Developing An Ear Just Like Chet's

Discussion of history's greatest guitar player.

Developing An Ear Just Like Chet's

Postby Doug Working » Fri Jun 06, 2014 4:50 pm

I've often heard it said, and I know it's a fact, that Chet had the best ear in Nashville. Actually, I beg to differ, but personally I think he had one of the best (most well developed ) ears in the entire music industry. I really believe the evidence would bear this out. The evidence is beyond ample. 

 And of course, he was able to perfectly apply what his ear heard onto the guitar, which is key. 

That being said, I want to make a point: As guitar pickers, I think we all naturally work very hard to develop what our fingers can do, which is all well and  good, but we need to keep in mind that the fingers can't excel past what the "inner ear" can hear. As in many things in life, there has to be a BALANCE.
So we need to spend some time developing that ear, and surely that will 100% translate into more beautiful, expressive music streaming out of our amplifier. 
You can take that to the bank. 
Technique is great and indispensable, but Chet once said in an interview that the public doesn't give a d____ about technique. They just want to hear beautiful music. (Last part paraphrased).

I wish I could remember where I read that interview.

Anyway, I sometimes think "Where did Mr. Guitar get such a highly developed ear?" It was so good, that I recall Loudermilk telling about the first time he played "Windy and Warm" for Chet. As the story goes, he got through the first few bars, and Chet took his guitar and COMPLETED the tune, having never heard it before! His ear was SO GOOD, that he could actually hear the entire song in his head and exactly where the chords were going instantly. Boys, now THAT is an incredible ear! 

So how did he get that way? And how can we approach that in our own abilities? 

Well, I think Chet gave us some clues. I've read a lot of interviews, and sponge Doug, here, has absorbed a few tidbits here and there. For one thing, I think Chet once said to expose yourself to ALL KINDS OF MUSIC. I think he was saying we need to round out our music education. Isn't it great? We don't need to attend music college. If we are determined and passionate enough about it, we can obtain a very FINE music education on our own by doing our due diligence. The more eclectic, the better. We have to be resourceful, as Chet was. And boy was he resourceful! In my opinion, he was one of the most resourceful people to ever walk the planet.

I know for a fact he listened to all styles of music, and it appears he absorbed his lessons well. I think I heard (can somebody here confirm this for me?) that when he was starting out he sat down in a room at a radio station and just took hours to listen to bunches of records just to learn the tunes. If I can get confirmation on that, I would appreciate it. 

But the point is, he opened himself up to all genres of music and expanded his repertoire and developed his ear, and we all know where it took him. The rest, as they say, is history.

I think we here have a good start. I know that a lot of you guys, like me, listen to Chet's records over and over and have done so for years. Maybe decades in some cases. Just his entire repertoire, in itself, is a bona fide musical education equal to a bachelors degree in music! Heck, maybe even a masters. 

I know that in my case Chet's tunes introduced me to tunes I never knew existed.

But there is a lot more we can do. It's a lifetime endeavor, and in the end I think there is great satisfaction in playing guitar when you don't need to depend on written scores, (although they are good and necessary) but being able to HEAR where the melody or the chord progression is leading, and being able to improvise those notes on the fingerboard and do things and variations with a basic melody that are a true expression of the music inside you is the ultimate. 

To me the most amazing thing about Chet's playing was his ability to play the same tune several different ways. That is the mark of a true music man. For instance, I believe I have four or five different recordings of "Laura's Theme" and every single time he has a different arrangement or feel to the tune. He was a MELODY man. The melody was SO important to him, and he was able to take a SIMPLE melody, like "On Top Of Old Smokey", and make it elegant. Or play it a dozen different ways. There are SEVERAL tunes that Chet recorded where he did that. Amazing. Simply amazing. When he picked up the guitar, you knew the MASTER
was playing.
Doug Working
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Re: Developing An Ear Just Like Chet's

Postby Norm » Sat Jun 07, 2014 9:09 am

The big thing about Chet was how he was always practicing. Always. Sometimes more intensely than other times, of course, but us living room guitarists really have no idea the hours people like Chet and Lenny et al put into their instruments to get the fluidity they achieved. I don't think there is anything like a "natural" There are some who take to an instrument and some who make fewer wrong turns as they learn the instrument but still it boils down to PRACTICE

The other thing is as Merle Travis once said (and I paraphrase) 'Chet came along when those kind of songs were still popular with the public and a good song had real staying power.'

In Chet's day, the Rule was pretty much no longer than three minutes probably due to the limitations of the 78 rpm popular record size. So, as Chet said more than once, he had to make his chosen songs interesting for three minutes.

When he worked for WNOX Lowell Blanchard gave him access to the station's library and encouraged Chet to "learn a new song every day" and from that he picked up the process known as "arranging" which was clearly one of his best talents as it improved over time. All you need to do is listen to the wannabe's
They generally have uninteresting beginnigns or endings on their songs.

So "ear" in Chet's case meant totally absorbing his instrument through Practice....choosing good songs and having the experience and ability to arrange them in such a way that people want to hear them more than once.
...that's how it looks to me...The opinion expressed above is my own and does not necessarily reflect the views of this station. Your mileage may vary...

Audio samples:
That should do it.
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Re: Developing An Ear Just Like Chet's

Postby Richard Hudson » Sat Jun 07, 2014 10:45 am

First we have to remind ourselves that there was only one Chet. One of the most fascinating musical minds in history. Practice, as Norm said, is the key ingredient. And, from what I have been told by people who were around Chet in his formative (musically) years, was that he was always playing guitar. At KWTO, when the rest of the folks were ganged around the coffee pot and donuts, Chet was in the corner playing his guitar. He knew ever inch of the fretboard. He could hear the notes in his mind and knew where the notes were on the fretboard instantly. He had practiced to the point that he could play the song in his mind even if he was not around a guitar. He was genius. There is no doubt about that, but he worked very, very hard to develop that genius.

He also had the ability to recognize the pattern of a new song or tune almost instantly. The example of finishing up Windy and Warm even though he had never heard it before, is a good example. He recognized the pattern and knew where it was going even though he had never heard it before.

Practice cannot be over stated. Practice to familiarize yourself with the fretboard. Practice to develop the touch. Practice to develop perfect timing. To recognize notes, and on and on. Practice, practice, practice. Chet had God given talent to begin with, but he worked hard to develop that talent. He dealt with rejection, very little income and so many things that no one ever thinks about. He persevered until we enjoy the finished product, but there was a lot of hard work, embarrassment and pain that went into developing that finished product that we hear. He was willing to do it. Most of us are not.
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Re: Developing An Ear Just Like Chet's

Postby Doug Working » Sat Jun 07, 2014 3:04 pm

Well, I got the practice part down if I could just learn to play the thing...
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Re: Developing An Ear Just Like Chet's

Postby bill_h » Wed Jun 11, 2014 7:27 pm

Chet had a phenomenal ear for pitches; I think that's pretty much a given. But his ear didn't end there, he must have had an uncanny ability to hear how things all fit together. That's why he's Mr. Guitar and the Dean Of Nashville Producers. To have either one of those titles bestowed on you by your peers is extraordinary enough but for one person to be given both titles is phenomenal! They only come along like Chet once every generation or so!
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Re: Developing An Ear Just Like Chet's

Postby synchro » Thu Nov 09, 2017 4:42 pm

I hope no one will mind my resurrecting a zombie thread, but this is an area about which I am passionate.

Guitar has always come easy to me, from my first lesson, back in 1966. Nonetheless, I plateaued and stagnated from about year 6 to year 10. I finally broke that plateau when an instructor stood up to me and made me realize that my technique was not up to par. The remedy? About a year of practicing scales and arpeggios slowly and carefully. It was not easy, but was well worth the effort and frustration because, not only did my technique improve, but so did my ear. Play scales often enough and your ear learns to recognize the notes it hears on a recording.

The next step was to improve my understanding of chord/scale relationships, including harmonic and melodic minor tone centers. Suddenly, in fact quite suddenly, I was able to hear the chord changes in songs, almost without conscious effort. It got to the point that I had to purposely avoid listening to the radio in my vehicle because I would analyze the songs as I heard them and it could be fatiguing. Fortunately, while I still catch myself analyzing songs I hear on the radio, I am able to listen without wearing myself out.

Listening to a wide variety of music helps too. One mistake I made, as a young man, was to become so wrapped up in Jazz guitar that I didn't listen to much else. When I dismounted my high horse and started listening to a wider range of music again I suddenly found myself learning. Just because a song has simple changes doesn't mean that it's an elementary song. At one time, I looked at songs with a lot of dominant 7ths as olde fashioned, but these sorts of changes are a gas to play over and you get to pull some minor keys out of your bag of tricks. A lot of Chet's material employed dominant 7ths and he did so very much with them, both melodically and with the harmonies.

But none of that happened until I faced the deficiencies in my technique and began to develop my ear in earnest. The corollary was direct and obvious; a true night and day change in my playing. One side effect was that I found that I understood the harmonic logic of songs and didn't need charts for much of anything.

Never would I claim to have an ear as good as Chet's, but I have been blessed to have a fairly good ear and that makes music just that much more enjoyable. My purpose in posting this is simply in hopes that if anyone who reads this finds themselves plateaued in their development as a player that they will be able to employ some of these suggestions.
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Re: Developing An Ear Just Like Chet's

Postby Doug Working » Fri Nov 10, 2017 10:12 pm

I love your post. It's inspiring and uplifting to me to read. And it confirms to me that I am on the right track in my current studies where I am focusing on scales and arpeggios. Myself? I have plateaued many, many times over the years!!
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