How Do You Learn New Music?

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Meatsack
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I've never really been able to pick things up by ear and have always resorted to tabs if there's a specific song I wanna learn. I also don't know theory well at all. Roast me if you must.

If said tab is somewhat wonky, I can *sometimes* figure out the correct way to play it. I'm not 100% tone deaf but the baseline has to be provided.

There's a few songs I think would be a blast to play, but there's just no tabs for them.

I know training your ear and theory are both great steps to learning by ear and I'm working on improving those in my limited play time, but what are some tips and tricks you use when learning to play new songs?
 

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Kobalt

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I've had a lot of luck with watching other people play the songs on YouTube, if I absolutely needed some guideline on how to play something. Otherwise yeah, I try to learn it by ear as much as possible, I find looking for and through tabs to be too much of a hassle for me. With YouTube nowadays, it's gotten a lot easier to learn parts that felt or sounded too difficult to learn or play.
 

Discoqueen

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Songsterr is a really cool site. It has the tab, and a track to go with it you can listen to. If you get the subscription service, you can slow the track down. So I slow it down and play along with the track while following the tabs.

Edit: it’s great if you can find the track. If you can’t find the track, find a program you can download that slows a song down, so you can listen to the song at a reduced speed. That has helped me before when I can’t find a track online and the song is too challenging for me to learn the track without slowing it down.
 

AndiKravljaca

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In 23 years of playing, I've never actually properly learned tab notation. I can figure out the structure, it's not rocket science, but I have no idea what the special symbols are, or, off the top of my head, which string is which in tabulature. I've honestly always just listened to stuff, listened and listened and tried to figure it out. It leads to some epic misunderstandings - I remember tapping the arpeggios in Tornado of Souls for years until I actually saw Marty play it - but it's what's always worked for me. I am next to musically illiterate when it comes to notation. It's why it's so damn good that there's so many videos out there these days of people actually playing the things you want to learn.
 

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I definitely use videos to learn when they're available, but I guess I should've specified I cant find those for some songs.

Songsterr is great and I use that often, but again, sometimes the song I want to learn isn't there.

Believe me, I've looked for these things. Even scrolled past page 1 of google searches :D
 

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slow it down

Surprisingly, I tried just tried this for the first time the other day and I absolutely hated it. It seemed like the sound quality dropped so much that at points I couldn't even tell what was being played.

Am I doing something wrong?
 

gnoll

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I feel like I don't have a great answer. I kinda just listen and try to figure things out. For the first note the bass note of the first chord might be a good idea to find, or maybe a drawn out note from the melody. If you have a clue about the tuning that can help. Then from that first note you can listen for chord types, intervals in the melody, simple melodic phrases, or just more separate notes, and kinda fill in the blanks. Melodies often land on chord tones, so it can be a help to check those first. If they don't those notes tend to sound a bit more unstable (which itself is a clue).

Getting some theory knowledge is probably a good idea, and training your ear to recognize intervals and the most common chord types and chord progressions. But figuring music out by ear is a skill that needs to be practised like any other. If you tend to resort to tabs a lot, that's probably why you have not developed your ear that well yet.

I don't know if that's any help at all. Basically I think it comes down mostly to practise. I think transcribing stuff can be pretty fun, personally, but I should probably do it more than I do. I think it's one of those things that's easy to avoid unless you need it, and that's in a way maybe a bit unfortunate.
 

Lorcan Ward

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I'll make a detailed post when I've time. I've always wanted to do a video on tabbing and then learning a song.
 

Mboogie7

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I break the song down into sections and just work on one part at a time until I can play it full (or close to full) speed, then move onto the next.

it’s slow, but I find that it helps with proper hand position and muscle memory.
 

c7spheres

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- VLC media player is good for slowing stuff down and infinite repeat of an a/b point. Much faster than loading it into a daw.
- I takes me forever to get stuff by ear unless it's a melody, but even after you do your first song by ear, then compare it against a reliable tab of it, you get a lot more confident in trying more stuff.
- Start with easy stuff like Black Sabbath power chord riffs.
- Just find a section on a song you want to learn, load it up and put an a/b point on infinite repeat. Then figure out the first note by goin from lowest to highest until it matches. Bingo! You just figured something out. Rinse and repeat. With chords start with a power chords and other intervals. Most stuff is either minor or major (3rd's), a power chord (5th's) and the weird sounding stuff is usually a b7 or b9 if it's a bit dissonant, or a natural 7 or 9 if pretty or suspended/lighter sounding. A b5th it really dissonant and not used as much. There's really no way around it other than to keep doing it a million times and eventually stuff starts sounding familiar. I still suck at it but can do it if I really have to. I always prefer to just write my own stuff and noodle around. It's much more enjoyable to me. If I can't get the tabs I probably won't do it and then just figure out parts I like instead.
 

Aewrik

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what are some tips and tricks you use when learning to play new songs?

Learn all the rudiments and learn to recognize them in others' playing. Learn harmonies and the scales and find them when you hear music, as well as see them on the fret board when you play.

Tabs are great, but either they're transcribed by pianists, or by hobbyists who are satisfied with "good enough" or serious transcribers who leave "trap streets" for copyright reasons. If you have a good ear and know the instrument, you can very quickly learn new songs by using tabs if there are any, and quite quickly transcribe the missing pieces on your own.

A great example of sloppy transcriptions are the "official" tabs of Dream Theater, where all the notes are right, but the fingerings are atrocious half of the time. Take for example the "This Dying Soul" unison at the end of the song. I remember it was note by note correct, but no human can play it with alternate picking the way it's transcribed, even though it's obviously played with that technique by Petrucci. Knowing how to navigate the fret board in those instances is very helpful to make out proper fingerings and make the tab playable.

If you have to learn a song by ear, you have to take the time to learn how to listen first. Half the challenge in transcribing is predicting what the next note should be without knowing the key, and a good ear is important for that.

Classical guitar is great for learning transcribing, since classical music is often bound to one or two keys and there's often a clear separation between the bass and treble clefs. https://www.classtab.org/ is a great resource when you want to compare your transcriptions with other peoples'.

The greatest challenge I find today is just staying focused at the task at hand. I have the hardest time not thinking about this project at work, or what to make for dinner and whether the kids remembered to bring their homework from school. I can sight read the tabs just fine, but when I play them five minutes later I've forgotten half the notes because I was thinking about exactly everything else but learning the damn tab.

I almost forgot another important tool: your voice. If you can sing what you hear, you've got a great loop A/B and tempo changer right there.
 
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BigViolin

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I carefully pick up the stylus and move it back a bit towards the outside of the record and put it back down. I do this over and over until I get the part right.

Sometimes I'll hit the program button 4 times then fast forward to just before the part I want to hear, then repeat program-FF over and over until I can memorize the part. That one only works with 8 tracks cuz they don't rewind.
 

nickgray

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I also don't know theory well at all.

Try this: https://www.musictheory.net/lessons

Basic music theory is far easier to grasp and far more useful than you probably think. It allows you to see and understand basic structure and patterns behind music, as opposed to relying on some kind of intuition and guesswork. The trouble with guesswork is that in order to count the amount possible combinations for, say, forming a chord, or forming a sequence of single notes or chords, things like that, you have to multiply the possibilities. When you multiply numbers (integers, that is) things get really big really fast. But, when you understand concepts like chord inversions and voicings, you'll drastically reduce the number of possibilities.

Just as an example - the fundamental building block of a major or a minor chord are three notes, together they form what's called a major or a minor triad. Inverting a chord is just taking the lowest note of the chord and raising it up an octave. Since there are three notes in a triad, you get what's called the root position (the "default") and 2 inversions. If you then count the number of shapes minor and major triads can form on the fretboard, you'll get 18 different shapes (the three notes are played on 3 consecutive strings, so you have to take into the account the irregularity in the guitar's tuning - 3rd and 2nd strings have a 3rd interval instead of the usual 4th). But those 18 different shapes are just two chords. Chord voicing, in a nutshell, is where you take a chord and rearrange the notes octave-wise and/or duplicate the notes that are in the chord, as you might imagine, this drastically increases the amount of possibilities for chords. Furthermore, a nice about the triads is that they can be thought of as a building block for forming chords - triad + 7th interval = 7th chord (for instance, major triad + major 7th interval = major 7th chord, major triad + minor 7th interval = dominant 7th chord). Due to the guitar's limitations in polyphony, for chords with 4 unique notes (or more), often the 5th interval is omitted.

but what are some tips and tricks you use when learning to play new songs?

Throw the song in Reaper and slow the playback rate. Try isolating just the left or the right channel as well, it might help to clear things up (but don't sum to mono, you'll get the sum of both channels, just isolate one).
 

jack_cat

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When I finally got it into my skull that I had to be able to learn songs by ear, somebody gave me a useful tip: he said, you have to listen to it a thousand times and get it into your ear before you even try to play it. I have found this to be the best way to begin. It drives other people crazy of course. I burn a CD with 20 tracks of the tune I want to learn and lie on the floor and play it full blast until I can't stand it any more. After a few days of this, I start learning it. Sometimes I don't though, and just think about it for a while until I pick it up again.

Next thing I do is count the measures and make a block chart. Most songs have a symmetrical rhythmic structure, and 32-bar block charts which are 4 across and 8 down are very common; usually if there is some irregular number of measures, it is because an 8-bar section has a couple of extra bars tacked on, or maybe a bridge that is irregular. I write down the words over the blocks, or some keywords, and every chord that I'm sure of, I write on the chart in the right measure. After repeated listenings I can usually fill in all the chords. If there are some that I can't catch, I see if I can catch the bass line and guess.
If I want to copy horn licks and other non-guitar stuff, I play along with short sections until I get it.
I have a method for very difficult licks: put the audio track into Audacity (free audio editor) and zoom in on the wave form, and select one note at a time and put it on loop, find it on the fingerboard, and write it down. Etc. Some people use a program called Transcribe which slows things down. I don't.

There was a time when I used to always look for staff notation for songs. That's the way I started when I was about 13, and I made many song arrangements that way. But the sad fact is that most published sheet music for pop music is lame. So I had to learn to listen. It is one of the alternative ways to think about music; it takes time to learn to think about listening, and to practice counting measures and learning to recognize notes and chords.

I have also found You-tube to be the greatest new resource since they invented recording. I am certainly not too proud to watch all of the tutorials that people have put up for any song I want to learn. It's very interesting to hear how differently different people can interpret a song, and the weird names some people give chords, etc. There are a lot of different points of view.
 

Schizo Sapiens

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Throw the song in Reaper and slow the playback rate. Try isolating just the left or the right channel as well, it might help to clear things up (but don't sum to mono, you'll get the sum of both channels, just isolate one).

Reaper (or any other DAW) can be very useful tool in transcribing or practicing songs. I use it often when preparing for cover gigs. Reaper's speed control slider is a nice feature.

Some of my common scenarios:

1. A part is too fast to hear whar's going on

Use 0.5x speed. Pitch will drop one octave but it's OK because usually parts that are too fast to decipher are lead guitars and the notes are pretty high, so they don't get lost after slowing down. In cases whene that's a problem, I may throw pitch shifter (on +1 octave setting) on the track but sound quality will suffer somewhat. It's a tradeoff: I try both variants (starting with no pitchshifter) and decide which seems better for transcribing.

2. Some bass notes are too hard to identify

Use 2x speed. It makes everything one octave higher and bass moves to frequency area where it's so much easier to hear what notes are being played. Works perfectly if the bassline is not too fast.

3. Problems with figuring out rhytm guitar

Throw stereo widening plugin that allows extreme widening (such as this free plugin) or isolating the "side channel" (which is essentially the same thing) on a track. It removes parts of the signal which are located in the center of stereo field (usually kick, snare, bass and lead vocal). What's left is mostly pads, rhytm guitar (because it's double-tracked and panned) and other stereo stuff.

A stereo plugin may be useful in previous scenario too. If you do opposite thing (leave "center channel" only) then the bass will stay and rhytm guitars may get quieter (but won't disappear completely though).


For example, I remember resolving an argument with a bass player when we were practicing "Smells Like Teen Spirit" for a cover gig. There's a part right after the chorus, where Kurt says "hey", well, you know that one.
I insisted that it goes like this:
F F#
C A# G#

And the bass player was playing it as
F F#
F A# G#

I got home after rehearsal, opened the Reaper and used tricks 2 (listening in double speed to hear bass more clearly) and 3 (using stereo plugin to get rid of the bass by listening to "side channel" only) to find out what's being played. And I discovered that we both were right and wrong at the same time. Because in that song bass player does C A# G# thing and Kurt Cobain plays F5 A#5 G#5 over that. It's actually typical thing for Nirvana: their bassist often plays fifth instead of root note (listen to Lithium for another example)


4. I want to practice a song in slower tempo.

Use the speed control slider in combination with pitch shifter plugin. The speed slider will drop the pitch so we have to compensate that using some knowledge of pure intervals and their properties.

Easiest options are:

0.5x speed, pitch shifter on "+1 octave" setting.

0.666x speed, pitch shifter on "+7 semitones" setting. (that works because going up a fifth is essentially multiplying a frequency to 3/2)

0.75x speed pitch shifter on "+5 semitones" setting. (same thing, but with fourth interval and 4/3)

Pitch shifter will cause some loss of audio quality but it's good enough for practicing. I also know that I will be rewarded by full quality when I get the song up to speed )
 


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