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how do you being to tab out songs

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Active Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 5
Topic starter  

hi everyone

I am wanting to try and figure out the chord changes in some songs. The music is mostly acoustic with just a single guitar and sometimes a tamborine or a banjo in the back ground. I can tell that there are just a few chords and can also tell when the changes take place. How does everyone figure out the chords, do you just start trying some chords out and try and figure out what key they are in? Are there any tricks you guys know of? I imagine this is just one of the things you need to practice, but any tips would be appreciated.

I am feeling ambitious ever since I started tuning my guitar by ear. This may not seem like a big deal, but I used to be convinced I could never do tune by ear. Then one day I just figured I would eleminate cant from my vocabulary as the cliche goes and started just listening to how the strings sound and practicing, and now im actually half decent at it. So to any of you who think you can't do it keep trying!

Thanks in advance

Illustrious Member
Joined: 21 years ago
Posts: 4921

The first thing I would do is try to nail the chord changes. Listen to each bit of the tune - does it sound major? Minor? Dominant? Then try to figure out what the exact chords are.

For single notes, you need to start with one note and figure out what it is. Most melodies have one note that's repeated a few (or several) times - get that one first.

Then it's a matter of filling in the blanks - is the next note higher or lower? By about how much? Take a guess at where that note is, check your guess against the recording, and revise it if you need to.

Transcribing tunes into either tab or standard notation is a great way to improve your ears.

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Noble Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 2171

For chord changes I typically try and start by figuring out the bass line. Very often that's going to be playing 1-3-5's of the chord, so it's a good indicator of both the key and the chords.

Like Noteboat said, once you have the chords, doing the single notes is trial and error. Once you get about half the first verse, though, you'll be able to knock the rest of a song out pretty easily unless it really goes off in an odd direction.

"The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side." -- HST

Joined: 22 years ago
Posts: 5342

I start with the bass note. Once you've got that, there are only so many chords that include that note so you can start narrowing it down straight away.

Then I try and hit some of the melody. Once you've got a few notes worked out, there's only so many keys to choose from.

Once I know the key, I know the chords I can use and it's all downhill from there. On average, I can nail chord changes to a song and sometimes even a solo in a one hour lesson with a student, so long as it's not complicated - the last three lessons with one particular guy have been about tabbing out songs and we've done Chocolate (Snow Patrol), Time Of Your Life (Green Day) and Burn Baby Burn (Ash). Note that I don't do the working out for my students - I make them do the work

Key changes can throw you as you have to start again from scratch halfway through, and the solo from All right Now is not on the lesson plan


A :-)

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Famed Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 2736

Bass line and also figuring out the melody of the song helps.The chords lie along the melody line only.

Noble Member
Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 1259

The big thing to realize is not to jump in and try to learn a Satriani song on your first attempt at ear training. I usually do easier acoustic music alot. But I do alot of classic rock also.

I like to start with the chords. Figuring out the progression, minor, major, whatever it may be. Then I like to look at the melody, and analysis how that songs. It's nice to know if your dealing with a major scale, or a relative minor, or a blues, or what. I usually do the bassline last, but only because I'm not a bass player.


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Illustrious Member
Joined: 21 years ago
Posts: 5349

Not much to add but:

Go to "trainers->interval ear trainer" and "trainers->chord ear trainer"

Once you can hear the type of chord and hear intervals it's not really hard to figure out basic progressions of modern pop/rock songs.

Illustrious Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 5381

Also try slowing the song down with one of the software tools available for the purpose. They are very handy especially for opening riffs, solos and flourishes.

Illustrious Member
Joined: 22 years ago
Posts: 5108

Also try slowing the song down with one of the software tools available for the purpose. They are very handy especially for opening riffs, solos and flourishes.

And if you have the latest version of Windows Media Player on an XP platform, you already have an option for slowing down playback without altering pitch.

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