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BC-118 • JUSTIN training exercises

The Beginner's Course

In all seriousness, the danger of learning guitar on the internet is that the new generations are forgetting that we must learn music by LISTENING, it's an ear thing, we HEAR music. So these lessons are all about developing your ear so when the time comes, you will be able to learn songs on your own, without needing me or an internet tab!!

Music is about sound and listening, so this part of your guitar study will help you a lot more than you will initially realize. Many people never grasp the essential technique of learning songs by ear, but I believe that it is one of the most important skills that you can develop as a musician. But it is hard! People like me, that learnt before the internet, had to be either shown a song by a friend or work it out by ear. Every single guitarist that I have ever met that I have thought to be any good had transcribed lots of songs. Transcribing is working out a song using your ear and then writing it down. This could mean working out every single note of a guitar solo, but also refers to working out the chords and rhythm patterns to play for a song. This is a great skill to start developing as a beginner, rather than waiting until much later in your guitar playing career.

It is hard to just jump in at the deep end and work songs out without knowing what the possible chords are or how they might be played. So we'll start in this course by playing some chords from a set palette for you to identify. This will help you realize that you can learn to do it, and I hope that by the end of the course you will be able to work out songs on your own.

It does take practice, in fact more than we can cover here, so you will need to do some work on your own. You could try and replicate the lessons that I present here by recording yourself, waiting a few days and then trying to work out the answers, or you could get a friend to play chords and chord sequences for you to work out. I prefer this ‘jam buddy' method because it is always more fun working with another musician.

Now it is time to get your ears working

Don't forget that music is about sound and listening so this part of your guitar study will help you a lot more than you will realize initially.

REMEMBER to stop the track right after the chord you are trying to identify because...

The Last Thing You Hear, Stays In Your Ear!

Take it slow and don't expect results too quickly, it will take some time develop your listening skills.

Make sure you do ALL the exercises in each test before checking the answers!


We'll start with two exercises: Single Sound Recognition and Chord Progression Recognition. In this introduction I explain what to do in Single Sound Recognition (SSR).

Single Sound Recognition (SSR)

On the CD you'll hear me play a chord – and then you have to work out what chord it is. To start with, do this by trying to find the chord on your guitar. Eventually – and this may take quite some time – you'll be able to tackle exercises like this without touching your guitar at all, as you learn to organised the sound of each chord. For this reason it's worth revisiting these early exercises even when you've progressed to the later stages.

The chord will be played three times. What you need to do is:

1) Listen to the chord played for the first time – hit pause on your CD player – and have a go at figuring out what chord it is. You can write down your answer on the chart below.
2) Hit play again, listen to the chord for a second time, and then hit pause again. Have another go at working out what the chord is (hopefully you'll be confirming what you thought the first time).
3) Hit play again, but this time play the chord you think it is along with me, and you should hear whether you've got it right or not.

OK, now we are ready to work out some chords! So here we go - remember to pause after you hear the chord and try and figure out what chord I play. This training is really beneficial so please don't skip over it!

Chord Palette: D, A, E


Chord Progression Recognition (CPR)

In this exercise you will hear some chord progressions that you have to figure out by ear. In the SSR exercises you'll work out one chord at a time. In this exercise—and at the same point in the other stages—you'll work out a sequence of chords played one after the other, just like working out the chords for a song. The trick is to pause on each chord and try and figure it out before continuing. At this stage I will be playing each chord for a full bar: four down-strums on each. You only have three chords to choose from, so you should find this easy enough.

Chord Palette: D, A, E

1. |__________|__________|__________|__________| 
2. |__________|__________|__________|__________| 
3. |__________|__________|__________|__________|


F.A.Q. (Forum Asked Questions)

Looking through the forum comments there are some common themes I can help with here I think.

Can I make my own tests?
You can. The easiest way is to record yourself playing every chord you learn, put them into iTunes (or similar) and put it on shuffle play (or random mode). If you do this, I recommend playing the chord 3 times, waiting a few seconds and then saying the answer out loud so you can check your self. As you get better you can put less strums and the answer sooner!

I can't do it. Should I stick at it or move on?
Well if you just tried it once or twice or even 5 times and getting nowhere, you just have not done it enough, so I would recommend sticking at it. If you've given it a serious 15 goes and still getting none right and it's getting you down, move on and come back to it later!

Do I really have to do it?
Well no. Lots of people don't. BUT. It's seriously good for your ears and the sooner you get them working, the easier you will find it to work out songs on your own, which is really cool, and was the thing everyone aspired to until TABs became so prolific. Do remember that TABs will often be wrong, especially on user generated big sites with little or no moderation (like UG) and the majority of TABs I see on those sites are not even close to correct... and without having good ears you might never know it's right or wrong and learn it anyway. With big ears you'll learn to hear if things are right or not and learn quickly what and who to trust for transcriptions!

Is it good idea to use song references and associations?
It sure is! If you hear a particular chord as the first one for a song you know well (that first Am chord in House Of The Rising Sun is a good obvious one) then use it to your advantage. I don't think you have to, but it's pretty good idea and if you get into Interval Ear Training (get started on that as soon as you like!) then you will use Song References for that every step of the way!

I have Perfect Pitch, should I still do the exercise?
Well if you have Perfect Pitch them you won't need to do them for sure - but you can use them to recognize the 'shape' of the chord - there are many ways on the guitar to play any given chord and with practice you'll come to organised the 'shape' of chords and distinguish between them. It's interesting and fun, but not essential.

Can I do them without my guitar?
You sure can! It will be a lot harder, but many people can learn to do it without a guitar and if you can it's very cool indeed! Be sure to check with your guitar from time to time and make sure you're getting it wrong but thinking you're getting them right!

Are there online testing sites?
There is one, made by forum member bftanase (Thank You dude!) that you can test yourself with. It's not officially supported or endorsed but lot of students like and and have given it good reports! Check it out here.

How can I do it when my guitar is out of tune? (seriously?)
Um... Get your guitar in tune. That's a priority thing to do, or it will be very upsetting for anyone around you that has to listen to them. Don't give guitar a bad name. Buy a tuner, or tune up here.

Should I try this exercise with distortion sound too?
Using a lot of effects or gain (distortion) will likely make it very difficult and these are not the type of chords one normally plays with distortion, so I don't think is a lot to gain by that!

How much time should I dedicate to this every day?
I would have thought a good 5 minute session every couple of days would be good, a focused 5 minutes though, not where you mess around at all. Get prepared, start you timer and go for it for 5 minutes. You'll probably notice a big difference in a few weeks!

The sound doesn't stay in my ear, how can I do it?
This is practice, you can do it, but you need to develop you 'musical memory', something I still work on myself and is something that can always be improved! Learning to 'hold the sound in your ear' is very useful and something that for most people only comes with practice - so stick at it.

A 'musical ear' is not something most people are born with, it needs to be developed, at least it did for me and most students I have ever had. You are not alone!



Only look at the answers if you really have to! Find them here.

Beginner products you may like from
Justinguitar Beginner's Course DVD set
Justinguitar Beginners Songbook
Justinguitar Beginners Songbook
Beginners Course Book
Practical Music Theory

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