How to play anything by ear

This will be fun and ear-opening and it could well transform the way you hear music. If you haven’t already let me know, hit reply and confirm. I have never met ANY student yet who wasn’t able to develop their ear. The number one reason why people don’t come to the free clinics is that they are worried about not being good enough-but these events are the perfect opportunity to ask questions and develop your skills from a different perspective.
What is ear-training and why is it important? Why would you want to train you ear and what benefits will it bring you?
Whether you’re a singer, a guitarist, a pianist, a composer, it is enormously useful developing your ear. When people talk about having a ’good ear’, usually they mean that they are able to copy melodies well and distinguish clearly what is happening in music.
When you train your ear, or more accurately your aural perception, you hugely enrich what you’re able to get out of listening to music. You are able to perceive much more clearly what is happening inside pieces of music you enjoy. You also cultivate your own musicality. The more you can quickly identify intervals, chords and melodies by ear – and this is a completely trainable skill – the more quickly you can learn new songs whether you’re a singer or a guitarist. You won’t be stabbing around to work out what the notes are; you’ll KNOW what they are, and then it’s just a question of playing them. You’ll also develop your melodic sensibility. If you’re a singer, training your perception of pitch helps you sing in tune.
If you can distinguish between two tones when one is higher than the other, you will be able to keep cultivating your ear until you can pinpoint what the distance between notes is, and what the character of more than one note played at the same time.
We’ll cover the basics of how you start training your ears, and look at some activities for guitarists and singers to use and develop this.
Guitar lessons Edinburgh

Past clinics:

October Clinic

Revitalise your guitar with new strings

Play your shiny new strings in a Blues jam.

Have your strings been on your guitar more than a few months? If so, it’s time for a change. If they’ve been on for…a few years…it’s DEFINITELY time for a change. Over time strings oxidise, and can become stiff and hard = MUCH harder to play and hold chords down. You’ll probably experience an instant improvement with new strings, and who doesn’t want that?? This clinic is an opportunity to bring your guitar in and learn how to restring it. It’s relatively straight forward but there are a couple of things to watch out for.

Where do I get new strings and which should I get?


Strings come in sets. Standard steel string acoustic guitars come in sets of 11s, 12s and 13s. The number refers to the width of the thinnest string in the pack. 11s are thinner and lighter than 12s. Often, acoustic guitars tend to have 12s on them. You can take your guitar into a shop (Rikki’s is close to Out of the Blue on Leith walk) and ask which gauge the strings are, or you can compare the thickest string with some samples I have in your next guitar lesson. Generally, you want to put the same gauge of strings as your guitar already has. If you put lighter or heavier strings on, you might get some string buzz etc as the tension on the neck will be less or greater than it was before, or it might need to be re-set up.
You can buy packs of strings in shops, common brands for acoustic guitar are D’adaddario and Martin. I quite like a brand called Pyramid that’s a bit harder to get hold of. Or, get them online – here’s a cheap set on ebay, and here’s another kind.
You’ll see some strings are ‘phosphor bronze’ and some ’80/20 bronze’. I wouldn’t get too caught up; there’s a difference in tone – pb’s can be a little mellower and might be a good choice if your guitar is quite jangly sounding. Or if you want a bright sound, you can pick 80/20s.
For nylon string guitars, just a pack of classical strings is fine.


Blues jam


Aaaaah the Blues. Most of you have looked at some form of blues material in your sessions, either standard chord progression for the blues, some pentatonic info, some riffs, perhaps you’ve written one or two of your own. Now you’ve got the opportunity to break your new strings in by playing some ensemble blues. This will really help you in the following ways:
– increase confidence keeping your place in a chord progression.
– training rhythmic confidence with chords and chord changes.
– training confidence counting and hearing what others are playing.
– training ability to know where to find musically appropriate parts, riffs, bass lines, rhythms.
– training recall with fretboard notes, and helping to map what you hear in your head with what’s on the fretboard.
The blues had a profound impact on the development of many popular and rock music styles. These sessions where you play with others will really help you develop and they’re fun. Don’t let any nervousness about your playing level hold you back – you will improve even in one session, and everyone present has their own challenges and is working to develop their skills.

Sister Rosetta rocks it

The fabulous Odetta

Robert Johnson

Rosetta Tharpe

Muddy Waters

June Concert and rehearsal jam sessions

After a great Christmas concert with Strollers music school, we’re teaming up again with them for our summer concert on 27th June at 2pm. This is going to be a brilliant opportunity to enjoy playing music and perhaps inviting friends and family. We have planned the material so there are parts suitable for all levels. We’ve picked some great music!
It’ll be held in a recently renovated studio which has very good equipment and is really comfortable.
There’s going to be a rehearsal for it this Sunday 14th June at 10 am at Out of the Blue and info will be disseminated in your sessions this week.
In the meantime, I made a short video on the beginner part for one of the songs we’re doing, Tamacun, here, and the pdf for the music tab is on the right. This part comes in half way through the song, which is embedded under the pdf on the right. It’s a great tune and I think you’ll love how it feels to play it with lots of other musicians.


May clinic – Fingerstyle, and Chord Chemistry – 10am-12pm 16/05

Finger picked guitar styles range from simple yet effect arpeggiated chords to complex, fast-paced jazz, country and ragtime instrumental technique. For any singer who wants to accompany themselves on guitar, any guitarist who wants to play solo instrumental pieces or accompany themselves or another vocalist, it’s a great and versatile technique to begin exploring. You can get a great effect from some relatively simple patterns, and you can apply this to chord vocabulary you already know. If you’re interested in pop, folk, indie and country styles, or you want to add another texture to your toolkit, this workshop will give you an overview and some material you can start using right away. Whether you’re just starting out or whether you’ve been playing for a while, there are ways to start using fingerstyle and developing your dexterity. As ever, the workshop is free to current students and £20 to non-students.


We’ll spend the first part of the session looking at some fingerstyle techniques and warm ups. Then we’ll move on to exploring what chords to pair them with.
If you have been doing major scale chord theory in your group sessions and you could do with more experience using it; if you want to understand more about ‘how music works’, if you want to be able to play what you hear in your head, transcribe songs you like, devise solos, be able to join in ensemble jams easily, then understanding how chords work together at a basic level is a must. If you have assignments on chord theory that you haven’t yet completed, this is an opportunity to review that. Even if you more or less understand the basics, until you can accurately call up the chords in any major progression quickly, the knowledge isn’t really that useable for you. Applying it in practice is the way you will really reap the benefit of the knowledge.  Book your space via email at music at key to music north dot com (all one word) so I can make sure I have a large enough room.

Check out the blistering intro to celebrated finger picker Albert Lee's famous song 'Country Boy'

Beginning/Improving guitarist part for Tamacun

Tamacun arpeggio part 3 (<Click to download pdf)
 It’s MOST UNLIKELY we’ll be going as fast as this track! Don’t panic!


Discover the joy of expression!  Saturday April 18th 10am-12pm.

Why write a song? in the words of one of New York’s key counter cultural figures/song-writers, scene-creators – Lach:

‘Writing songs is part of what makes us human, the marriage of words to music is part of our common ancestry. Somewhere along the line we were taught that only some people write songs and we called them ‘songwriters’. It’s as if we were taught that only dancers on TV should dance, that only professional cooks should cook, that songs should only be written to sell. This is ridiculous. Anyone can swim, cook or write a song. It’s our inheritance.
Now, even though anyone can write a song just as anyone can cook, there are secret recipes, magician tricks and higher, more esoteric teachings that can raise one from a cook to a chef or in the same sense from an open mic attendee to a journeyman people pay to see.’ (Lach, songwriter extraordinaire, New York/Edinburgh counterculture guru,
The April clinic is going to present and implement some perspectives on song-writing. If you’ve ever written a song, a riff, thought of a lyric or just wanted to understand more about what makes a good song, this is a great opportunity to deepen your understanding and appreciation of your favourite songs and also a chance to get some ideas about how to write your own songs.  The session will run from 10.00 – am on Saturday 18th April at Out of the Blue. We’ll spend the first part of the session talking about elements go into making a song work, we’ll listen to and discuss some examples, then students will have the chance to jot down some of their own ideas. This is open to singers or guitarists, as you can use the ideas we’ll talk about to write lyrics or music, and you might find someone else to join up with.  Bring your instrument if you have one and a pen and paper. There is nothing like actually needing to execute an idea to spur you on with mastering a chord change and make it enjoyable to nail it. No previous experience with song-writing necessary!
If you’ve never had a go at writing anything before, it’s really fun; and you’ll also get an enhanced appreciation/ability to connect more with music you already like because you’ll be able to identify what’s happening in the music. The more you understand about how the different components fit together, the more options you have on guitar as well-so it really feeds into playing. For singers, thinking more about content, delivery, phrasing adds some really important elements into your thinking about melody and voice.  The ideas we’ll look at will be accessible to all levels of experience, so don’t be shy! And don’t worry about whether you’ll be able to ‘come up’ with anything, or about sharing your ideas – no-one is going to be forced to broadcast anything. *This workshop is free to current students, but I need a certain number of participants to run it and to secure an appropriate sized space – so please confirm asap if you would like a place-and by 11th April*.


Without craftsmanship, inspiration is a mere reed shaken in the wind.’
Johannes Brahms

The November clinic is here!

Key to Music is putting on a Christmas Concert at the Drill Hall at 2pm on Saturday 13th December. All students are invited to take part, and we are teaming up with Stroller’s Music School. They are preparing some of the same material at the clinic this month is an opportunity to do some ensemble singing and playing with the Strollers students, masterminded by Strollers director Tomlin Leckie  and I.
I’ve been speaking to students in their sessions about the material, one of the songs we’re doing which is an absolutely great piece of song-writing is War is Over, by John Lennon, and you can stream a bit of it here.
We’ve arranged it for two guitars, a rhythm part and a lead line, and if you’d like a head start on checking out the music the pdfs are just below.
I can’t emphasise enough how much fun it is playing music with other people, and how all the things you get told in your lessons start to make sense-like playing with a metronome; knowing a part inside out so that you can really relax and enjoy playing or singing it. Even if you’re not sure about playing in the concert, come and enjoy the chance to play with other people.
The clinic will run from 11 am to about 1.30pm, we will probably be in a couple of different rooms in the drill hall working on different pieces, we’ll have a break half way through, and it’ll be good fun.  PDFs below!

War is over choir

War is over rhythm guitar

War is over single note guitar line

This workshop is going to be an opportunity to learn a bit about East European musical styles. The folk styles of the Balkans are incredibly rich – fabulous whirling rhythms and infectious melodies. During this clinic, we’ll explore the scales that the melodies are typically drawn from, the rhythms which are different from the time signatures we’re more used to, we’ll experiment with composing some of our own melodies to create a bit of Balkan-inspired music. The clinic is open to all levels of guitar; we may split into a couple of different rooms half way through when we’re making up our own tunes. In the meantime here are some clips to get you thinking. (We won’t be going quite at that speed…).  Come and compose your own bit of music and we’ll stitch the parts together-we may even get to do a recording of it. Apply the chords and dexterity you’ve been working on to another whole style of music.
If you are taking private lessons, this is a valuable opportunity to develop your skills in playing music with other people-which after all is a big part of the pleasure inherent in learning music.
Book your place on the calendar. Workshop attendance is free to current Key To Music students and £17 to non current students.  To book, select the 26th on the calendar and fill in the fields.



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The September Clinic is an introduction to vocal technique for guitarists


It’s also open to any current student vocalists who’d like a review, a thorough warm up and a bit of singing.
Most guitarists find the day comes when the they can finally change chords fluently, that niggly syncopated strumming pattern flows smoothly and easily without a second thought, they no longer need to babysit the right hand, and they can play the chords from a number of different songs. Ideally, it’s time to add the vocals in and sing the song, to the gratitude and admiration of friends and onlookers!
It’s not uncommon for people to feel nervous about singing: it can make us feel somewhat exposed, and although we use our voices every day, the movements and sound we produce in speech are different to singing. Sometimes would-be singers don’t immediately like the sound that they produce, or worry about being consistent, or would like to have a bigger range and move more smoothly between low and high registers. There’s a big misconception around the idea of ‘talent’ when it comes to singing-you either have a great voice or you don’t. In fact, because sound is produced by muscles (vocal cords) that co-ordinate (or fail to) in specific ways, you can absolutely develop your voice and improve on where you are now. Strength, flexibility, muscle isolation all play their part. Most singers in the public eye have had a lot of training and vocal development, and comparing your sound to theirs isn’t appropriate.
Understanding why and how sound is produced can also really make you feel more confident about starting to put together a repertoire of songs to sing at parties and doing a bit of vocal training is a natural complement to playing guitar.
The session will run for about 90 minutes and we will explore how sound is produced, what the different components of the vocal equipment are and how they work together; how to do a healthy warm up, how to start working with your voice to build strength and flexibility, and then we will enjoy singing a tune or two and putting some harmonies in. This last part about harmonies is useful for anyone who might want to sing in a band or ensemble of any kind.

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