Ear Training For Dummies

Discussion in 'Beginners/FAQ' started by troyguitar, Dec 19, 2019.

  1. troyguitar

    troyguitar SS.org Regular

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    So I've been playing guitar off and on for about 15 years now and have a decent grasp on technique and theory... but I cannot play anything at all by ear, not even Baby Shark. This year I've been trying to get back into playing more seriously and being unable to play anything without sheet music or tabs is incredibly frustrating.

    What do you do to get to the point of actually learning songs if you're nearly tonedeaf? I can sit here for 3 hours trying to pick out Mary Had A Little Lamb and not figure it out - and, more importantly, not be able to hear whether I've gotten it right or wrong at any given time. Hearing chords and bass lines and harmonies in a real song is so far beyond me at this point that I don't know where to start. It seems like black magic to me.

    Is there a piece of software that can start me out even simpler than nursery rhymes so that I might be able to get started from scratch?
     
  2. SpaceDock

    SpaceDock Shred till your dead

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    I was in the same place about 5 years ago. I tried some of those learning books and YouTube videos. While I hope you find one that helps you, they didn’t help me. What did help immensely was playing along with music. I would try to play along with very simple songs, Green Day lol, stuff that I am not very into but would be four chord rock. I would spend hours repeating the same song trying to nail the simple chord progressions just by listening, looking up the tab was cheating in my mind. For me, listening to the lowest notes really helped me find the key and then the full progression.

    I have been doing this almost every time I practice now and will just put on a random album or Spotify then try to go along with it the best I can. Songs I know better can come together really fast and I can simulate a lot of solos on the fly, not note by note of course though. Sometimes seemingly simple songs can still really confuse my ear but it is still fun.

    I have probably spent hundreds of hours practicing like this, but now I can jump from a Metallica song to Gin Blossoms, or Nirvana to Queensryche. No way can I keep up with Dream Theater or stuff like that.
     
  3. NoodleFace

    NoodleFace Delicious Noodles

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    Interesting. It always came sort of natural. Usually when I hear a song I just start playing notes around what I think it is. Of course after 20+ years my accuracy is better. I don't know what I'd do if I couldn't even do that.

    What if you learn the tab of a song? Is it like an AH-HA! Moment or do you just know the tab must be right
     
  4. bostjan

    bostjan MicroMetal Contributor

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    I think the key is to just try figuring out a song. It takes a lot of trial and error at first, so you have to be patient and set aside a fair amount of time, but it eventually gets to be second nature.
     
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  5. Mathemagician

    Mathemagician SS.org Regular

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    Man the tab helps me figure out what is even going on. I barely know 3 full chords in the first position. Everything is an adventure though, so that part is nice. Ear training is basically practice practice practice from what every teacher has told me.
     
  6. Tuned

    Tuned SS.org Regular

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    Thanks for starting this thread!
    It may as well start another FAQ thread
    I am in a bit different situation: I learnt my ear to track down bass, guitar etc. lines

    When I think about how'd that happen, it was mostly this: I played in a jazz/variety big band for a while that mostly played famous pieces in original or most known arrangemets. At first I rewrote my notes just to play at home and to train. Then I started to hear that the arrangements were a bit different from what was written, so the conductor let me track down the original lines for my parts. This helped



    But I do have these two problems that hinder my feeling of music.
    1) I can't hear the chords in their entirety. I.e., let's say Dream Theater play a score, I hear the bass, I hear the guitar , but I have a problem of understanding what the bass+ guitar+ keys chord is (like: Bm 11? Em 7/-9? 7 add 6? you name it. Especially when they play their patterns over chord progressions. How can I train that?

    2) I started to slow down fast guitar parts of Maerty Friedman, John Petrucci, Michael Romeo et al. and am actually lost with time signatures to track them down. Like, I've seen tabs of, say, As I Am solo or Constant Motion with fast parts that include 6ets, 7ets, 9ets and etc.etc, but when I slow that down, it is quite obvious it is neither. I can hear that; but I fail to analyze that, so I can't train myself to play it right. Same with, say, Tornado Of Souls whose beauty totally relies on the right timing of notes .... but I also fail to analyze that and play it right. How can I train this?

    Thanks for the thread again, I will be thankful for any help here
     
  7. Solodini

    Solodini MORE RESTS!

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    Sing a note, find it on the guitar. Sing another note, find it on the guitar. Or set up a software synthesiser, have it play a note but tweak the pitch controls to put it the note to a different pitch. Then find that note on guitar. If you're playing on a fixed bridge guitar, try just detuning one of your high strings randomly, then try to find that pitch on a lower string. Keep checking against the guide tone, whether you're singing or playing it. Just like tuning by ear.

    In terms of actually finding the note, if it sounds like a high note, approximate where you think it might be on a high string, or if it's a low note, approximate where you think it might be on a low string. Play it and determine whether you think it sounds too low or too high. If it sounds way out, try adjusting accordingly by up to a 5th (7 frets). If it doesn't seem so far out, adjust by up to a major 3rd (4 frets). As it seems closer, adjust by smaller amounts.
    DO NOT just grab at random frets on random strings with no sense of logical progression. You'll just waste time and not develop any sense of relation between what you're doing and hearing. If you go up a 5th and end up too high, descend by a Major 3rd or less, and keep adjusting by those small amounts.
    Eventually, you'll get more of a sense of the distances and where to roughly start from.
    Once you find one location of the correct note, find where else on the guitar that note is.

    Once you're more fluent with one note, sing one note then another. Use the method above to find the first note and then work out the next note from there. Is it higher or lower than the first note? Is it close or quite distant?
    If you were using a software synth for the single notes, maybe use the pitch bend function to find your 2nd note, to obscure things a little. First note is pitch bent, 2nd note is further bending that. If you were using a guitar with one of the high strings detuned, perhaps play the 2nd note by fretting on that detuned string but bending it.

    Once this all becomes fluent, move onto 3 note phrases, using the same method. Once this is familiar, use a 3 note phrase and then sing whatever phrase sounds like it would follow on from that. You can keep going in this manner, building your relationship between what you hear and what you play, and use it to inform what you play based on what you hear in your head.
     
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  8. troyguitar

    troyguitar SS.org Regular

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    I can't tell if the note I'm playing is the same as the one I'm singing. None of them sound right.
     
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  9. Winspear

    Winspear Tom Winspear

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    Can you do it the other way round, singing a note you're playing? How about when you tune fret 5 to the next open string? Where one pitch is sustained and the other slides in from below/above until they lock together in unison. Try that with your voice+guitar for a start.
     
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  10. NoodleFace

    NoodleFace Delicious Noodles

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    What if you know the two notes are the same, does it still sound off?
     
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  11. troyguitar

    troyguitar SS.org Regular

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    Yeah, if I for example play the same note on a guitar and a piano I can't really hear for sure that they're the same - even though I know intellectually that they are indeed the same.

    I do have a tuner with a mic that I might be able to use to somehow train myself to hear that a note from the guitar and the same note from my voice or the piano is really the same? Dunno, this stuff seems intuitively obvious to everyone else in the world and I get pissed off that my ears don't work so I go back to tabs and theory.
     
  12. NoodleFace

    NoodleFace Delicious Noodles

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    It's intriguing to me. Sorry I have nothing really to add, I wonder what's going on. So you wouldn't be able to even tune by ear then
     
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  13. Winspear

    Winspear Tom Winspear

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    It's interesting for sure. Everyone has their own weaknesses. This reminds me of a thread I made discussing a similar issue I had noticed but regarding rhythm https://www.sevenstring.org/threads/did-rhythm-come-naturally-to-you

    I never had quite as much trouble with pitch as it sounds like you are describing, but what you said about sitting around trying to pick out a simple tune and it never sounding right does remind me of how things used to be for me. I'll describe what the break through was for me, in case it helps you at all.

    It seems my ear was relying on harmonic context. You said you already know some theory, so maybe this wont help - like I said it sounds like you have more trouble with it than I did but...
    When I'd sit down to figure out a melody in my head for something I was writing, or trying to transcribe, the notes sounded wrong because the rest of the music wasn't there to give them their context. I rely on this less now than my ear is developed, but my 'aha moment' for figuring out a melody was entirely down to taking a chordal approach instead. Trying to construct a well voice-led progression where the melody was on one string whilst another string moved in harmony, counterpoint, or was sustained over to the next chord etc. Basically voiceled counterpoint 101. As soon as there were a couple of other notes there to flesh out the context of individual melody notes, those melody notes finally sounded correct in my head. This was quite an instantaneous fix for years of struggle, personally.
     
  14. Werecow

    Werecow SS.org Regular

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    I'm genuinely intrigued by this as well. Maybe an actual biological tone-deafness?

    The thing i'm really interested in is that when you say you can't hear the difference between two notes being played from two sources, how that affects your actual enjoyment of music you are actually playing correctly from tabs. You must be judging if you're playing something right from a purely mechanical/movement basis? Do you have to concentrate ridiculously hard on the tabs just to tell if you've played a bum note?

    Do you worry that what you're playing actually isn't sounding good or "correct" to another person who can hear the notes properly? I'm just asking that because i think it'd freak me out.
     
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  15. I play music

    I play music SS.org Regular

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    I find songs purely based on power chords to be the easiest, so I'd start with that. What I mean is that primitive metal like Metallica for me is easier to play by ear than acoustic guitar pop songs with actual major/minor chords etc. Also easy metal like Metallica always has the open low string as root note, that makes things easy as well.
     
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  16. Solodini

    Solodini MORE RESTS!

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    Can you tell if a pitch is relatively higher or lower than another? If so, start with that. Sing a pitch, play a random note on the guitar and identify if it higher or lower. If the note on guitar is lower than the sung pitch then grab a note which is a bit higher and identify whether it is also lower than the sung pitch, or if you've grabbed a note which is higher than the sung pitch. Keep on in this manner until you narrow toward the sung pitch.
    Again, instead of singing, you can detune a high string on your guitar and play that in place of the sung pitch, or set up a software synth to play a pitch to you.
     
  17. Erin Hayden

    Erin Hayden Professional Amateur

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    I use a multi-step "system" to break down a track into its separate parts. First and foremost, I pay attention to the melody and what scale it plays in. For some songs its really simple, for example stuff played in the byzantine scale, because it already has a very distinct sound. Of course, finding out whether or not it's being used is kinda easy, then I just move on to checking if it's either major or minor, and then I try to find the notes on my fret board. Knowing whether or not it's minor or major can help a great deal in figuring out the rest.

    Don't be afraid to listen to certain portions over and over again, until you got it right. Someone once said to me, that it's important to end a practice session on a success, rather than ending it frustrated and with no apparent progress, or else you'll lose your motivation to try it again at some point.

    The easiest may be (for some) to pay attention to the root note of the chords, but even that can be pretty tricky sometimes, especially if you have some wild chord inversions that don't really tell you much about which note the root note actually is.

    I may have a small advantage, because I'm much better and efficient at playing keyboard/piano than playing guitar, so once I found out the notes and scale used in the melody, figuring out the root notes and chords is not too much of a problem for me, seeing as I can simply sit at my keyboard and look for where each chord/note would go.

    I highly recommend the usage of a simple DAW, just so you can load you favourite track into it and loop it at the right points to be able to re-listen to a certain portion without having to fiddle with media players or youtube videos (which significantly messes with my workflow - may not apply to others). It's also helpful if you want to transform the audio a bit - Let's say you just want to figure out the bass line - Then you just filter off the higher frequencies and focus on where the lower frequencies are ect. - And you can also stretch the audio material, so that faster shreds/licks become at least a bit more easy to make out.
     
  18. bassisace

    bassisace SS.org Regular

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    Did anyone try those online programs (Beato, etc.) for ear training? I can pick up stuff by ear when I have a guitar in hand, but I can’t name chords or certain open voiced triads without an instrument in hand.
     
  19. troyguitar

    troyguitar SS.org Regular

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    So I got super busy with the holidays and everything but have been attempting to work on this further. I grabbed the android app "Functional Ear Trainer" and can now occasionally identify individual notes in a single octave of C major when played one at a time with the app confirming whether each guess was correct. If I sit there and crunch away at it for 30 or so minutes then I can guess right about 90% of the time once the scale has been burned into my short-term memory. I still can't sing them back properly (and, more importantly, I can't hear whether I'm singing it back properly - I think I'm singing the right note and sometimes it's right and sometimes it's not even close but it all feels about the same to me) and definitely can't hear more than one note at a time, chords seem impossible. Even the app playing a I IV V I cadence to "help" me doesn't actually help, it all sounds like a blur. I'd find it more helpful if it only played a single low C for me to hear "do" versus the whole scale.

    At what point do you start to be able to hear diads or other keys/octaves to get closer to being able to learn actual songs?
     
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  20. Solodini

    Solodini MORE RESTS!

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    Well then you could set up a DAW, play a note into it and have that loop, and set up another track with a tuner and a microphone so you can sing it back and adjust your pitch to suit?

    I can't really identify things well by ear, in terms of hearing them and knowing what they are. I can sometimes hear the function of a chord, in that I'm familiar with the sound of moving from the Major 7th to the tonic of a key, and hearing this as part of chord V moving to chord I. But I can't hear a chord and know the name of that chord. What I'm better at is listening to something and finding the tonic and then determining the key, and using this as a framework to work out the notes with my instrument. I know my way around my instrument to know which notes I'm playing to write them down, and I have a decent sense of intervals to know roughly how far away to move to get to the next note. If you were to play me a piece of music and ask what the first note is, I'd not have an answer for you.
    For me, getting there came from slowly building up from finding 2 notes, to finding 3, to finding notes of a simple riff, to finding notes of a more varied riff or simple melody, then finding multiples of those.
     
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