Hi there,

This is my first post here on UG

Ive been playing for ~1 year, i know a bit about theory, a few dozen songs etc, and I wanted to get started playing by ear. Ive never taken lessons, but ive been through the steve krenz learn and master series, learned some songs and moved on. Ive gotten help from forums and things as well. Back to the question though, ive have a friend recommend me some songs to tab out by ear, and im usually dead wrong, but Im slowly getting better i think, its just tough to work on when im so bad at it and its so very frustrating. The one big question i did want to ask though, is how much of playing by ear, i.e. tabbing stuff out, is related to ear training? Is this something i should just jump into and start doing, or do i need to really use those ear trainer sites. Ive used trainear.com and i can pretty much recognize any ascending interval 95% of the time unless its played very quickly. I have the David lucas berge relative pitch course, and of course i cant stand it. anyways, even with all that, i go to musictheory.net and i fail miserably at identifying chords unless its maj and something else. But like i said, im not going to be a music teacher, all i care about is being able to tab out songs that i like. So... do i need to learn alot more about theory? or do alot more ear training? or just hack it out and keep trying to tab out songs? Any advice would be appreciated and im sorry because i know this question has been asked a few million times but im worried im either doing this ear training stuff for nothing, or im not doing near enough of it.


I could be wrong, but I don't think anyone can help you that much with learning to play by ear. It's just... something you do. I didn't know the slightest thing about theory for the first 5 years I played guitar, and most things I knew how to play I learned by listening to a song on repeat and attempting to mimic the notes.
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Three things:

First, work on descending intervals as well. You don't want to have to mentally reverse it every time in order to get it.

Second, download the functional ear trainer from Miles.Be. To my mind, the skills this develops are much more relevant than drilling intervals. It's free, it's a great tool.

Third, I don't know anything about the course you're taking on ear training, but I highly recommend "Ear Training for the Contemporary Musician" by Keith Wyatt et al, which is basically a course in transcription, starting with very simple melodies and working up to advanced stuff. It will also teach you a lot of theory, albiet in passing - it teaches you the theory in the context of learning how to hear it.

Ear training is a slow process. You can't "cram" it - it requires a small amount of work at regular intervals - using the functional ear trainer for 10-15 minutes five times a week will probably lead to big progress. But it won't happen overnight, and it really does require dedication.

And if you don't have a lot of experience (which you don't) it'll be very slow. That's okay. It's like learning a new language - you wouldn't expect to be able to listen to a native french speaker and understand what they were saying in casual conversation after only a few weeks or drilling.
I'd say, take simple songs (pop tunes).
Pull up the chord charts (you know how to build chords, right?) and play along with the melody of a song.
Many times they are simpler than you think and you can pick it up quickly. However, if you can't, don't get frustrated.
The only way to get better at ear training is to do it and do it and do it and do it.
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It's all ear training 'cuz you use your ear to figure the song out. Start with the easy stuff man. Some AC/DC will help, it's mostly power chords though. Then start moving up on the complexity. I've never used sites for pitch recognition, it's better to have a piano and identify random stuff(for me it is). But if you want to develop interval recognition, I recommend Steve Vai's Crash Course in Ear Training(on www.guitarworld.com ) it was a really cool and interesting thing. And yes, you can jump to it right now, with any song you love(that is simple so you won't get frustrated).
Listen to the song A LOT. it will help you listen to the details.
Try to identify the key of the song, it might help.
If you can't figure the chord, try with the root first, then apply your interval knowledge and/or music theory knowledge.

Recommended songs:
In One Ear- Cage The Elephant
Wish You Were Here- Pink Floyd, except the solo
Anything by AC/DC, Nirvana and Red Hot Chili Peppers( they really helped me)
Thanks for all the help, this is basically what I usually hear except more so in regards to the ear training. I realize its alot like learning guitar and there is no silver bullet. I just wasnt sure if all this ear training stuff was a sham or a way to speed up the process alot. In a nutshell what i mean is, i wasnt sure if i would make more progress just trying to tab out songs i like, and get them wrong, or spend hours listening to random notes played melodically and harmonically identifying intervals or chord qualities or what have you. Im still not really sure what im going to do, but i will continue with the little bit of ear training that im doing, even though it makes me crazy how slow it is, and hopefully ill hear a song and want to tab it out ill see i guess :/
I knew HotspurJr would post here he seems to be an ear training specialist, do what he says
Hotspur is our very own ear training nazi!

P.S.: Joke aside, I mean it as a compliment! do your thing dude!
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No offense taken.

I'm only such a zealot about it because I realized how many musicians ignore it, and it continues to be a huge factor in turning me into the musician I always wanted to be.
So, im hoping to have one last round of comments here :P, today im in the car running to the grocery store, and the La's came on my ipod cause i have it set to shuffle. Some of their stuff is pretty interesting but it occurs to me even more now than ever, so much music sounds strange to me, i play only acoustic guitar. Many songs are done with electric guitar, and its tough for me to even recognize if its a chord being played, or just 2 notes, or maybe the bass guitar and a melody. Its difficult for me to explain but sometimes i have NO IDEA WHATSOEVER is going on. If i were to sit at my guitar, i could maybe pluck out the bass notes or the melody, but theres so much going on it would be difficult for me to tell if theyres even chords being played or some kind of electronic drums being played in the harmony. Any tips on deciphering that type of stuff would be helpful as well :P

/e with any luck i will go and find myself a guitar teacher here within the next year, because ive heard alot of good things about having a real life teacher, and maybe it will be helpful to watch someone tab out a song who knows what theyre doing
Last edited by blunderwonder at Mar 24, 2012,
Quote by blunderwonder
If i were to sit at my guitar, i could maybe pluck out the bass notes or the melody, but theres so much going on it would be difficult for me to tell if theyres even chords being played or some kind of electronic drums being played in the harmony. Any tips on deciphering that type of stuff would be helpful as well :P

THe course of study I outlined above will help you with this.

Don't think about "tips" - asking for tips is like saying, "I'd like to learn how to build a rocket that can go to Mars, do you have any tips?"

There are techniques and skills that need to be practiced and honed. The book I mentioned above will walk you through all of them. Once you learn to recognize notes in the context of a key center, it gets easier to pick out chords.

Start simple. Gradually get more complicated. Guess what - the ear training book I recommended does exactly this.
You just have to listen. Everyone on here has posted good advice but maybe I would suggest taking the visual aspect out of it, like instead of watching lessons on YouTube, just listen. Too many players are visual, it is our ears, after all that we use to perceive music.

Another thing is, I don't know how to explain but say youre able to detect a note or a chord by ear, that's good but it's also really good to know the texture of the chord because there's a different quality in a chord that is played with open strings than that some chord barred or without open strife ringing. Does that make sense?

Like if I listen to a song and o figure out it's a c chord, I know where the c chord is being played at on the guitar.
I believe that's on over looked aspect of ear training.

One more bit, is if your playin scales or anything really, try and hum or sing the pitch and match it. Or vice versatile, hum note and try and play it on guitar
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Yup, I agree with TDKshorty, it's so easy to learn to play guitar without using ears. I saw a video on youtube of a girl who played avenged sevenfold piece that is in drop D, but she played it in E standard. She was playing well but... Damn, how she couldn't notice all the low notes wrong ?

Neverthless, train your ears as hard as you can. It's propably the most important thing of playing guitar IMO. Sing a lot! Sing the scales, notes of chords, whatever - do it good. Vai written some good articles on it, so check them out here :

( check the ear trainig part )

( check all of it ! )
Just an update, i probably wont check this thread for a few days, then not at all :P Im going to continue with trainear.com and work on descending intervals while i find that book/cd set you mentioned and functional ear trainer. though i do like the sites i use because of the relation to songs. Anyhow, im going to continue with that and the chord stuff at musictheory.net. Ive gone ahead and started to speed them alot and im getting better with that also. thanks again guys :P
The best thing to do I think is just learn songs by ear, but don't pick stuff people suggest to you unless you like those songs, the reason is chances are you're not going to learn it because well you hate it?

Go through your ipod or cd stack or something and pick what you would think is the easiest song out of them all.
I'm surprised nobody mentioned this, but I found learning to sing helped my ear out a lot. You don't have to be able to sing "good, just enough to hit the right notes. I would start by sight singing simple melodies using solfege (do re mi).
sorry i dont want to be a bother just wanted to say thanks again, ive looked into functional ear trainer, its not really so bad, and ive gotten alot better after only maybe 20-40 minutes total working on it. unfortunately I cant find a free copy of that keith wyatt book so that will have to wait :/ im going to continue with trainear.com and musictheory.net also, and ill just keep doing what i can with simple melodies until i can find some songs i really want to tab out. This like everything else related to guitar I think my expectations are just off, I figure getting better at playing by ear will be a night and day thing where after i learn "x" it will make learning a new song i heard on the radio a snap. I was just reading something and the guy said when learning to transcribe music sometimes your "cd player chops" are as important as anything else, being able to stop the song at the right time so you dont get confused, or stopping at the correct phrase, or even correct note in order to figure out very complicated stuff lol
Sit with your guitar, close your eyes. Now try to play melody lines from popular songs. If you don't like to play pop-lines, then try to play whichever melody you're hearing in your head.

The last one also stimulates your musical imagination.
Last edited by dogmax at Mar 25, 2012,
The Wyatt book is on Amazon. It'll help you with some of the figuring out chord stuff, too.