First off, I am a quite the beginner when it comes to guitar techniques and such. Until now I have either learned covers from YouTube videos (for tougher picking songs) or just learned simple strumming songs. I am self-taught and guitar lessons aren't an option for me at the moment. I want to start playing songs with my own twist on them, and although I can hear it in my head, I have almost no idea how to translate that to picking the strings of my guitar.

I have looked at a couple articles on this website and so far have learned what notes each scale contains and roughly what chords make up each key. The song in particular that I am looking at playing right now is Oblivion by Bastille. When I listen to him singing I can hear D, C, G, E, A, and F notes (in the prechorus). So, I have a couple questions:

If I hear him singing these notes, I am assuming I can simply play those notes and that's that, but that seems pretty boring for this song. So how can I go about playing around those notes and finding a picking pattern that works for this song?

Is there a better way to tune my guitar to play this song in particular? If so what is it and how would I have gone about finding out what that tuning was?

I really appreciate any help, thanks guys!
Try to find which note it resolves nicely to, it's kind of hard to describe, but once you know it you can pick out the key in seconds when listening to it. The song you're talking about is in the key of D minor (or F), so if you wanna make something in key with that, use that scale and play around.
Strumming pattern is whatever you think fits the song, it's not that important.

I think standard tuning is perfect for this song, the only time you'd really need to retune your guitar would be if the song is in an open tuning and utilizes tonnes of open strings which would be hard to emulate in standard. It's not that easy to tell when it is an open tuning unless you've played with it yourself though. To know which one, well you kinda can't know for sure unless the artist stated it somewhere, but the most common alternative tunings for acoustic type songs are probably open E, D or C, just gotta figure out which one makes sense with the key. But they're not even common, most songs are in standard tuning.
Last edited by intothe at Nov 4, 2014,
Learn to play in standard tuning. I wouldn't start changing tunings yet. Standard tuning will work for most songs, especially songs with just chords in them. (Many rock songs have riffs in them that work best in a certain tuning - mostly standard, drop D or a lower standard/drop tuning - but in this kind of pop songs it's just chord strumming and IMO standard tuning is the best tuning for chord playing.)

I guess you want to figure out the chords in the song. Listen to the bass/the lowest note in the chord. Most of the time the bass note is also the root of the chord (if it is not, it is called an inversion). Also figure out the key. Which of the chords feels like home? That's your tonic. When you play that chord, it kind of sounds complete. For example if you play C-Am-Dm-G7, it kind of wants to go somewhere. End it with a C and it sounds complete. So in that progression C is your tonic which means you would be in the key of C major.

After you have figured out the key, you can just add the other notes to the bass notes (from your key scale). It is also good to learn to hear what a major and a minor chord sounds like.

This advice only really applies to diatonic chord progressions (I mean chord progressions that only use notes from the key scale). Remember that inversions can also be used so the bass note may be some other chord tone too. It's not always the root. But non-inverted chords are most common.

So if it doesn't sound right, you may want to try an inversion. If we are in the key of C major and the bass plays an E and Em just doesn't sound right, figure out the chords in C major that have an E in them. There are three of them - Em (E = root), C (E = third), A (E = fifth). And why are there three of them? Because triads have three notes in them. So the E note can be either the root, third or fifth of the chord. (We are now sticking with triads only so that it doesn't get too complicated.)

It's just trial and error in the beginning. I would suggest learning about chord functions (I mean things like tonic, dominant, subdominant and the Roman numerals) and scale degrees/intervals. Those can help at playing by ear.

You will find the "strumming pattern" by just listening to the song. Pay attention to what the instruments in the song play and try to mimic their rhythm. As you may hear, the Bastille song pretty much uses arpeggios (chord tones played separately). So you may want to play like that. It's not a very rhythmic song so just playing long chords would also work.