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Keys and Positions

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Reputable Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 273
Topic starter  

Here's a question that some of you more experienced players might be able to help me out with:

Lately I've busting my chops on some ear-training exercises including picking (no pun intended) songs out by ear instead of always relying on tabs and sheet music. My hope is that this will help me to be able to musically realize the ideas that I have in my head on the guitar ("to decrease the distance between my mind and my fingers" as one author summed it up quite nicely) to help with soloing/impoving.

One of the main pieces of advice that I've read everywhere I look is to learn a song by ear, and then play it in every possible key. Now I can see how this would be good advice on a wind instrument or something like the piano, since it would essentially make you relearn the song in each key (or at least use your theory skills in the transposition), but it seems to loose it's effect on the guitar - all I have to do is shift everything up or down x-number of frets to transpose, so I don't really gain any insight from doing this.

I haven't found anything specifically dealing with the guitar and this problem with ear training, so I'm wondering, am I looking at this the wrong way? Should I forget that the guitar has this easy transposition built in and just try to learn it based on note names? Or maybe just play it in different positions? Perhaps turn my guitar upside down and relearn it?

Any insights?

To those about to rock, we salute you!

Prominent Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 973

Rather than simply shifting up or down x amount of frets, I suggest you practise transposing the song but keeping it within the same (more or less) position on the fretboard.
For example, playing a song in C with C Am F G7 at the nut, then transposing it to F, with F, Dm, Bb C7, also at the nut, requires very different chord shapes and a good knowledge of them to do it successfully. The same applies to melodies too as it requires a real knowledge of where the notes are, rather than relying on patterns. It's useful practice.

Noble Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 1106

I never relearned songs in all keys, although the exercise probably wouldn't hurt. Yes, you are right that transposing is merely a matter of moving up and down the fretboard a certain number of keys, which in many ways makes it more simple than say a piano. But, some guitarists get lost if they try to move scales, chords & patterns they know in one key to another, less familar key. So, that would be one reason for the exercise.

Can't think of any other reason to do so, except to get more familar with the patterns, chords & scales in different keys. Maybe someone else has something else in mind.