Play What You Hear Exercise

This is THE killer exercise to develop a better relationship between your hand and your musical mind! It's incredibly fun, effective and challenging!

View the full lesson at Play What You Hear Exercise | JustinGuitar

Hey Justin,
I tried doing Happy Birthday and had a hard time. I am just wondering if more difficult when using an acoustic?

Welcome to the community, Rockwood!

Electric vs. acoustic shouldn’t make any difference for the point of this exercise. The notes and their positions on the fretboard will be the same on any standard-tuned guitar.

Do you mean you’re having trouble finding the notes, or trouble cleanly playing the notes? If you mean you’re having trouble playing the notes on an acoustic (especially in positions farther up the neck) I guess I could see that making a difference since an acoustic is likely to have heavier strings and a higher action. But for the purposes of this exercise the most important thing is locating the correct notes, rather than playing technique.

I suppose I’m just having trouble finding the notes. I’ll keep at it. Perhaps I’ll try “ba ba black sheep” :smiley:

I can’t hear which notes are supposed to be the right ones for happy birthday or little lamb. If those are the easiest, is there a way i can train my ears better so that I’m not struggling to figure these out? Thanks :smiley:

I see.

I’d try playing the first note and singing or humming the next one, then try to play and match the note you’re singing. If you get it wrong, move your guitar note up or down as required to find the matching pitch.

The idea behind this is to train your ears and fingers together, so that your fingers eventually kind of “know” where a given interval will be. It’s a long-term thing, so don’t sweat it if you struggle at first. As Justin said, five minutes a day is fine. Consistency in practicing it is the most important thing.

Sing the first word or part word of each song and get that note in your head. Baaa or Hap.
Then try and find that note on the neck. Then move along to the next note change, does it go up or down ? Work that out then go up or down from note one. Repeat that process breaking the song down into each section where the pitch changes, up or down. Do the same each time until the end of the song, noting down the fret position of each note. Then check the whole song slowly and if it does not sound right use the same process. Is the wrong not higher or lower check find repeat. It takes time especially when starting out and is a long term project that you need to keep working at. I struggle as I have not done enough of that but have put it on my radar again this year, as there songs I want to play that have no tab out on the t’internet. :sunglasses:

Hi, I’m on the end of the Grade 1 and I just watched the lesson on Ear Training. I jumped over to here after that lesson - and I’m confused. The only way I can play Happy Birthday is by trial and error - I have no idea what the notes are (for example: what note am I picking when I pluck the third string at the fifth fret). Should I be transcribing the notes as I find them so I can learn the notes - or should I just be trying to understand how far apart different notes are (that I can hear in my head) are on the finger board? Either way kind of makes sense, but for the latter, how do you know what fret start off on if you don’e know the notes?

Hi @Rockwood

Building on the series of Q&As so far …

This is true.

Think smaller then. From your chosen start note, can you find the 2nd note of the tune? If yes, can you then find the 3rd note? If yes, play the first three notes, 1, 2, 3. You have begun.

This exercise is a way of doing just that so stick at it.

Good advice.

Just this. One at a time. Higher or lower?

You do not need and should not worry about the note names at all. It is irrelevant here.

No - that is definitely not the point of this and will slow you down to an almost standstill. You are not trying to identify, name, write down notes. You are trying to hear where the notes move to on the guitar and take your fingers to the correct place.

You can start anywhere at all. Literally anywhere. You could start on fret 2 of the B string, work up or down from that note (depending on what the tune does).
Or, you could start on fret 4 of the D string. Or fret 8 of the G string.
The start point is also irrelevant for this exercise. Because, wherever you start you will be facing the same questions. Is the next note higher or lower? How much higher or lower? Can I find that next note on the guitar with my fingers? The sequence of notes you end up with will all be relative and directly referenced back to the start note.
Let us assume you do start on fret 2 of the B string and successfully learn to move your fingers to match the tune of Happy Birthday, that is a major victory.
Another victory would be to see if you can then do the same exercise and achieve another victory but starting from an entirely different first note. All the other notes will be shifted about too. But they shifts will all be relative and connect back to note 1.

Hope that helps.
Cheers :smiley:
| Richard_close2u | JustinGuitar Official Guide


I gave this about 5 mins and have not gone back to it. I jokingly made a comment on the old discussions that I could play Happy Birthday on the same fret on one string as it was all about the interval between notes. To a certain extent this is true. I don’t know whether people are tone deaf but I have major issues determining whether notes are higher or lower. Probably the same reason why singing for me is a no go.

For Happy Birthday the first 6 notes (12 as the first two lines are repeated) are the same aren’t they?

Sorry Stuart no.
Just try singing Ba Ba Black and see what is happening, start there. Try it vocally first.
Its a challenge when starting out but hang in there.

So I’m not the only one who “sings” every song with one note all the way through :smiley:

But yes, songs with only one note are quite rare. Even simple children’s songs have 2 or 3 notes in them somewhere.

My main enemies are the major 2nd and minor 3rd intervals. They tend to sound pretty similar to me in isolation.

I’ve managed to map out Happy Birthday and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, at least the major parts; it’s a bit of fun figuring that stuff out and writing it down.

Well they sound the same to me. Guess that I’m not getting this one!

That’s the problem - singing. I could ‘sing’ this to the cows come home (excuse the pun) and it would still sound the same. That is no variation.

I’m the same. :slight_smile: Well actually no idea what you mean.

Up until today, I would have never thought I could play anything “by ear” on a guitar. I did it! Maybe not perfectly but I did it! Thank you for this lesson.


Congratulations Maria feels good doesn’t it.:sunglasses:

Just added this exercise to my practice routine. Not to brag but I’ve found it to be very doable but not easy. Honestly, I think years of singing while driving (let’s be honest, decades) helps a ton. I can sing the notes and try different notes on the fretboard until I get it right. You’ll also see patterns emerge, often within a box or a scale pattern on the fretboard using the same notes repeatedly. Crazy how you can get such diverse sounds out of so few notes.

1 Like