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Free Quality Guitar Lessons

12 Ways How to Transcribe What You Hear

September 20, 2009 By Klaus Crow / 12 Comments

photo from Istockphoto

Wouldnt it be
great if you could
figure out the
chords, the melody
and the rhythm of
a song on your
own if you were
without sheet
music and you
needed it right

Of course that
would be

Well, its happening

Right here, right now!

The key to becoming an amazing guitar player and musician is transcribing


Here are 12 ways to develop this wonderful skill. Read, listen and learn:
1. Quietness
First of all go to a quiet place so you can concentrate more easily. Lock the
door of your room, turn off the TV, Internet and other distractions. Try not to
be interrupted.

2. Listen to the instruments

Listen to the guitar from beginning to end. Dont listen for fun, but
concentrate. Try to listen to only one guitar part at a time. First listen to the
rhythm guitar throughout the whole song. Focus! Dont let yourself be
distracted by other instruments or other guitar parts like the lead guitar. The
second time listen to another guitar part or other instrument. This will train
your hearing tremendously.

3. Listen to the chords

Listen to the first chord that is played. Is it a major or minor chord? A major
chord sounds happy. A minor chord sounds sad. Lets assume its a major
chord. A lot of pop songs use common guitar chords like C, A, G, E D, F
and Bb. Try one of those. If you hear a minor chord try Am, Dm, Em, Bm or
F#m. Listen closely and rewind the song as many times as you need to.
Listen if its an open chord (C, A, G, E, D, Dm, Am, Em) or a barre chord.
Open chords include open strings that are not fingered, a barre chord
contains no open strings and sounds more tight and thicker sounding.

Play a Bb or F barre chord and move it up the fretboard a half step at a

time, listen carefully until you find the right chord. For example: as you
move an F barre chord up a half step, youll get F#. Move up another half
step and youll get G, G#, A, A#, B, etc ,etc. This way you can hear every
major chord with only one chord shape. If its a minor chord you use F
minor and move it up the fretboard. For major chords you can also use Bb
barre or Bbm barre for minor chords.

4. Listen to the chord changes

The next step is to focus on where the chord changes are. How many
measures or bars does every chord have before a new chord starts.
Usually a chord changes with every 1 or 2 bars, but it can also have 3 bars
or more. Listen to the pitch changing from one chord to another. Listen
carefully and rewind a few times until you get the hang of it. Again figure
out if it is a major or minor chord. Happy or sad.

5. Figure out the song structure

A song is usually made up of an intro, verse, pre chorus, chorus, bridge
and outro. You can put these in a certain order to create a song structure.
A most common song structure is: Intro-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-
chorus-outro or Intro-verse-pre chorus-chorus-verse-pre chorus-chorus.
Listen to the song from beginning to end and try to recognize where the
verse is, where the chorus is and so on. If you have transcribed the verse
and chorus, you probably wont have to transcribe the second verse and
second chorus because they are usually the same.

6. Listen to the bass guitar

Practice listening to the bass guitar. Concentrate on the lower notes.

Concentrate on the rhythm and the melody of those notes. The notes of the
bass guitar are often the root notes of the chords you seek. For example: if

you hear a repeating G note on the bass guitar your guitar chord is
probably a G major or G minor.

7. Transcribe the melody

A melody can be a vocal part or a guitar solo or intro. A way to amazingly

improve your hearing is to transcribe a melody. This is a little bit more
complicated then transcribing chords because there are a lot more notes to
it. But with practice and dedication you will succeed. First try to sing the
melody as you hear it. This is the first step. Then break it up into chunks
and try to find the notes on the guitar one by one. When you do this the first
time it takes quite a while, but after some exercise you will find the right
notes and transcribe the melody much faster.

8. Figure out the time signature

Listen to the rhythm and try to recognize the time signature. Most pop &
rock songs are 4/4. This means there are 4 notes in a measure / bar / beat.
You count 1, 2, 3, 4 and then a new beat begins. 2/4 = 1, 2 , 1, 2 , 1, 2, etc.
There are also time signatures like 3/4 or 6/8 and many more, but 4/4, 2/4,
3/4, and 6/8 are the most common. 3/4 = 1, 2, 3 1, 2, 3 1, 2, 3 etc. 3/4
is more of a traditional waltz. Beginners have difficulty with telling the
difference between 3/4 and 6/8. There is another feel to 6/8. Its like 1 & a 2
& a, 1 & a 2 & a. This also takes a little practice to learn. Try it with different

9. Hearing the pitch

You can train to hear the right pitch. A great way to do this is to play a
single note on a piano or keyboard and try to find the same note
somewhere on your guitar. If you dont have a piano you can also sing a
note and then try to find it on the guitar. The other way around is just as
important. Play a note somewhere on the guitar and try to sing this note.
You are now training your tonal memory. For some this comes naturally,
others have to train it. When you train to hear the right pitch you are more
likely to transcribe what you hear.

10. Small steps

Begin with an easy pop song. Dont try to transcribe a difficult song with a
lot of arrangements when you are just starting out. Choose a ballad instead
of a fast song. A lot of ballads are easier to transcribe than fast tunes.

11. Write down what you hear

Write down the chords, the melody or whatever you need to transcribe so
you dont have to worry about forgetting and you can share it with your
fellow musicians. Writing it down is the proof of your achievement.

12. Practice your ear training

Transcribing is a skill that has to be learned and can be difficult sometimes.
Practicing is the key to transcribing and training your ear. Try different
songs, different styles and tempos. Practice with concentration, dedication
and enthusiasm and youll be rewarded, I promise.

Related Posts:
1. 8 Ways to Really Develop Your Aural Skills
2. How to Easily Find Any Note On The Guitar with Octaves
3. How to Memorize Music and Lyrics Forever and Ever
4. How to Play and Apply Add9 Chords

Filed Under: Beginner, Intermediate, Practice

Tagged With: music theory, ear training, aural skills

beekie says
September 21, 2009 at 7:20 pm

Hi Klaus,
Really good post!
This post will help me to do like you suggested. By reading this so once a while it will
give me grip and so I am able to make some progressions. Thanks again. Keep up
the good work!

Klaus Crow says

September 22, 2009 at 7:46 am

Hi Beekie,

Im glad you like the post.

Youre welcome to visit Guitarhabits anytime you like.
I hope you make some good progress.

Klaus Crow

Vincent says
September 22, 2009 at 7:52 pm

Good post Klaus,

I bet every player is happy with a post like this one!

Klaus Crow says

September 23, 2009 at 12:12 am

Hi Vincent,

I hope so. Nice to hear you feel that way.

Thanx for the comment.

Klaus Crow

Kyle D says
September 23, 2009 at 7:31 pm

Its so often that ear training is overlooked or ignored completely. Youve done a
great job of bringing one of the most vital skills for any musician to light.

Klaus Crow says

September 23, 2009 at 11:08 pm

Hi Kyle D,
Its great and I love it that there are so many tab websites out there,
but we must not forget that music is about using our ears.

Thanx for your comment. I really appreciate it.

Klaus Crow

Albert says
October 3, 2009 at 11:06 am

Hi Klaus,

Good en helpfull post! So far I find transcribing a melody in the right time the most
difficult part (i.e. the duration of a note).
But its a real boost to find things out this way :)

Klaus Crow says

October 3, 2009 at 5:29 pm

Hi Albert,

My advice is keep trying. To hear and feel the exact duration of a note and the right
rhythm you need to train your musical ear. Every single time you transcribe a song
youll learn something you didnt knew before.

Good luck !

Klaus Crow

Jerrie Zyskowski says

March 5, 2010 at 5:41 am

hello I reckon the information posted on this blog site is remarkable, I have
bookmarked you =D

Nihar says
April 8, 2012 at 10:24 am

Hey Klaus, thanks for the great article! I was wondering if you could suggest some
simple songs to figure out by ear? Please suggest semiobscure songs, as I already
have a huge knowledge of songs (all learned from tabs or my guitar teacher sadly)

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