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Playing by ear how to do it ?

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Joined: 16 years ago
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I am bored and I don't want to learn songs as such.. I can play a few even though I don't know any from start to finish without looking at the chords to play on a sheet.
I want to get into rhythm if that's where you're playing along, at an old sing song and you can play away to what ever anyone is singing as long as you know the song. .
there must be ways to know what chord come next if you try to play along with who ever singing is this a whole different aspect of playing a guitar
How/where would one start to lean this would this help to play lead also?
Sorry I know there are loads of questions but thanks in advance if you can steer me up the right path

Honorable Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 539

I want to get into rhythm if that's where you're playing along, at an old sing song and you can play away to what ever anyone is singing as long as you know the song

By this, I assume you mean that you know the lyrics to the song, not the guitar part, yes? Can you 'hear' the song in your head? If you dont actually *know* the song, then you can't play it; simple, logical answer!
Taking that, when you say:
there must be ways to know what chord come next if you try to play along with who ever singing

Yes there is; you learn the chords to the song. Sorry, but if you want to play a song, you have to learn it, one way or the other -TABS, figuring out by ear, and practicing a lot.

As you learn more chords and songs, and get to grips with some simple progressions, it does become possible to sometimes 'predict' what chord is going to come next - however, I SERIOUSLY doubt that even very experienced guitarists would be able to listen to someone singing a 'known' song, and just improvise the correct chords to the singing - in fact, I would go out on a limb and say that is almost impossible, ESPECIALLY when you consider things like strumming pattern and timing as well, not to mention the fact that there is no telling if the singer is in the right key or even in tune.

Its not the same as improvising solo's - a solo is often linked to the 'key' the song is in, and centers around the use of scales, which the player can then combine with his/her imagination to make a solo up on the spot (even though many so-called "improvisations' are actually just re-hashing of things learnt before).

Chords used in a song can be chosen for any number of reasons, not just because they 'fit' the singer's voice/range. the use of 'sus', 'aug' and other such chords are often based in the music itself, not the singer's voice/note.

Look at songs that use low tunings like drop-c; no singer actually sings those low notes; in fact, they often have quite high voices, and sing 1 or 2 octaves ABOVE that low note; they still sing a C, but not the low C that the guitarist plays. Unless you already KNEW to play that lower C chord, you'd have no idea to play it; in factm, you could just as well play a Cmaj 1 octave higher to correspond with the note sung by the singer; it would 'fit', but it wouldnt be the 'right' chord for the song; and of course, this relies on you knowing a C when you hear it being sung.

Take any song (even a simple one) such as Wonderwall by Oasis. Listening to the song, there is no way that you could listen only to the singing and get the 'right' chords to it from the singer's voice.

Now, if you could 'hear' the song in your head, then you could figure out what chords to play by 'hearing' each chord and then finding it (i.e. 'hearing' a C from your memory of the song and then knowing how to play a C) but this is a dodgy method, and you'd have to have a very good memory combined with an extensive ability to play tons of chords to do this, not to mention enough time to work through each chord, and remember when to play it.

So, to sum up (in case anyone skipped all that :lol: );

There is no way you can play along to someone singing a 'known' or 'popular' song without knowing what to play beforehand. It is as unfeasilbe as knowing the plot of a story you haven't read yet.


ETD - Formerly "10141748 - Reincarnate"

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Not to mention the fact that you need to know the key in which it is being sung to come up with the appropriate chords to play along. Just because it's written in a certain key doesn't mean that the singer is going to sing in that key. Best thing is to get together with whoever is going to sing and work out the song together. Or learn songs that everyone knows and play those to get people to sing.

When I'm learning something "by ear", I'll play the song on the CD player or computer, get a feel for the rhythm, note where the chord changes are, then sit down and play with it until I get it, not necessarily perfectly, but at the very least, passably. Then, I can always finesse it from there.

From your original question, though, I think you may have the wrong idea of what "playing by ear" actually is. It is the ability to hear a song and then learn it without using tablature or sheet music. It is not being able to immediately play along to a song that someone is singing if you have never played it before, you're not going to get it right the first time you play it. Which leads us back to that old bugaboo...... Practice, practice, practice. It's the only way.

Sorry!!! :D

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"Don't wanna ride no shootin' star. Just wanna play on the rhythm guitar." Emmylou Harris, "Rhythm Guitar" from "The Ballad of Sally Rose"

Ignar Hillström
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Joined: 19 years ago
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The good part about chords is that they support the melody, and for every given melodic part there are many, many possible choices. So if you focus on the more important notes in the melody and make sure your chords fit around that well not much can go wrong. For a quick imaginary example, let's take these melody notes for a four-bar verse in a song in the key of C: E-F-F-G. Okay, the first chord could very well be a C-major, using the I on the first measure usually works and the E note fits in. The second could be a Bm/5b, which is rather odd, or either a Dm or F. Same goes for the third measure. The last chord could either be a C again (kinda dull), an Em (kinda lame turn-around) or the good old G(7). So we can play C-F-Dm-G7, C-Dm-F-G, C-Dm-G7-C etc etc. Which one is best depends on your taste.

If you're playing in a band just listen to the bass. Big fat chances that it just plays poorly disguised arpeggios with a heavy emphasis on the root note. Most pop songs are so cut&paste that if you listen the intro you can just play the verses along. Not as much magic as it seems.

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Topic starter  

thanks for the advice lads makes sence