Re-Active Listening ™

Learn to develop your ears and your ability to identify chord tones and how to land on good notes when soloing!

View the full lesson at Re-Active Listening ™ | JustinGuitar

Wish this lesson you had an acoustic guitar… so informative… will practise…

Technically, the odds of getting a good note using this technique is 6 out of 8, but that doesn’t make the exercise any less useful or awesome…

hey, ive been wondering what kind of training can i do to memorize what notes are which frets on the fretboar

Hi phossu,

You might want to check out these lessons:

Understanding Music Notes
The Note Circle
Open String Note Names
Notes In The First Five Frets

And the fretboard marker dots also help you navigate.

Hi, I’ve been practicing scale 1 for about a month now and made my way from 70 to 90 bpm, but have been stuck there since. Is it better for me to keep just practicing that same pattern over and over until I can get to something like 120 bpm with to hits per beat? Or is it ok to move on at my current or slightly higher speed and start with the re-active listening exercise and/or pattern 2? Thanks!

Hi Martin,

Do you mean pattern 1 of the major / minor pentatonic? Before tackling any other patterns, I’d suggest you start the re-active listening and improvise over backing tracks. After all, in that setting phrasing gets more important and you won’t play the whole scale up and down but use smaller fragments or repeat certain notes, so the tempo could be less of an issue. Of course, you can keep on perfecting the pattern and working on increasing the tempo, but I’d consider that more of a “technical” exercise.

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Agree with @Jozsef here. Nail that Pattern 1 of the Major scale in every way possible. It will assist you enormously when moving to other patterns/positions, and to other scales.

After all, the other 4 patterns are just the same notes/intervals in a different part of the fretboard.

Playing over backing tracks is a great exercise.

Other great exercises include;

playing the pattern 3-in-line, 4-in-a-line
reversing back and forth within the pattern
playing it in 3rds, and 5ths,
play it using one finger.

This will help really ingrain the sounds, the notes/intervals, and how they function together.



Thanks Shane, Jozsef,

this is helpful! So just to double check: you’re saying getting fast (e.g. 120 bpm two hits per beat) is not as important, but rather being able to make music with it? I can still work on getting faster on the scale as a technical exercise in my practice routine.

And sry yes I meant major scale pattern one, as taught in the first lesson of this module.

Thanks again !

Hey Martin,

120bpm 2 hits a click in 4/4 timing (ie. 8th notes) is a good speed to aim for from where you’re at currently. That may take a little while though. Be kind to yourself though. It’ll come with practice. You may find in a while you can go much quicker than that. Accuracy is the key though. And making music with it is the reason. You’ve probably heard Justin say this quite a bit.

Those other exercises are going to really help ingrain the scale, and make it more musical. Justin has some great lessons on these on the website.
Playing with backing tracks is great cos youre making music straight away. It’ll be cumbersome and slow to start with, as it is for everybody, but the more you do it, the more you’ll develop.
Checkout those lessons when they come in the course. If you follow Justins method and timing of lessons, it’ll hold you in good stead.

All the best,


GarageBand has a nice feature where you can get it to auto play a chord and you can filter by whichever key you want. I find it very useful for re active listening exercises when I don’t want to dig out my looper.


Dear JG - What would be a terrific feature to have on the JG metronome app is a feature where you set a certain bpm and it automatically speeds up the tempo. you add this and you’d beat any metronome app out there. this would great help speeding up one’s playing with out having to go back and adjust the speed manually. what do you think? michaael

Should I know by memory where the tones of each chord are?
For example, when improvising in the key of G, I encounter the D chord: this is the V chord and it’s made of DF#A, which are respectively the 5th, 7th, and 2nd notes of the scale - but do I have to think about this when playing? or at least, be aware of it? Should I be able to say in a fraction of a second “oh, this is the IV chord, its tones are here here and here on the fretboard! Easy!”. When playing I can clearly hear when I am playing a chord tone or not, and I can follow the chord progression, but I am not sure if just trusting the ears is enough… I like the theory too much :smiley:

Hello - love this lesson and plan to get a looper pedal to start making my own progressions. In the mean time I’ve found some basic backing tracks on Youtube. Can you point me to the backing tracks Justin mentioned that he made avaialable in the lesson?

Can anyone recommend an easy to use, inexpensive looper pedal?


Have a look at these Topics, Joy, posted in the #gear-tools-talk:gear-accessories sub-category

Not sure anyone answered. I think eventually people learn to overlay the CAGED patterns on to the scale patterns Not something I can do.

Hi can anyone help me out? I am struggling with remembering the good notes to land on within the chord. what should i be listening for when playing. also finding it hard to practice this. has anyone go any other ways that they practise reactive listening. i have tried having a go with the chord changes and it is confusing as I’m stuck trying to remember the good notes over each chord.

what is a good foundation to start with
when should i move to playing with multiple chords
what should i be looking out for and focusing on while doing the exercise in my practise routine

I haven’t done this exercise in a while, but I think I know where you are going wrong.

This is not a memory exercise… It’s a listening exercise. You want to find the notes that go with the chord by ear, not from memory.

When practicing this, I found it helpful to play some slow jam tracks from YouTube that stayed on the same chord for several measures. This gives you a much better chance of finding the “good” notes before the chord changes.

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Hi Leo

The object of re-active listening isn’t to memorise what you play, it’s to eventually play by ear.
The idea is to listen to the backing track and listen to what you are playing and trying to instinctively blend the two together. It probably won’t happen too well at the start but your ‘skill’ will improve over time.

All the notes of the major scale will sound sort of ok but some will sound better than others. That’s because they will blend in with the chord - they will be tones of that chord.

Start off simple. Just play one or two notes, maybe just on the treble strings and LISTEN. Do any of those notes blend well with the chord?
It doesn’t matter what the actual notes are (as long as you stick to the major scale finger pattern)
It doesn’t matter what the chord you are playing over is - do they blend together well?

Play a little 3 or 4 note pattern. Now the last note is the important one - the landing note - hold that note. You want this one to blend well with the underlying chord.
That landing note will be a different note as the chords change so you can vary your pattern using different notes.
Do all this by ear, NOT by knowing what the chords and notes are.

Over time, you will start to hit those landing notes instinctively. Your fingers will just go to the right notes and if you miss the right note, you will quickly move to a better note giving variation to your pattern!

At the start it sounds crazy that this will happen. You’ll think no way can I ever do this!
Stick with it and it WILL happen!

Ps. If you aren’t sure whether you can hear this blending - move the whole finger pattern up one semitone. It won’t sound good!!