Never underestimate how important learning by ear is for a guitarist. Learning songs by ear is simply essential. Once mastered, this skill will help your playing improve in so many ways, you will be surprised just by how good you have become. You`ll be able to learn any song, quickly, saving you a lot of time to play other stuff, your ear will be fine tuned and focused, enabling you to know when something is on or off especially in a band situation, and perhaps most importantly, you`ll be able to play the ideas in your head with ease.
All these qualities lead to a superb guitarist, the one who has mastered not necessarily the technical side of the instrument, but the creative side. (Although your technique will definitely improve too, as you`ll be playing things outside of your comfort zone).
The sense of achievement you will gain too is great. It will motivate you and keep you going during those tough times.
I always encourage my students to NOT use YouTube videos or tab where they can and I`ve never taught or met a player who frequently works things out by ear, who is nothing short of an excellent guitarist. All the best players do it. Whereas, I`ve met quite a few who frequently use tab and videos, who are nowhere near the standard of the first group. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
Just, imagine, when a friend a puts a great new record on, and you work it out right there in front of him or her, within minutes. The first time I did this, my mate`s jaw dropped. He put on Deftones – My Own Summer and I worked it out pretty quickly. It’s a great feeling, knowing that anything you listen to, you can work out. Also, if you’re like me, you may listen to a lot of non mainstream rock, so there simply won’t be the tab and videos to show you how to play them. If there are, they may take a while to find and guess what, you could have been playing guitar that whole time.
It’s often so easy to try to learn songs the lazy way by using tab or videos, but you will be amazed at how much your playing and creativity will improve by putting the hard graft in. I, myself was a sucker for this when starting out. I used to subscribe to Total Guitar every month for about 2 years. (It didn’t cost much and I got a free distortion pedal with it, so I wasn’t complaining).
Don’t get me wrong it’s a quality magazine, but the problem I find with guitar magazines is that they often contain too much tab for guitarists which makes things way too easy and hampers you from developing your skills.
If you are a complete beginner and don`t have access to a teacher or fellow guitarist friend, I recommend using whatever resources are available to you for working things out, but once you know a few tunes by your favourite band, try and work out some songs yourself.
Don`t forget, most popular bands tend to write a lot of things in a similar style, using similar chords, changes, and patterns. This is a big part of what gives them their signature sound.
No doubt, you’ll get a bit stuck especially when trying to work things out that are outside of your comfort zone, so this is a good time to use the net, videos magazines etc, but only once you have got really stuck. Don’t be lazy and give up after an attempt or two. Have a look at this post for some easy beginner guitar songs to learn.
Learning songs by ear is simply one of the most important skills you can develop in your guitar playing. So, get cranking the tunes up, and turn off the internet. You`ll be pleased with the results.