Guide : How to play songs by ear

Discussion in 'Guitar Lessons, Tutorials & Tips' started by popoya, May 22, 2011.

  1. popoya

    popoya New Member

    Tips on playing songs by ear

    We all depend on generous people on IGT for our tabs and notations ...... but these same people all figure them out by ear . Here are some useful tips to play songs by ear :-

    On the piano –

    1. Become familiar with the keyboard and the notes . Chances are that you’ll be able to figure out the melody on your first try.

    2. Always take out the lead or the melody of the tune first . It always helps to know your scales well , so that you can figured out the chords accompanying it.

    3. Once you’ve figured out the lead and the melody , start with the chords , which are played by the left hand.

    4. I’m hoping most of you know the chord progression I,IV,V . Whatever scale the piece is in , try its I, IV,V chords on specific parts of the melody .(it’s a little difficult to explain which are these parts......) Don’t straight away try the chords in a rhythm , or you’ll only end up getting frustrated . Now this bit will take some time. Once you get the hang of doing this , it’ll slowly become second nature.

    5. Once you’ve done step 4 , you’ll realise that in some (or most) parts of the melody , none of the I,IV,V chords fit in it . (unless you’re lucky that the song is only made up of the I,IV,V chords , this will happen). In such cases , be patient . The note on which the specific part of the melody starts , will have 3 chords running through it . For example , the C note will be part of the CEG , ACE and FAC triads . Try the these 3 chords on the part of the melody and almost certainly , one of them will fit . Be patient .

    6. Once you have finished steps 4 and 5 (which are undoubtedly , the most difficult steps) , break the chords in the left hand and start playing them in rhythm which complements the melody . (again , sort of difficult to explain what “rhythm” to use.....) If you’d like to keep the chords as a whole , without breaking them up, no problem at all . It only depends on how you want the song to sound like .

    -On the guitar (I still don’t have enough experience to properly explain what to do , but I’ll try :) )

    1. Become familiar with the fretboard and know your notes well . It will be much easier trying to figure out your melody/lead.

    2. Now, try and catch your melody from any one string of the guitar , preferably the A-string. Later on, if you feel the melody is too low pitched , you can always play it an octave higher.

    3. As I was saying , it’s easier using the A-string because you can directly use a barre chord to fit in with that specific part of the melody . For eg , if a part of the melody starts with A (the 12th fret one), then you can use the D barre chord (you yourself will have to figure out whether it will be the major or minor chord) to fit in with the melody . When playing the song , you can always use one of the other positions of D . Sometimes , you can use the 7th, the 5th and the 6th chords while connecting any two major or minor chords . It solely depends upon your listening skills to decide which “connecting” chords will sound good .

    4. Now figure out a suitable strumming pattern to fit in with the song .

    5. Now, if you are planning on playing the song alone (singing and chords) , then you are ready . Just make sure that when you’re figuring out the lead of the song , the notes which you are playing should match the range of your voice . Also , no need to fret about playing chords which do not match the pitch of your voice . It sounds fine even if your voice and the chord you’re playing aren’t on the same octave .

    6. If you’re playing with another person (one will do the lead and the other will do the chords) , again , if the lead and the chords aren’t on the same octave , no need to worry . As long as they match when played on the same octave , they’re fine .

    I’m sorry if some of the points given (especially in the guitar) are a little vague .

    In the end , as I said before , it all comes down to how well you can interpret the notes in the song . Please write in your comments if I’ve missed out anything (which I guaranty I have) .

    Btw , I’ve written this by myself with personal experience ,without any help from other websites . Thanks for reading this !
    Super-Admin likes this.
  2. Super-Admin

    Super-Admin Administrator Staff Member

    @Popoya - Nice effort to put things across. There are a few more tips that'll help guys out here.

    Will post them soon !

    Cheers girl !
  3. alpha1

    alpha1 I BLUES!

    Good, what is applicable for one instrument is generally applicable to another one also!
    So Popoya (is that a real name?), the piano philosophy can be safely transposed to guitar also.

    The only difference occurs on how you do it, and how you build familiarity of notes.
    This can happen only by practising scales all over the fretboard in case of guitar. Your fingers should "know" what to do in order to get the sound your ears have heard.

    Another thing - which is not really applicable to piano or other instrument is while playing riffs on guitar.
    Usually most guitarists while composing like to keep one open string while playing "chugga chugga" riffs. (Say Metallica, Megadeth, Iron Maiden etc)
    Usually this is the low E string or the D string (or even A / B strings etc).

    In some cases you will find that you are off the tuning. Don't worry. This is because each guitar player has his own convenience and sound preference. And most do 1/2 step lower tuning.
    Some do 1 or even 2 steps low.

    1/2 step = one note on chromatic scale.
    Super-Admin likes this.
  4. popoya

    popoya New Member

    @alpha - . My real name's Radhika :) . Btw , I play both instruments , so often , I figure out the melody on the piano , then I play the same notes on the guitar and figure out the chords . I'm more familiar to the notes of the piano than the guitar so it's easy for me to take out the lead on it . But it's a real pain to figure out the left-hand part on the piano , so I do that on the guitar . I really haven't tried playing metal (I listen to it though) , so haven't tried playing the riffs you are talking about . Good advice :D
  5. alpha1

    alpha1 I BLUES!

    So then what is Popoya?

    Inspired from Popeye the Sailor?
  6. popoya

    popoya New Member

    Naa , it's just a random name ...... I've never thought how it came to my mind though .....
  7. Super-Admin

    Super-Admin Administrator Staff Member

    @Popoya - I thought, it was 'Papaya' with Bengali accent ;)
  8. Ashyantony7

    Ashyantony7 Performer

    Cool name though.. Its quite a good thread Popoya.. hmmm.. I go for the chords first before the lead.. cuz.. The first few chords will tell you the scale.. then the becomes easier for me.. but I think your technique will work better.. Hmmm.. I think for the ear training part the more you hear what you play the more ear trained you become.. Keep up the good work Radhika.. Looking forward to more threads from you.. :)
  9. popoya

    popoya New Member

    @super-admin - I don't have much of a bengali accent in english anyway ;)

    @ashyantony - Thanks :) Figuring out a song by ear is totally dependant on how much you do it and how you learn to recognise and actually listen to what you play . It's a very,very frustrating process during the first time you do it , but slowly you get the hang of it :)

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