#1
I've read a few articles and posts about figuring out the tuning, and most people say to find the lowest note in the song... but that doesn't always mean that it's going to be tuned down or even in drop tuning. Any tips?
I'm extremely new to ear transcription - I just attempted it last night. And I actually managed to teach myself three songs. Two of which, I already knew that the band played in Drop C# tuning, so it was obvious the other songs would follow suit. The other, I just kind of guessed because of the guitar tone (can someone tell me if this is even a good approach?).

To find the song's key, what should I do? Like maybe if I get one note/chord right, just try to play the next one until I figure out that one too? Use octaves? Single notes?
Should I turn the music off for a second until I figure out what that next chord would be (for verses and choruses) then go from there?

I know I sound like a moron here, but I'm looking for advices from different people so I can try to experiment with their methods. Kind of sad I've been playing for 8 years, and I can't even ear out a song or figure out a key, or know a lot of music theory... lol

Thanks in advance to anyone who contributes.
#2
You ask good questions.

First of all I think it really helps to have a good ear. If you can match pitches, that's going to be helpful no matter what.

Secondly, I disagree that it's always the lowest note in the song. It can be, but that's not a hard and fast rule.

Let's talk about tuning first:

If a song has a lowered E by step to a Drop-D, you can or should be able to hear it. I think one thing that also helps is to condition yourself to listening to pieces that you already know are in different tunings so you begin to hear the tendencies and "signatures" of that tuning. For example, I listened to Children of Bodom, and know the Drop C that Alexi used, and I could hear when GnR was in Eb tuning because of their vocal advantage on the high notes. I knew Soundgarden's use of Drop D (and Alice In Chains etc) I know some fingerstyle players that used DADGAD tuning or Open G, such as Laurence Juber. The point is, I had a bed of tunes and styles that I could reference. If you do this, then I think that will help you start to discern possible tunings.

As for Key: I think if you are starting from zero the first thing you want to do is determine, what single note, if the song needed to end right now, would sound RESOLVED? Like we could end on that note and people would feel like it's finished. If you get that note, then decide whether or not it is a Major or minor in feel or key.

If I'm playing Comfortably Numb, and want to know the "key", and I determine that a ringing B note feels like it wraps the song up, then next I might play a B Major, or a B minor and decide which chord felt the most resolved to me.

If I have some theory knowledge and understand that a Minor key usually involves use of Harmonic Minor, I could then ascertain the likely chords (or majority of them) in that song, and better isolate what's going on. This might help me determine a soloing or improvisational approach as well. Harmonic Analysis might follow from there to determine what outside chords were used, alterations and the like. In no time at all I can have a complete song profile.

Hope these ideas help you!

Best,

Sean
#3
Seans response is very useful as an overall guide! by the sounds of it you're into metal/metalcore, to work out what sort of drop tunings they use it's really simple, when bands like that do a 'breakdown' it's usually based around an open power chord so all you have to do is try and match up that note and you'll work out what tuning you're in! However when it comes to other styles of music, tunings may be a lot harder to work out and it's something that you need to spend a lot of time practicing and learning to recognise what notes sound like. To work out the key of a song you will need to have a basic understand of music theory, at least know all your major keys and their relative minors also your basic knowledge of harmony will help, knowing chord progressions will help you identify what chords are being played, a very common chord progression would be I VI II V, this is songs like earth angel, blue moon etc... Don't forget that working out what key a songs in might not always be that much help if it's not strictly diatonic, a lot of bands use chromaticism and other techniques that move away from the key so when you're playing over the top of the chords, some notes in the scale won't fit as the chord may have a flat 7th or something so you would have to work out what note has been changed and avoid the original note. To improve your ear training, try listening to simple melodies, work out the root note and the scale and then try to work out the melody without any form of notation (including tab). I started off learning simple theme tunes such as Eastenders, The Simpsons etc..

Good Luck!
#4
To find the song's tuning I do the following:

1-Find the lowest note in the song, then tune your guitar to tune down or drops with the 6th string (the kind of music I usually transcribe explore low notes, so my reference is the 6th string, in your case it might be another string, just keep in mind that it's usually the lower strings) having the lowest note of the song. The lowest note of a song may not be the lowest note of the guitar the composer uses, but the important is not to use the original tuning, it's to play the song (if you don't agree, sorry, but I can't help you).

2-Transcribe the song in the tuning you used (drop or tune down), you don't need to transcribe the whole song, some of its parts will do.

3-Change each string tuning to make playing the song as easy as possible. If a part is too tough to be played (usually when you have to stretch your fingers too much), changing the tune of one string may solve the problem (drops and open tunings for example). In this step sometimes the lowest note of the song may end up being fretted and not an open string, this is not a problem!

Important notes:

-Learning different tunings will help you, because you'll have an excellent reference for step 3.
-Some bands play almost always in the same tuning. People usually point that out on the internet, so it may be worth checking out.
-If you have a good ear, you may realize some notes in the song must be played in specific strings in order for you to get a tone similar to the original one. You can usually identify this when the note is in an open string.

For the key (in case of learning/transcribing a song):

Just don't bother for it! At least not before you transcribe the song. Use only your ears to transcribe the song. If you keep focused on a key you likely won't be able to listen to out of key notes and your ear won't fully be trained, because you're using your brains more than your ears.

Transcribe the whole song, and after that, if you really want to you find out the song key, check all the notes withing the song, how they appear and just determine it. You need music theory knowledge to find the key of a song, so go and study it!

For the key (in case of improvising):

Sometimes you need to know the key of something your friend is playing, because you want to do some improvisation over it, right? Wrong, you don't need to know the key of anything to be able to improvise, but since it's the easiest way, here's how to do it:

1-Learn some scales, they are very helpful in case you don't have an excellent trained ear.

2-Thrown in some notes over the song, and pay attention to the ones that sound good.

3-See if the notes that sound good form any of the positions you learned, and then, just go from there.

Notes:

-Sometimes the good notes just won't form any position you know, in this case the song is in a different mode than the ones you know.
-If you know the Whole/Half step pattern of the the keys you can also use it by playing only on one string and then going from there.

Hope I helped. If you have any questions, just quote my post.
Last edited by mp8andrade at May 9, 2014,
#5
Quote by mp8andrade
To find the song's tuning I do the following:

1-Find the lowest note in the song, then tune your guitar to tune down or drops with the 6th string (the kind of music I usually transcribe explore low notes, so my reference is the 6th string, in your case it might be another string, just keep in mind that it's usually the lower strings) having the lowest note of the song. The lowest note of a song may not be the lowest not of the guitar player who composed it, but the important is not to use the original tuning, it's to play the song (if you don't agree, sorry, but I can't help you).
This is great, BUT...some of us can't de-tune our guitars. Or we don't want to. *cough* Floyd Roses and laziness *cough*

We learn how to hear the notes without downtuning. Just pointing that out. I agree with your principles though.
Last edited by crazysam23_Atax at May 8, 2014,
#6
Quote by crazysam23_Atax
This is great, BUT...some of us can't de-tune our guitars. Or we don't want to. *cough* Floyd Roses and laziness *cough*

We learn how to hear the notes without downtuning. Just pointing that out. I agree with your principles though.


Of course you can do this, but of course this is a lot harder (for those without a very good trained ear). I myself do something kind like this sometimes when the song is in a really low tuning, instead of hitting the notes I can't hit in the tuning I'm using, I just hit some octaves (I like to always make sure the note in my head is the same that is in the song).

I always recommend people who have a floyd rose to get a second guitar in which they're free to play with the tuning. Lots of amateurs buying their first guitar tend to do the mistake of getting a floyd rose.
Last edited by mp8andrade at May 9, 2014,
#7
Quote by mp8andrade
Of course you can do this, but of course this is a lot harder (for those without a very good trained ear). I myself do something kind like this sometimes when the song is in a really low tuning, instead of hitting the notes I can't hit in the tuning I'm using, I just hit some octaves (I like to always make sure the note in my head is the same that is in the song).

I always recommend people who have a floyd rose to get a second guitar in which they're free to play with the tuning. Lots of amateurs buying their first guitar tend to do the mistake of getting a floyd rose.

I actually have 4 guitars, only one of which has a floyd rose. I've just learned how to play octave notes or things of that nature, because I dislike re-tuning my guitars. (I know. I'm weird. ) That said, your idea is a good one.


@TS:
One thing that helps me, especially with songs that have a lot of chromatic notes, is to find notes that are repeated a lot. Consciously or unconsciously, a lot of composers/songwriters will repeat "important" notes, like the 5th or the 3rd or the 7th, etc. If you can also find the tonic note (aka 1 -- the note that resolves the piece), then you'll have an easier time figuring out the key. This doesn't always work, but it's one technique I've used with some success.
Last edited by crazysam23_Atax at May 9, 2014,
#8
Quote by crazysam23_Atax
I actually have 4 guitars, only one of which has a floyd rose. I've just learned how to play octave notes or things of that nature, because I dislike re-tuning my guitars. (I know. I'm weird. ) That said, your idea is a good one.


@TS:
One thing that helps me, especially with songs that have a lot of chromatic notes, is to find notes that are repeated a lot. Consciously or unconsciously, a lot of composers/songwriters will repeat "important" notes, like the 5th or the 3rd or the 7th, etc. If you can also find the tonic note (aka 1 -- the note that resolves the piece), then you'll have an easier time figuring out the key. This doesn't always work, but it's one technique I've used with some success.


Not so weird, I also hate playing with tuning (Messes with intonation, you have to readjust the action, etc), but since I can't afford 4 guitars for now, it's my only option .

This works excellently well in more simple songs, I actually use this a lot. But there are some times when the tonic note isn't even played, and some modes also make this task a pain in the ass. A good way to find the tonic note is to keep playing a note constantly (like keep playing straight 8th notes), if it sounds right, that's the tonic note. It'll likely always work in most songs, specially the ones which have lots of leads.
Last edited by mp8andrade at May 12, 2014,
#9
Tuning, when starting I used to do like this:

-Find lowest note in the song. It's obviously at least this low.
-With no available information, assume the tuning is standard and tune to it. Get your guitar in a close tone to the track in the song
-Play the riffs. If you encounter things like hammeron powerchords or very fast switches that would (nearly) be impossible in standard, you're dropped
-Listen for open strings, or what you think must be open strings. They sound a little bit different than fretted notes but it can be hard to hear with much gain. For example, if you have a lead part or solo that suddenly uses a much lower pitched note, it's probably open. If the song has a clean part with what sounds like open chords/arpeggios, this is an easy spot to confirm the tuning
-Natural harmonics are also a dead giveaway if the song has a few of those
-Albums usually have all or most songs in the same tuning. Play along to other songs from the album and see if it works there as well.

When you've transcribed for a while, it gets easier and you might be able to transcribe a whole song without even using your guitar - but I'd definitely recommend using your guitar in the right tuning for a beginner.