Which is the right way to learn?
With the explosion of the internet and the vast cornucopia of you tube videos, tablature sites and other resources available online it’s easy to forget that one of the key skills for any musician is the ability to listen. Before the internet came along most of us learnt from records – through attempts to emulate or approximate the playing of artists we enjoyed listening to.Not from the internet but through learning songs from records a nd playing along with them.
Eric Clapton has consistently reiterated that he listened and learnt his trade from artists such as Freddie, B.B. and Albert King for example. He didn’t use tabs – he learned by listening. Nuances come across in listening: listening cannot be written down; and while tablature can be a fast shortcut to playing a piece of music there is an invaluable experiential quality to be gained from using your ears.
Because listening is exactly what you`ll be doing when you’re playing along with a group or in the studio it’s a very highly valuable exercise for any guitarist. The particular qualities of any high calibre guitarist cannot be expressed in tablature form. What makes a guitarist exceptional is the combination of technique, timing, phrasing and tonal quality that they bring to their playing – facets that your ear alone can pick up.
It takes a long time but its worth taking the time to train your ear through replicating the sounds that you hear on records. To begin with you`ll struggle and find it difficult, but over time the process will become easier.
Being an imitator is the first step along the road to becoming a creator but there are ways of imitation. Looking up the tab on the internet is the fast easy way, but if you really want to develop then use your ears as well. Remember though the sound you`re really looking to find is the sound of yourself.