I want to be able to work out songs on guitar as soon as I hear them?

How to work out songs

Are you blown away by anyone who can hear a song and immediately play it back to you?

This question crops up a lot and I know a lot of students are in awe of a musician who can just simply hear a song and then nut it out in five minutes flat. In my first few years of starting out I was insanely jealous of anyone who could do this, like ‘how the freakin hell do they pull that off?


The truth is some people really are just born with what we call a great ear for music. That is they can just hear a song and instinctively know what the chord changes are, the melody and effortlessly put it together with others sit enviously in awe. It seems some are just born with this skill and some aren’t. If you’re here reading this then there’s a good chance you fall into the latter category, not to worry, there is hope. I introduce to you the concept of aural training, which is basically ‘training’ up your ear to pick up a song in the way your gifted friends were born being able to do.


The Happy Birthday technique.

I dunno why I’ve called it this, but it is a great place to start when trying to improve your ear. We all know what the melody to Happy Birthday is, but if you don’t then get yourself along to a birthday sometime soon and pay attention during the birthday cake part. Anyway, if you feel you really have no concept of good aural skills at all then start by trying to pinpoint the notes of ‘Happy Birthday’ on one string of the guitar, I’ve recorded a video, linked below, to explain this further. If you’re struggling to do this, then boy/girl, you got some work to do. As simple as the exercise is, it is a great way to start relating notes you can hear in your head to the guitar fret board.


Sing the harmony parts to songs on the radio.

This may at first not seem as easy as you’d think, we all sing to the melody along with songs on the radio but what about the extra parts that can be sung above or below the main melody line? Some people have had experience singing in choirs or at church, but not all of us. There are plenty, possibly millions of songs to do this with. One that I’ll suggest is The Beatles ‘This Boy’, a song with three part harmony in which one can choose a part to sing along to. It really can be as simple as singing in unison with one of the harmony parts, the one above the main melody is quite obvious, literally start with one single lyric line eg, ‘this bo-ooooy, took my love aw-aaaaay’ and sing along with the harmony part (possibly Paul McCartney, I can’t quite tell) until you can hit every note above the melody, or if you like pick one of the others lower harmonies. It’s hard when you start but stick with it, eventually your ear will start to pick up and follow the one single line, using headphones to listen to the song can help distinguish the different harmonies.


As well as trying to harmonize vocal lines a similar approach can apply to learning guitar parts. Again, find a simple guitar/bass part and start just by trying to sing the notes you’re hearing. ‘Seven Nation Army’ by The White Stripes has a great opening riff which consists of five notes all up. Literally start by singing this opening guitar part, then try and match this to the notes on the fretboard, one by one. This is really the whole process of ear training broken down, learning one note, then the next, then the next and stack it all up bit by bit. Don’t fret (pun not intended, but I will definitely use it intentionally next time) if it’s taking you a long long time, it often does.

Ok, like my other blog posts I think I need to write more on this topic, so stay tuned.

And remember practise practise practise!

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