There’s no doubt about the fact that we as a breed certainly seem to learn the most by watching what others do. In the fine art of anything musical, it becomes especially complex in terms of our human capabilities to hear what someone is doing, and to then decipher and essentially translate what it is we are hearing onto our own fret boards. This ability of course, comes with experience, and when we hear a bunch of licks and passages we can’t quite get a “handle” on, it’s so important to listen for something we do recognize that we can “hang our hats on”. This in turn, enables us to then at least understand where the player is coming from, and the vicinity of his/her notes will give us an idea as to which position on the guitar is being utilized.
I have used that technique forever, since I am a self-taught player and it’s a skill that anyone really must have if they expect to be a true musician with “open” ears! Watching what others do is so critical, because let’s face it, there are only so many positions and options on the guitar. The toughest and most flexible part of playing is the fact that many notes can be played in the same octave in many different places on the neck, even including harmonics. This gives us an enormous amount of choices, and should also help us “fine tune” our ears to exactly which notes are being played, and which neighborhood on the neck they are being played in! I have seen too many students try what I call the “search and destroy” mission where even though I’m sitting right there in front of them playing it, they keep searching high and low and all over for the note I am plainly showing them! I think this must be something psychological about people, and maybe it’s also an ego thing that makes them a bit stubborn, but they are trying, often in a futile way to find a note that cuts them off from understanding the position they really need to find.
No two players process this kind of information alike, but there are definitely some who fall into similar categories with each other. The fun part is when you hear a player who no doubt has their true, own way of creating phrases on the finger board, and these players are the ones with very distinct approaches. Some of these players are the ones to really watch carefully, as the odds are, they are thinking and playing in places on the neck you may’ve not even thought of yet. It’s just like reading an author who likes to work with words in their own unique was…no two can ever be that much alike.
So you can rest assured that no matter what you learn and who you learn it from, the watching and listening is essential, and regardless, it’ll all still eventually come out sounding only like YOU! Happy learning!!