How to learn guitar by ear at home

How to learn guitar by ear at home

How to learn guitar at home by ear

how to play the blues
How to play the blues on guitar

I wanted to learn to play guitar at home and as a beginner, didn’t know where to turn. I was 15 and wanted to learn guitar the correct way, whatever that means. Local guys in the neighborhood could only teach me so much, as they only played by ear. I needed more and sought out a teacher. Lessons were once a week from a small music store 10 minutes from home, Wednesday nights at 7pm. My mom drove me. I was 15. I wanted to play metal but Chuck insisted I learn the blues first, as rock and metal are derived from the blues.

Chuck was a middle – aged studio musician with short light brown hair. His weathered face reflected years under gig stage lights and Marlboro cigarettes, which he kept in plain sight in his guitar case.

Chuck’s road – worn starburst fender strat was beautifully – broken in. The warm melodic tones fell out of his amp easily and with grace. Between talks he would jot down scale patterns and chords on photocopied guitar fretboard paper for me to take home and practice. It was fun but very overwhelming.

guitar chord chart
music key chord chart

Music theory is a science. For those not familiar, music is a lot of work figuring chord structures and scales out. It’s another language you must learn and learn well. There are those who simply play by ear, never knowing what they are doing and there is nothing wrong with this. I wrote most of my music that way. Some of the greats are the same, including the Beatles. Most, bands, at least 90%, you have seen at the local club (rock especially) play by ear. Ask them to play a B minor scale in 2nd position and they’ll freeze.

Lessons with Chuck didn’t last more than a few months, as I ran out of money, and wanted to pursue heavier music. I spent hours, daily, in my room, completely obsessed with guitar. My bedroom was wallpapered with inspirational photos of rock legends I listened to and read about, along with photos of guitars I could not afford.


THE MOVIE CROSSROADS REALLY GOT ME INTO PLAYING, along with most kids. Check it out here.

Ralph Macchio is a classically-trained guitarist in the CROSSROADS film who battles against Jack Butler (sold his sold his soul to the devil.) If Ralph’s character wins, he keeps his soul, but if Jack wins, well, it’s not good for Ralph. Ralph Macchio never played guitar in this film but did a great job at pretending. Jack Butler is played by Steve Vai, one of the best guitar virtuosos there is. Steve has played with Frank Zappa, Whitesnake and a host of others, but mainly enjoys a successful career as a solo artist. Here are some of Steve’s many albums. He’s one of my favorite artists. It was a fun time, it was a great time, it was the  1980s.

Should you take lessons? Great question. For me, some guitar lessons with a teacher and through books on my own were good. A starting point was needed. Music theory was very overwhelming to me. I’m a perfectionist and I need to understand why things happen. There were many times where I came up with really cool chords or progressions and asked how they translated to theory. All the time, I got no answers. “It sounds great! But it doesn’t follow theory.” That’s what I heard. Or I would get something like, “it looks like an A minor but you add a 6th to it and then you go here….that doesn’t make sense but it’s really cool.” Those statements drove me crazy. If there was no theory behind it and if a name couldn’t be put to what I was doing, I didn’t want to play it. Maybe that’s stupid but it’s how I am. It drove me nuts that certain things couldn’t be explained.

do you need music lessons?
Should you take music lessons?

I spent hours researching and trying to figure out patterns and reasons for the way music worked and hit a lot of dead ends. Music is not perfect, it’s more a feeling. I kept hearing that if it sounds good, then it is good. Although I agree, it still drove me nuts to not have answers in music theory. I decided I couldn’t take it anymore and knew it would one day truly drive me crazy. I stopped theory and played by ear only. The advantage to that is it’s more fun. I like being surprised by FINDING the cool chords instead of letting theory dictate that to me.

The good news is that today, in the cool technology era we live in, there is YouTube. Tons of videos online to teach anyone how to play any style of any instrument are available. We didn’t have that when we were kids. We had to drop $50 on ONE guitar instructional video on VHS made by REH video. Never could afford those.

If you want to learn but don’t want to travel anywhere and have limited funds or don’t want to commit to music lessons or their expense, there is AMAZON….or, as I said, YouTube.

Electric guitars and gear for beginners on Amazon

TONS of lesson material available on AMAZON.

Of course there are many people out there saying you need to know theory, while others will say no you don’t. The beatles knew no theory. Paul McCartney was quoted as saying “it’s all just flies on a sheet of paper to me.” That made me feel better. In the end, do what you feel is best. I think some form of lessons are good. I would say if you strive to be a studio musician or session player, you need to know theory. You’ll be playing other artists’ music and you need to know how and fast. In the studio, time is money. You need to learn how to site read and play with feel on the fly. I wasn’t going that route.

Here’s a link to my first album on iTunes, circa 1995.

I love Ibanez and Fender guitars
Ibanez RG Series RG470MB – Autumn Fade Metallic


I still play guitar as time permits and record in my home studio but life gets in the way and I lost interest in trying to “make it” years ago.

I wish I knew where Chuck was. I can only imagine how good he is now.

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How I learned to play guitar in the 80s

How I learned to play guitar in the 80s

Let me wind down the day with thoughts of my past, the rocker days. At 15 years of age I thought it would be fun to play an instrument. Not sure where that thought came from; it just happened. Looking around my room I saw the flute / recorder from school. I knew that wasn’t too cool if I got good at it. I really wasn’t too sure what cool was since I had short hair and got mostly straight A’s in school. Never hung with the fast crowd and have yet to hear any Van Halen or heavy metal band…the year was 1988.

Steve Vai circa late 1990s. He designed this guitar, the Ibanez Jem 7VWH. I own one of the original ones and still have it. It’s signed by him and Billy Sheehan, his bassist.

An old acoustic guitar my grandfather had given me years before, collected dust in the corner of my room. “What if I learned to play guitar?” Images of cowboys went through my head. I wasn’t sure I wanted to learn cowboy campfire songs. Little did I know, there was much more to it than that. Grabbing the guitar, I tried strumming, not knowing what I was doing. No clue. Later that night I caught the end of the movie “crossroads” with Ralph Macchio and Steve Vai. Steve Vai was the main driving inspirational force behind me wanting to learn guitar. He was the guitarist for Frank Zappa and David Lee Roth, before starting his solo career in the early 1990’s. I watched the end of the Crossroads movie EVERY DAY after school.

I never took lessons but wanted to. The money wasn’t there and I was more interested in learning from a couple neighborhood guys anyway. They played by ear and taught me the basics. I was amazed to learn about all the cool things you could do. I was obsessed with guitar. Classical music and metal are my favorite styles to play.

Yngwie Malmsteen playing his signature designed YJM Fender strat in front of a wall of Marshall amps. I have this guitar and love it.

A friend of mine had Yngwie Malmsteen’s first album, Rising Force, on cassette. Knowing I was into guitar, he gave it to me. This cassette blew my mind! Yngwie (pronounced INGVAY) combined classical guitar with heavy metal perfectly. Perfectly executed intricate guitar runs set to classical music phrasing. My jaw hit the floor and I was now hooked for the long haul. I played and noodled around every chance I got. There was no you tube and no internet for that matter so I had to find people who played and learn from them. The year was 1988 and I was progressing rapidly. Most guitar players were in bands or starting bands. I was too overwhelmed with the calibre of guitar players out there, even though most people said I was really good. I never believed them. I was the opposite of a vein guitar player.


Check out this video of Yngwie Malmsteen. You can hear how he blends classical phrasing with electric guitar. I LOVE THIS! This was filmed by me when I saw him live in 2017.

My love of photography and video production naturally sparked passion for audio and sound editing. I started to record music at home. Studio equipment was expensive so musicians sought out studios to record at. There were no computers for recording yet. Recording studios recorded on analog tape, reel to reel.

steve rotter ibanez
Steve Rotter (me) 2002.

I formed my first real band I was proud of in 1993. The band’s name was PUSH. That ended around 1996. We were going nowhere as discrepancies mounted, just as in any relationship. This was a relationship between 5 people and their girlfriends. I left and took all my music with me. I’ve played with bands on and off here and there for the next 10 years. I do miss those days but am happy playing in my home studio now. I also record bands here and there from time to time on the side. It’s nice playing the producer and recording engineer for others. Witnessing the art of others is awesome!

I got an email around 1999 from someone who heard my cd and wanted me to tour with their band as lead guitar player in Europe. We were to open for the band whitesnake all over europe. I LOVE whitesnake. You can imagine how ecstatic I was. I couldn’t believe it. Well, I didn’t go. I didn’t feel I was ready or good enough. I also didn’t want to tour europe with people I didn’t know, in a band I didn’t start. I know that sounds stupid, but that’s where I was. So that’s my story on how I learned to play guitar in the 80s.

For the record, I never tried any drugs. Not every heavy metal guy is an idiot or a pot – head – driven weirdo. I have come across many of those people during the band days. It made me feel uncomfortable. I just did my own thing and pushed through. I have a couple CDs for sale if you are interested. Check this site for links.

Order my cd (signed copy) MIME RIOT – FEAR

Also available on iTunes and Amazon music as digital download.

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Marshall Code 50-50 watt 1×12″ guitar amp:

Charvel Pro-Mod San Dimas guitar blue frost:


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Shure mv88 microphone:

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Blue Yeti USB Microphone:

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Professional Grade Lavalier Lapel Microphone

Y-Connector Audio Splitter for Lavalier Microphone

Headphone Jack Adapter Lightning Connector


I’m a GUITAR PLAYER. Check out my music and purchase here:

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I’m a video editor of 25 years, audio engineer 20 years, photographer 25 years and guitarist 20 years. I post photography and stop motion animation videos, but mainly guitar playing.