to play it on the guitar I got the beginning and the basic shape of the middle and end, but couldn't quite nail it. One listen to the song with guitar in hand and I pretty much instantly got it, but I just hadn't been able to do it without that final recourse of going back to the old tone-matching way. That said, the pre-tone-matching work clearly paid off, with that final bit of old-fashioned transcribing proving very easy.


Onwards and upwards!


Hi Derek, If nothing else it seems like you have developed a whole new mindset for approaching and listening to new material, and it is apparently paying off. Although I'm at a lower elevation on the mountain, it all seems to make sense to try to 'hear', that is HEAR, analyze, and understand a piece before trying to play it. (Perhaps the 'tone matching' as the final step is something that will, indeed should, always be there - 'tis the goal after all?).


Hi Ganon,

Yes... Maybe.... I'm kind of going through periods of disillusionment and periods where I think I'm doing this all wrong… then I think it's only be a few weeks and it took me many years to learn to repeat words that people said let along whole sentences. So I guess one needs to be in this for the long haul.

That said, I still wonder if I'm 'listening' wrong at some deep level. I don't know... the ultimate aim, the Holy Grail if you like, is to be able to hear a piece of music and play it back instantaneously (or indeed at a later date). I've heard people - and witnessed people do the former and I'm sure the latter is within their grasp. But I wonder if this is the province of geniuses and savants. I don’t think it is – although it maybe that only musical savants would have the ability to hear entire concertos and do this (which may only be urban legend)!

Anyway, when I listen to a piece of music I can’t even ‘hear’ it to start with. By that I mean even at moderate speed the notes fly by so quickly that I’m unable to hear their individual relationships. If I slow a piece down then I can do this, and if I listen closely I can even start to work out some (only some) of the intervals. But this ultimate aim of almost having a recorder in my mind that copys what I’m hearing, then allows me to replay it, slow it down, and thus hear it, and thus replicate it, simply doesn’t seem to be there. And I can’t imagine that such a thing exists for anyone – hence my feeling that I’m listening wrong, that there’s something else I should be doing. I’d certainly be interested in how other people are faring with this.

Maybe I’m pushing too hard too quick – very simple major scale melodies seem to stick in my mind (although again, it’s not the original performance I’m re-hearing, just my memory of a simple tune). Maybe I should stick with that stuff?

I’m finding that writing down the music helps get it in my mind. I don’t mean notation – being able to notate on the fly would be almost as good as being able to replicate on the fly – but jotting down the number of bars, and making scribbled notes, lines and shapes, to illustrate where the music goes up, down, stays the same, a rough approximation of note lengths, etc. Then when I listen again whilst viewing these strange hieroglyphics I’m able to remember the music better. But this feels like it’s moving away from the end-game.

Anyway, I’ve rambled again. I’ll keep pushing on. Exercise # 7 (or is it 8?) is me trying to learn a short (8 bar) fiddle solo off a J D Crowe album. I think it’s a Ricky Skaggs solo and it’s pretty straightforward and slow (albeit with plenty of grace notes) so we’ll see… I could sit down and have a go at working it out from what’s inside my head already, but I’m determined to wait as long as I can and to listen to the solo as many times as I can bear  to give myself the best chance of success of transcribing it directly and correctly from my brain!

Kind regards,


Hi Derek,

I'll bet that the so called 'savants' will tell you that it came though years of focused practice. (and that a real savant wouldn't be able tell you much useful).

As previously noted, despite our experience difference, the 'hearing' process, and limitations and fragility therein, seem quite similar. It seems to me that there is not nearly enough 'analytical interpretation' going on that will 'store' the material, rather we seem to hear it, enjoy it, and let it fade before doing anything with it.

Attached is a simple file that may, or may not, be useful - just a bunch of simple 3-note phrases taken from a C-maj pentatonic scale (C-D-E-G-A-C'). The only catch is that you only get to listen once, and your playback time is only a bit longer. Idea is that you have to think about the phrase analytically - while it is happening - and then play it back. So, a very simple case of the holy grail. If it seems useful, it can be expanded and more similar files can be generated; if not we can forget it.





I was able to replicate those slow three note phrases without too much trouble. Similarly, whilst walking the hound this evening I was listening to some acoustic swing music and when I got home I had a bash at playing one of the very simple and slow heads I'd heard from memory. I played it in the wrong key, and got a couple of notes wrong, but was about 90% there, which was pleasing.

Excellent - I guess one would want to start some place where you are able to duplicate in a single shot without too much trouble. Then build up to where it just starts to be problematic, maybe correct 1/2-2/3 of the time, and then practice a lot there. So, try this one - same pentatonic scale, but 4-note phrases and faster (120 notes/min)
If still too easy, can maybe use full major scale and/or longer phrases.

Seems to me that there are two very different things going on here.  Thus far  we have been going for a 'holistic' approach - see if you can get the whole thing 'in head' over days or weeks, and then work it out on the fretboard. The idea of getting simple phrases on a single-shot, seems to me to be complementary, not contradictory, and may well teach the right kind of focused attention that listening to something X-hundred times cannot. Who knows, maybe they will someday merge into the same thing . . .




Don't Miss These!



Latest Activity

Perry Beckham updated their profile
Jun 9
Tim Weil posted a blog post
Jun 7
Tim Weil joined Dan Miller's group

Kaufman Kamps

This group is for those flatpickers who are fans of Steve Kaufman's Acoustic Camps.
Jun 7
Tim Weil joined Chad Fette's group

Norman Blake Fans

This is the place for those of us who love Norman Blake! Feel free to comment on Norman's technique, albums, instruments, philosophy, concert performances, or anything else that is Norman related.
Jun 7
Tommy B Jensen posted songs
May 29
Martin updated their profile
May 19
Kirk Haselden joined Dan Miller's group

Flatpicking Essentials

This group is for members who are working with the 8-Volume Flatpicking Essentials course written by Dan Miller and Tim May. This is the place to meet others who are working with the course and share your arrangements.See More
Apr 2
Jim Cornwell updated their profile
Mar 3
Gordon Andrew updated their profile
Mar 1
Benjamin E. Sheldrack updated their profile
Feb 28
Tommy Jensen posted a song

 play Tommy Jensen Riding Old Shanks Mare

Feb 28
Tommy Jensen posted a photo


Picking at the Colingwood Art Crawl, 1918
Feb 28
Profile IconGeorge Waters, Patrick Grant, Dane Magoon and 22 more joined Flatpicking Guitar Network
Feb 28
David Gilstrap posted a status
"Anyone know if flat pick magazine has Margret's Waltz in a particular issue ?"
Dec 29, 2018
C Griffin updated their profile
Dec 17, 2018
Jim Cornwell posted a photo
Dec 8, 2018

© 2019   Created by Dan Miller.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service