Ear Playing Is Not The Easy Way Out

We will discuss Pitch and Interval Recognition, the Suzuki Method, and techniques to learn songs from recordings.

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In order to optimize this lesson, you must first learn the main riff from Iron Man.
guitar
|------|-------|-------------------|-----------|   
|------|-------|-------------------|-----------|   
|------|-------|-------------------|-----------|
|-5--7-|-7/9-9-|-12\11-12\11-12\11-|-7--7/9-9--|             
|-2--5-|-5/7-7-|-10\9--10\9--10\9--|-5--5/7-7--|
|------|-------|-------------------|-----------|
bass
|------|-------|-------------------|-----------|
|------|-------|-------------------|-----------|   
|-2--5-|-5/7-7-|-10\9--10\9--10\9--|-5--5/7-7--|
|------|-------|-------------------|-----------|
Notes
|-B--D-|-D/E-E-|-G\F#---G\F#---G\F#--|-D--D/E-E--|
How long does it take you transcribe the average song? Are you better at transcribing tunes by your favorite bands? What if you transcribed every Dimebag solo, but somebody offers you 2500 bucks to recreate the parts a George Jones tune... Could you pull it off with conviction? There are two skills to master in ear training. Relative Pitch and Perfect Pitch. Just because you are good at one, does not mean you can do both. Relative Pitch is being able to hear the distance between two notes, without actually knowing name of either note. For example. If you memorize the sound of the first two chords of the verse riff from Iron Man (2nd fret, 5th fret / B to D), you are listening to a minor 3rd. The next time you hear two notes that can be played 3 frets apart on the same string (3 half steps apart), you can relate that interval back to that riff. Using relative pitch, you will need to search on your instrument to figure out what the first pitch is and play the next one 3 frets higher. Perfect Pitch is being able to recognize the notes, by just hearing it. With perfect pitch, you will be able to recognize the root of the first power chord in the verse riff of Iron Man as a B and the root of the next chord as a D, but you will need to some more in depth studies in theory to understand that the distance between the two notes is a minor third. Just because you can recognize the note, does not necessarily mean that you have mastered the concept of intervals (Relative Pitch). Here are the first five intervals. They can be identified using any string: Use the following Tab on any string to discover intervals:
  Root        minor 2nd          Major 2nd           minor 3rd      Major 3rd
----1----------------2----------------3----------------4----------------5
Example: Distance between pitches of 1st fret and second fret is a minor second. Distance between pitches of 1st fret and third fret is a major second. Distance between pitches of 1st fret and fourth fret is a minor third, etc The order of intervals is as follows: Root (unison), minor second, Major second, minor third, Major third, Perfect fourth, diminished fifth, Perfect fifth, minor sixth, Major sixth, minor seventh, Major seventh, Octave. The Suzuki Method begins with ear playing and eventually moves to reading notation when the abilities of the individual student permits. It can be started as soon as toddlerhood. Just like learning a new language, we can more effectively learn to recognize rhythms, intervals, and chords at a very young age. Unfortunately, not everyone is the fortunate child of a music professor. Being the only musician in my family, I encountered several unexpected challenges on my way to a music scholarship, but these are some tips that helped my ear training in the beginning. 1. If you are learning from a tape (audio or video), tune to the tape player. Find a song that you know with an open string that you already know the note and tune to that. Many people tune to One by Metallica (open D string). 2. If you are learning from digital format (CD or iPOD), use an electric tuner. 3. Check your tuning at least once every 15 minutes. 4. Write down what you learn, or preferably use a program like PowerTab or Guitar Pro. 5. Slow the audio down. You can do this by ripping a song to your hard drive as an mp3 or wma. In your Windows Media Player, click on View --> Enhancements --> Play Speed Settings. 6. Use an electronic piano/keyboard to find notes. It has more accurate tuning than a stringed instrument and you can find lower notes, if the guitarist tunes down. 7. Sing with scales on your guitar daily (if you know any), other wise play riffs and melodies that you know on your guitar extremely slow and sing with them. This will help you to recognize intervals. 8. Unless Blues is the only style you want to play, don't play I IV V (ex. A D E) Blues riffs too much. You will deceive your own ear and turn every song into a blues song. 9. If the guitar is buried in the mix and you are having trouble hearing it, figure out the vocal melody. It can give you great clues to chord changes. 10. After you finish... Return at least 2 hours later to check your work.. Your ear gets tired and your mind will tell you anything just to get away from all of the confusion and stress of ear playing. Happy Hearing!

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    shreddymurphy
    frethappy wrote: IamGod 666 wrote: um perfect pitch is genetic I really should not argue with the god of triple sixes, but you need to introduce me to some infants with perfect pitch and I will introduce you to the real GOD!
    Wow Frethappy, I thought this was a guitar website, not a website for shoving religion down peoples throats. And please, introduce me to 'god'. I would love to have a few words with him.
    Invokke_Havokk
    IamGod 666 wrote: um perfect pitch is genetic
    Err... where did you hear that? I learned what an E note sounded like, just from playing it a lot. I know standard tuning using the CMaj7 chord - and can pick out each string that's out of tune. None of my family can do that except for my cousin, who also learned how to do it by playing an instrument.
    frethappy
    pwrmax wrote: Isn't perfect pitch something you have to be born with?
    We are not born with the ability to recognize frequencies. You can develop it faster at a younger age. Either way, it takes a ton of practice.
    frethappy
    turtlewax wrote: Hmmm, think you could do a series of articles further explaining how to develop our ear? It could have exercises to work on and everything
    That's a great idea. Maybe I should do ear training lesson videos?
    frethappy
    beatreebor wrote: who plays iron man like that?
    See a real Hal Leonard/Cherry Lane transcription. Those guys are highly qualified transcribers that make over 100,000 per year to do that stuff.
    frethappy
    XjWoRk17 wrote: this article is decent for a begineer. you have all the definitions of perfect pitch and relative pitch correct, but there are many other things wrong. for instance the names of the intervals are not classified by major and minor.chords are classified by major and minor. by major using the true perfect third, and minor using the 1 and 5 and then a halfstep down from the third.
    The name of the interval is the reason that a chord is classified as Major/Minor. A Major Chord contains Root, Major 3rd, Perfect Fifth. A minor chord contains Root, minor 3rd, Perfect Fifth. I am not sure what book you learned the term "Perfect Third", but I would still know what you are talking about. The terms Perfect Fifth / Perfect Fourth are the standard terms learned in college theory. I did not learn this stuff from a "self-taught" music store teacher.
    frethappy
    Incuboy49 wrote: The only thing I disagree with is the Blues I IV V thing. I think having a good base in blues knowledge can help you immediately recognize and fourth or fifth step.
    You are right. A guitarist is cutting themself short, by not being fluent in a I IV V setting, but that is relatively easy to master and when you do it is time to move on, unless that is all you want to do. Either way, it is music, and it's all you man.
    frethappy
    Lrn2play wrote: dont see why knowing iron man is a necessity
    In college theory classes, we learned to relate intervals to songs that we had already established ear recognition of. The first interval of Twinkle Little Star is a Perfect 4th (E E B B C# C# B) Happy Birthday begins with a Major 2nd (E E F# E) Somewhere Over the Rainbow is begins with an Octave (Open E=some, 12fret E=where) I used Iron Man, because more people on UG would recognize... It makes the procimity of my article more news worthy.
    frethappy
    IamGod 666 wrote: um perfect pitch is genetic
    I really should not argue with the god of triple sixes, but you need to introduce me to some infants with perfect pitch and I will introduce you to the real GOD!
    IamGod 666
    LaGrange wrote: IamGod 666 wrote: um perfect pitch is genetic Incorrect, it can be learned. If you know what the note e is long enough and listen to it while you think to yourself "e" whenever you hear that sound youll remember it. Same thing with hearing the word duck and going "oh thats that flufy flying animal with a beak"
    I agree but that is still technically relative pitch
    jamesworkman123
    IamGod 666 wrote: LaGrange wrote: IamGod 666 wrote: um perfect pitch is genetic Incorrect, it can be learned. If you know what the note e is long enough and listen to it while you think to yourself "e" whenever you hear that sound youll remember it. Same thing with hearing the word duck and going "oh thats that flufy flying animal with a beak" I agree but that is still technically relative pitch
    if that is relative pitch, then what is your definition of perfect pitch? cause hearing a note and knowing it is E or being able to sing an E without anything else being played is definatly perfect pitch
    frethappy
    shreddymurphy wrote: frethappy wrote: IamGod 666 wrote: um perfect pitch is genetic I really should not argue with the god of triple sixes, but you need to introduce me to some infants with perfect pitch and I will introduce you to the real GOD! Wow Frethappy, I thought this was a guitar website, not a website for shoving religion down peoples throats. And please, introduce me to 'god'. I would love to have a few words with him.
    I am infamous for shoving religion down people's throats. It's the way I prefer to offend people. It's all in good fun Shreddy... We still cool?
    LaGrange
    XjWoRk18 wrote: ah this is so gay, not the article, but i cant believe this guy makes me look so dumb noone is going to notice the one number difference
    I think by tomorrow noone will remember either of your posts.(if there are 2 of you) Dont trouble yourself too much in thinking someones cares. Good Article.
    danohrly
    Nice column, very helpful. Alright, so I'm atm trying to transcribe jazz guitar pieces, Ted Greene/Barney Kessel - style(chord melodies and such). I can easily get the melody and bass movement out, but I have a problem when 5 or 6 notes are sounded simultaneously and can only pick out around 3-4 of those notes. Extended and altered voicings are usually the ones I have most trouble with. Now, I could use my theory, but it'd take waay too long to get the notes out. So, do you have any advice for my problem, other than 'keep practising, damnit!' ?
    frethappy
    danohrly wrote: Nice column, very helpful. Alright, so I'm atm trying to transcribe jazz guitar pieces, Ted Greene/Barney Kessel - style(chord melodies and such). I can easily get the melody and bass movement out, but I have a problem when 5 or 6 notes are sounded simultaneously and can only pick out around 3-4 of those notes. Extended and altered voicings are usually the ones I have most trouble with. Now, I could use my theory, but it'd take waay too long to get the notes out. So, do you have any advice for my problem, other than 'keep practising, damnit!' ?
    ear training is easier for me to give a written report about than to actually function in the 'real world'. If you can get 3 or 4 notes from these pros, knowing that jazz guys eat, sleep and breathe ways to modify triads, then you are cookin' and smokin'. When I have the most trouble transcribing guitar parts, I go to my electronic keyboard...even to get the guitar part. If one of these guys already had a string a bit out of tune, not to mention playing dissonant, you may be lost. Don't forget to be creative and have fun. If someone is paying you to do this exactly, then go to a good music professor and ask them, they often hear everything the first time with no effort. If you are doing this for performance purposes, then get what you can add a little of your own style and have fun with it.
    ItsOnlyGNR
    RPExecutor wrote: XjWoRk17 wrote: this article is decent for a begineer. you have all the definitions of perfect pitch and relative pitch correct, but there are many other things wrong. for instance the names of the intervals are not classified by major and minor.chords are classified by major and minor. by major using the true perfect third, and minor using the 1 and 5 and then a halfstep down from the third. your theory's wack. only perfect intervals are 4rth, 5ths and octaves/unisons. all others can be major/minor.
    There's no such thing as a minor 2nd is there? when you play a sclae major or minor, the second note is always the same unless you change the mode.
    67SG
    frethappy wrote: See a real Hal Leonard/Cherry Lane transcription. Those guys are highly qualified transcribers that make over 100,000 per year to do that stuff.
    No, they don't. I've worked as an intern at Hal Leonard... they get a good paycheck for a job that doesn't require a college degree, but it's the guys up top that, say graduate top of the class from Berkeley - they make the 100,000s. Also, everyone at Hal Leonard hates Pat Metheny - he's a nice guy but can be a total prick.
    Rokeman
    frethappy wrote: Lrn2play wrote: dont see why knowing iron man is a necessity In college theory classes, we learned to relate intervals to songs that we had already established ear recognition of. The first interval of Twinkle Little Star is a Perfect 4th (E E B B C# C# B) Happy Birthday begins with a Major 2nd (E E F# E) Somewhere Over the Rainbow is begins with an Octave (Open E=some, 12fret E=where) I used Iron Man, because more people on UG would recognize... It makes the procimity of my article more news worthy.
    Sorry, I don't want to sound picky, but isn't the first interval in Twinkle Twinkle Little Star a 5th? I figured it was just a typo, but thought some people may get confused. And really good article, it taught me some new things
    manderson89
    Your definitions for Perfect and Relative pitch are both incorrect. Perfect pitch is the ability to recognize a single pitch without any other reference. Little is known about perfect pitch, though it may possibly be genetic as earlier said. However if perfect pitch is not developed at a very young age it will never be learned. Studies have shown that in children younger than five with musical training, those that speak a tonal language had perfect pitch almost seventy five percent of the time, as opposed to those who spoke a non tonal language showing it about twenty five percent of the time, so it is likely not genetic. Relative pitch is the ability to distinguish the different notes when a reference is present, and this ability unlike perfect pitch can be learned at any time in life.
    Paul Tauterouff
    ItsOnlyGNR wrote: There's no such thing as a minor 2nd is there? when you play a sclae major or minor, the second note is always the same unless you change the mode.
    "Minor Second" is another name for flatted second or half step interval.
    JAZZON1
    I agree with itsonlyGNR. The major scale is the hard and fast rule,for example the minor third as its refered to in this lesson is typically refered to as the flat third from the major scale to be sure the only notes distinguishing the minor scale from the major scale are flatted 3rd and 6th and 7th scale degrees respectively. The tonic 2nd 4th and 5th degrees are identical between these two particular scales. There are also errors in the tabbed degrees at the begining of the lesson. In the natural minor the 2nd is a whole step interval just like the major. I'm assuming he wasn't intentionally referencing some other mode. I doubt that he was as he would have wanted to keep the basics of his line of reasoning as simple as possible in order to convey the real lesson of the posting which was ear training. In regards to his thoughts on ear training if it was informative to even one person it was worth every bit of time he spent, but the information exists in a much more comprehensive format on other media sources.By the way proximity does not have a "c" in it. Overall it was decent enough.
    madguitrist
    a minor third would be two *notes* higher then the root note, no two *frets* higher since things like a harp dont have frets but still use theory, but otherwise it was a good lesson.
    LaGrange
    IamGod 666 wrote: um perfect pitch is genetic
    Incorrect, it can be learned. If you know what the note e is long enough and listen to it while you think to yourself "e" whenever you hear that sound youll remember it. Same thing with hearing the word duck and going "oh thats that flufy flying animal with a beak"
    frethappy
    Thanks Dude! I submitted it and had it rejected 3 times, so they finally told me that it was too short, so then it took me a whole day to make it longer. I learned a lot more, just searching for info on ear playing.
    Echoplex
    Diablo1986 wrote: XjWoRk17 wrote: this article is decent for a begineer. you have all the definitions of perfect pitch and relative pitch correct, but there are many other things wrong. for instance the names of the intervals are not classified by major and minor.chords are classified by major and minor. by major using the true perfect third, and minor using the 1 and 5 and then a halfstep down from the third. What kinda theory have you been studying?? 4ths and 5ths are the intervals with the 'perfect' labels (of course the unison and octave notes are considered that but not called 'perfect' usually...) All the other intervals have minor and major classifications.
    Yeah...
    Bamitchell
    Very good stuff here. I'm glad they finally put it on the homepage! You deserve it, and this is really informative (I thought at least)
    Smalas
    "Perfect pitch" is just a good memory, you can train to get it..
    turtlewax
    Hmmm, think you could do a series of articles further explaining how to develop our ear? It could have exercises to work on and everything
    XjWoRk17
    this article is decent for a begineer. you have all the definitions of perfect pitch and relative pitch correct, but there are many other things wrong. for instance the names of the intervals are not classified by major and minor.chords are classified by major and minor. by major using the true perfect third, and minor using the 1 and 5 and then a halfstep down from the third.
    Incuboy49
    The only thing I disagree with is the Blues I IV V thing. I think having a good base in blues knowledge can help you immediately recognize and fourth or fifth step.
    Diablo1986
    XjWoRk17 wrote: this article is decent for a begineer. you have all the definitions of perfect pitch and relative pitch correct, but there are many other things wrong. for instance the names of the intervals are not classified by major and minor.chords are classified by major and minor. by major using the true perfect third, and minor using the 1 and 5 and then a halfstep down from the third.
    What kinda theory have you been studying?? 4ths and 5ths are the intervals with the 'perfect' labels (of course the unison and octave notes are considered that but not called 'perfect' usually...) All the other intervals have minor and major classifications.
    RPExecutor
    XjWoRk17 wrote: this article is decent for a begineer. you have all the definitions of perfect pitch and relative pitch correct, but there are many other things wrong. for instance the names of the intervals are not classified by major and minor.chords are classified by major and minor. by major using the true perfect third, and minor using the 1 and 5 and then a halfstep down from the third.
    your theory's wack. only perfect intervals are 4rth, 5ths and octaves/unisons. all others can be major/minor.
    sds5000
    XjWoRk17 wrote: this article is decent for a begineer. you have all the definitions of perfect pitch and relative pitch correct, but there are many other things wrong. for instance the names of the intervals are not classified by major and minor.chords are classified by major and minor. by major using the true perfect third, and minor using the 1 and 5 and then a halfstep down from the third.
    seriously dude, where did you learn that? Every theory book ive ever looked at name the intervals from the root with major minor names. Perfects are 4th and 5th, and those can be augmented or dimished. The chord names come from the interval names