Skip to content

Tip: Picking Out Fast Melodies By Ear

Here are a few ideas for picking out hi-velocity melodies by ear.

A straightforward way to do this is to get software or hardware – like machines made by Tascam – that slows down melodies enough for you to hear the individual notes. Those machines have their place, but if you are slowing down everything you want to transcribe, you’re cheating yourself of a great chance to build your ear.

Someone who can successfully transcribe fast melodies is someone who uses everything he knows about music to make educated guesses at what he’s hearing. He takes the key center, the last few chords played, the scales most likely used by the guitarist he’s transcribing (e.g. Clapton and SRVaughn; heavy pentatonic usage), and other factors that are separate from the actual notes, to drastically narrow down the possible sources of melodic material. In other words, the more theory you know – especially theory related to the genre of the music you’re transcribing – the better.

Once he’s got all that info down, the successful transcriber may listen for the shape of the line. You can actually draw this. Is the line dipping down or moving up? Listen for repeated patterns, e.g. 1 3 2 4 (C E D F in C major), and also very important, the melodic rhythm. Tap out the rhythm of the line. Also, listen for pauses in the line. and identify the notes at those pauses.

Another big, big help: scatting/singing. Even if your pitch is way off, singing gets you inside the music, which gives you a fresh perspective on the line you’re transcribing. And you can scat to some pretty fast lines, faster than you can play. Then, you can slow down your singing so your ear can pick out the notes.

Thanks for reading.

Copyright © 2009 Darrin Koltow

This first appeared in the Guitar Noise News – April 15, 2008 newsletter. Reprinted with permission.