How refined are most professional guitarists' ears?

Discussion in 'Guitar Lessons' started by LiveSimply, Jul 7, 2017.

  1. LiveSimply

    LiveSimply Senior Member

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    If someone were to play a random note from another guitar without the pro seeing the fret placement, would most high level pros be able to play the exact note on their instrument?

    If most pros can truly play "what they hear in their head" wouldn't the ability to hear and replicate any note be a required trait to be able to do that?

    Can most of you guys do that? I don't have that ability.

    Maybe if I would have learned by trying to replicate songs from the radio by ear, I would probably be closer to that level.
     
  2. Freddy G

    Freddy G V.I.P. Member

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    Yes.
    Ear training. I learned by lifting songs off records. No tabs. That was great exercise for the ears. Really, it didn't take long to be able to pick out and identify notes accurately...the real trick in guitar playing is hearing where on the neck that note is. For example, an open G sounds totally different than say a G on the 10th fret, fifth string. That's probably about the easiest contrast to hear, but others are not that easy. That's when you experiment and explore. Play the riff or passage in different positions and you'll find one that sounds right or just makes sense.
     
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  3. DarrellV

    DarrellV Murry Chrirstmers to earl! Silver Supporter Premium Member

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    ^^^^
    THIS!

    Yup I could do it. I do it all the time and its how I learn new songs.

    I have also transcribed a song to paper just from the sounds in my head and then check it later with guitar....

    Can be done.

    Like Freddy said, I taught myself by listening to and playing along with the stereo.

    Could be genetics too, though. Don't know if there is any science to it, but my ma was an organist and choir director...

    Growing up as a kid she used to point out different sections in organ music where there would be dissonance and then resolve and she'd ask me if I heard it.

    I didn't and told her I thought she was nuts.

    NOW I hear it and I can't turn it off!

    If someone is off key singing or out of tune on even one string, I hear it.

    I cannot sit through kids music pageants at school without having a visceral reaction.

    I have to walk the halls to get away from it....
     
  4. LiveSimply

    LiveSimply Senior Member

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    Thanks for your thoughts, Freddy.

    This is one of the major factors that I feel differentiates the great guitarists from the rest of the pack, Freddy. Seems the good ones have the natural ability to do this and for it not to "take long", as you put it, to be able to develop the ability.

    I find it really, really difficult to pick out the note (irrespective of pitch or fret location). If it were just a function of finding where the note was on the fretboard, I'd love to have that be my biggest obstacle.

    I'm sure with time you can "drill" the ability to facilitate this, but I think there are some people that have a natural gift for being able to do this easily. I liken it to having a "photographic memory" for sound... I think folks just live in different gradients of their ability to do this. I think everyone can better themselves, but I think some just have a natural born gift for it.
     
  5. LiveSimply

    LiveSimply Senior Member

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    Wow. I find this very impressive, Darrell. That is great talent.

    May I ask... do you think that that ability is shared among most of the guitarists that you belive are at your experience level, or do you think that your ability to do something like that is unique?

    Being able to do that would be something I would aspire to.... I just dont think everyone has the capacity to get to that level.

    Sometimes I read this stuff and I feel like the old man in this clip... lol.

     
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  6. 1FretLess

    1FretLess Senior Member

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    indeed so

    it all clicked for me writing tab oddly
     
  7. GitFiddle

    GitFiddle Premium Member

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    In some interview a long time ago Greg Allman was describing their younger days when Duane would spend all day practicing and learning songs off albums. He said Duane would sit and move the record back with his big toe to repeat passages over and over.
     
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  8. paradice

    paradice Senior Member

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    I dunno if the majority would be able to do that...that's Perfect Pitch...different to being able to figure out a song by just listening. Maybe more people can do that than I think can!
    I'd be able to get near the note then slide up or down to the actual note I've just heard, bit of trial and error but I'd get it right in the end...

    like anything...only thing you can do is practice! songs off the radio etc like you say but probably better with a recording so you can rewind to check what you thought was right or wrong
     
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  9. DotStudio

    DotStudio Silver Supporter

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    Ditto. Then once I hit the right spot the rest usually falls into place.
     
  10. DarrellV

    DarrellV Murry Chrirstmers to earl! Silver Supporter Premium Member

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    +1 :thumb:
     
  11. I Break Things

    I Break Things Senior Member

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    Following this thread because I suck at learning songs by ear.
     
  12. DarrellV

    DarrellV Murry Chrirstmers to earl! Silver Supporter Premium Member

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    No, don't! Please don't think that was a brag by any means..... :doh:

    Threads like this make me think inward to something I don't normally look at closely... It's like a tool I get out of the shed when the need arises. I would like to know how I developed it as much as you would so maybe we could both learn from it. :hmm:

    From my perspective:

    I just assume that it is nothing special and everybody can do it. Including my band-mates. Which sometimes leads to frustration when trying to explain a part or section of music to them. I just assume everyone can hear what I'm hearing, so I don't always understand the problem... :dunno:

    This isn't out of arrogance, but from the basic assumption that I'm no different than anybody else and I don't have some kind of secret sauce that gives me that ability. I think anybody should be able to pick it up. :dude:

    This is inherently unfair to them and I have to apologize a lot for acting out, and slow down, fall back, and re-group my approach with them. They are not bad players either, by any means. And they are great guys!

    I hope you can see the similarity there, from both perspectives? :cheers:
     
  13. DarrellV

    DarrellV Murry Chrirstmers to earl! Silver Supporter Premium Member

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    So starting from the very basics IMO all of music can be broken down into consonance and dissonance.

    Consonance is the pleasing sound notes make when the play nice together.

    Dissonance is the result when they do not.

    Starting with the ancient Greeks men learned through science and hearing that the pitch (or frequency) of sounds repeat themselves over and over as one moves up or down in pitch.

    This led Pythagoras to invent something like this...

    [​IMG]

    It's called a monochord. One string, tuned to a pitch sometimes using a known amount of weight across a known length of the monochord.

    By means of a slideable board inserted on edge under the string the length of the string could be shortened, and the change in pitch could be measured.

    At the halfway point it was found to be twice the pitch of the original string. We call this an Octave. Its the double dots on the 12th fret of your guitar. That's Octave.

    The scale we use in most music is called a Diatonic Scale from the Greek meaning 'between 2 (dia) tones (tonic)'. It comes directly from the humble monochord, and the fact that tones naturally repeated themselves.

    So the question arose, how many other usable tones might there be between the octaves... because once you hit the next octave, the tones are repeating again, identically, so you are out of room.

    Pythagoris himself worked out mathematically the perfect fifth, I believe the third (though it wasn't the same as ours), the fourth and Octave intervals of our modern scale.

    He found these on the monochord by moving the slide board to different points between the center and one end of the monochord.

    Here's a modern one with the scale markings already on it.

    [​IMG]

    These intervals became the tuning for this
    [​IMG]
    The humble Kithara of ancient Greece.

    Each string was tuned to one of Pythagoris' tones and found they could be played together and still sound pleasant. That's consonance!

    Over the course of the centuries as music branched away from science and the ear became the accepted judge of intervals in the scale, more were added. Including the second, sixth and seventh.

    We now arrived at our modern scale of 8 notes that play nice together. The first is the root, or Tonic, of the scale, and the 8th is Octave, a doubling of the Root note. With 7 usable tones in between.

    Go outside of those 8, and nasty clashing dissonance happens!

    In order to learn by ear you have to understand what your ear is telling you. You must train it to be able to discern consonance or dissonance.

    If I haven't lost anyone yet I will continue in another post.....
     
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2017
  14. spitfire

    spitfire Senior Member

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    I have a poor ear. But I've read up on the subject and as I understand it, it's generally accepted that most everyone can develop a good relative pitch with work. Relative pitch is the ability to pick a note out accurate once you have a reference note figured out on your on instrument or voice. So if someone just starts playing happy birthday with good relative pitch you would still NOT be able to just play the first note of the tune. Because you would have to hear it and immediately know it was a C (or whatever). But once yo have that first note, you'd be off to the races as far as being able to play all the other notes.

    Absolute pitch is different. That's when you hear a note an immediately know what note it is by name or note placement on your instrument. You do not need to play or sing any notes to nail it. Apparently people who can do this developed the ability as very young children due to exposure to a wide variety of music.

    Here's a YouTube link of a guy talking about this issue and his son's ability to hear notes. it is truly amazing. The sad part is he explains why it is impossible for adults to develop true perfect pitch if they didn't as a child.



    Here's another from him.

     
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  15. DarrellV

    DarrellV Murry Chrirstmers to earl! Silver Supporter Premium Member

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    Dissonance:

    When 2 or more sounds occur in the same space at the same time some really neat stuff happens.

    In music they blend harmonically, and in science, they blend mathematically.

    The results in guitar talk and music speak are called overtones or partials.

    In singing it is the basis for harmony, and in music the chord structure.

    What actually happens is the 2 sounds produce in the air their own sounds (fundamental) AND their harmonically and mathematically related SUM and DIFFERENCE.

    Simply put if we have a string vibrating at frequencies that form pleasing overtones. They are in consonance.

    In training your ear, this is when you are right on the money! You can hear it and it sounds exact!

    Dissonance is when you are getting closer to actual pitch, but not quite there. It is a pulsating sound caused by the sum and the difference of the 2 tones.

    [​IMG]

    Most of us can tune our guitar using the fretboard and the 5th fret to tune the next string over.

    The easiest example I can give is to simply take your guitar, play the low E and A together, and de-tune the E string slowly.

    If you listen carefully you will hear the pulsating beats start out slowly and get faster as you drop further away from tuned pitch. If you go far enough away it will become a mess.

    Now go the other way and hold your finger on the 5th fret of the E string and tune up toward the A you will hear the beats as you get closer. When the beats stop completely you are back in tune and in consonance!

    This is exactly what I listen for when learning a song or lead guitar patterns.

    If I can find even one note of the tune then as said above I can find the related notes.

    For me its easier on bass. Usually slower, and the deeper tones will clash more pronounceablely if you miss.

    Once I have found one note that is consonant (ie, right on) I go for the most common intervals of modern music. 1,4, and 5.

    The basis of almost all classic rock music, country music and others is the 1,4,5 progression.

    Again, I'm assuming you know what this is. There is no shame if you don't.

    Myself or others on here will be happy to lay it out for anybody lookin' to know.

    After a bit I can predict which note I want to play and my fingers move toward the proper fret almost on their own. They would, if i would just stop fighting them, LOL!
     
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  16. paradice

    paradice Senior Member

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    being able to hear it is only (a big) part of it....being familiar with all the shapes and patterns helps narrow down the possibilities

    ie someone with Perfect Pitch who plays piano could play a specific note after hearing it but if they'd never played a guitar then obviously they wouldn't know where that note was

    knowing as many common shapes/patters/progressions etc is all part of it
     
  17. DarrellV

    DarrellV Murry Chrirstmers to earl! Silver Supporter Premium Member

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    That is partially correct in my experience. Memorizing shapes and patterns only happened for me after I started seeing them appear after playing by ear for some length of time.

    Not the other way around. In fact the reason i switched to bass almost 30 years ago is because I took the wrong approach to learning the guitar.

    I thought I had to study books of chord patterns and memorize them ALL before i could be considered a pro player!
    This crazy book had HUNDREDS of chords including jazz and diminished and all those crazy alphabet soup chords and I quit
    right after thinking that there is NO WAY I'm ever going to memorize all of them, let alone get my fingers to bend into the shape of some of them!

    Switched to bass, no chords, no lead... Simple!

    I actually started playing bass and working in a country band before I knew what any of the stuff i was playing was.

    I knew the standard tuning E A D G, and that there are no sharps or flats between E and F, and B and C.
    I still teach this as a fundamental building block to anyone who asks me to learn bass or guitar. Never forget that and the rest gets a heck of a lot easier.

    So after a bit i was able to find the key by name, G or A or whatever. After I had the key, I played patterns.

    A 1,4,5 on bass looks like a 7. Octaves are always 2 across and 2 down. Add that to the 1,4,5 pattern and you get a Z pattern.

    Some songs are played backward, 8,5,4. This looks like an L. With the lower Octave included it again becomes a Z, just played backwards.

    Playing country music forced me to find the 2nd and 3rd because they were used a lot in the walks between changes.

    I was doing all this with no practical knowledge of music theory or any understanding of why and how any of this fit together.

    I considered myself like a parrot, just imitating what i hear and copying it. Memorizing whole songs this way by pattern and sound.

    All the while I was playing the major scale and never knew it.
     
  18. Sct13

    Sct13 Gold Supporter Premium Member

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    In my day you HAD to learn by ear or school (lessons) and I hated lessons....so it was vinyl for me...easier than a cassette tape and WAYYY easier than an 8 track (in fact nearly impossible on an 8 track)

    but the result of all that work was I'm nearly pitch perfect...and bring an A string to 440 without a tuner and then tune the rest of the strings....(but I cheat with a clip on tuner now days)...

    I can't do TAB at all ....its too slow ....I just do not learn that way.
     
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  19. Freddy G

    Freddy G V.I.P. Member

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    Same situation for me. Except I had lessons on a variety of instruments and I enjoyed it. And yes, I can also string a guitar and tune it to pitch without a tuner. I do it several times everyday in my job. It's a little game I play....how close am I? I check with a tuner afterwards and I'm usually within a few cents.
     
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  20. JonR

    JonR Senior Member

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    No. That requires perfect pitch, and most people don't have that. Not even a majority of experienced pros, because it's simply not necessary.

    However, there is the phenomenon of "pitch memory", which is a kind of "imperfect pitch", whereby anyone (even non-musicians) can embed the sound of specific pitches in their memory if they hear them often enough. Experiments have shown that large numbers of people can reproduce a song in the right key, if they know it well enough from a famous recording. IOW, this is not relative pitch, where they are played the song and can then copy it. They sing from memory.

    As a guitarist of some experience - if you always play in EADGBE - you can probably recognise the sound of a bass E string if another guitarist plays it. You might also recognise the sound of any other open string. But if they played (say) a C# on the 3rd string, you probably wouldn't identify that. IOW, the more accustomed you are to hearing certain notes (maybe every day for decades!), the more you remember those pitches. EADGBE would be right up there.

    My own experience (I don't have perfect pitch) is I can restring my guitar and tune it up to within a half-step of EADGBE without a tuner. I just know what the 6th string (mainly) sounds like when it's in tune. (Typically I end up slightly flat of concert, but usually less than a semitone.

    My other experience of pitch memory is Chuck Berry's You Never Can Tell. I'd played it in the original key (C) for years, decades. But then I worked with a female singer who needed the key changed. We flipped it to F. It sounded really odd and clumsy to me in the new key, even though we played it well. It just sounded "wrong". And yet, after some months playing it in the new key, I got used to it, and it sounded fine. My pitch memory of C as "correct" had been replaced with F - as an alternative "correct" key at least. The "C groove" in my brain hadn't been erased, but a new "F groove" had been created.

    I'm sure this is a common phenomenon. Even without perfect pitch, we all get used to the sound of famous songs in one key - either their original key, or the key we play it in all the time (if that's different). In equal temperament, every key is equivalent, so in theory every key is equally "right" - we can transpose freely. But in practice, our brains tell us only the commonly heard key is "right". Transposing a well-known recording somehow makes it "wrong". This is less of an issue when you don't know the song well, or you hear a song in different keys all the time (eg when transposing for different singers) - because no one key gets a chance to embed itself.
    (I'm ignoring the instrumental factors which make some keys easier than others.)
    What we "hear in our head" is either related to a song we're already hearing - eg if we are improvising on a song - in which case relative pitch does the job; or we're composing from scratch, not related to any existing sound, in which case the pitch doesn't matter.
    We might hear a series of notes, or a chord sequence, in our head, but what matters is the relationship between the pitches, not their absolute frequencies.
    E.g., I can imagine the sound of I-vi-IV-V in my head (i've heard it enough damn times), but it doesn't matter whether it's C-Am-F-G, G-Em-C-D, Bb-Gm-Eb-F, or whatever. As soon as I start humming a note or playing one, I work that out by relative pitch, and everything else falls into place. Or of course, I can just decide on a key without having to hunt for anything.
    Less common sequences, I might have to hunt. E.g. if I think I hear a melody running 1-3-4-2, maybe it's actually 3-5-6-4, or 2-4-5-3? Or 2-4-5-b3? I.e., the same shape, but different sized intervals.
    As I say, it doesn't matter that I can't hear it precisely. If I need to write it down, I'll have an instrument handy to check. If maybe I'm on a bus or train, I might just jot down "1-3-4-2" (or C-E-D-F) and check it out later.

    But if I'm in the middle of a solo, then I'll be more sure whether it's 1-3-2-4 or not. I know the sound of each chord tone - I know what a 3rd and 5th sound like, and what a b7, maj7, 6 and 9 sound like for that matter. So if I want the sound of a 9th on this chord, I know exactly what note to go for.
    Sometimes the phrases I go for surprise me - they sound a little different from what I'd imagined. They still fit, because I know my theory (unless I hit a wrong fret by accident). But I like the fact they surprise me. If I could always play exactly what was in my head, 100% accurate, I think I'd find that boring. The surprises inspire me.
    Yes! Perfect pitch doesn't matter. Relative pitch does. That's what you train by listening and copying. It's the best exercise you can do, trying to play along with a song you don't know - trying to find just any note that fits, anywhere. You're crap it at to start with - but it gets better!

    I speak as someone who began with a terrible ear, no musical talent whatsoever. I had to learn songs by ear then because there was no other way. If you want to travel to a place that's 20 miles away and there's no transport, you just walk. You don't do it because you want to get fit - you just want to get there! But you happen to get fit on the way. Feel like giving up after 10 miles? Then you don't deserve to get there. ;) (Using tab is like hitchhiking - you don't know who's in that car... do they know the way, or are they a nut job? maybe they go the wrong way and drop you in the wrong place :D)
     
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2017

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