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Thread: Working out songs by ear.

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Dec 2015
    Posts
    7

    Default Working out songs by ear.

    I have been playing the Ukulele for about 16 months and made decent process. I've worked diligently through books like Ukulele Aerobics, taken private lessons and joined a Ukulele group. I have got to the point that providing I have either the chords or tab to a song I can pretty much play a passable version.

    However I really want to be able to figure out songs by ear but am finding it really difficult.

    Some people seem to do it instinctively but not me!

    If you have worked through this I would love to know how you tackled learning how to figure out a song. I know the theory about figuring out the key and using the circle of fifths to narrow down the chord choices but its still a real struggle.

    What resources have you used and what songs did you tackle first to train your ears to be able to pick out the right chords?

    Any hints / tips / resources / words of encouragement would be welcome.
    1960's Martin Style 0

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Sep 2013
    Location
    Arizona, USA
    Posts
    2,859

    Default

    I too struggle with this. I made some circle of fifths stickers and placed it on the back of my fluke (plastic) uke. Now I can figure out an easy song quickly. There are always exceptions to this rule but having that sticker right there to look at has really helped. The more Ive used it the more it has come without looking at the sticker.

    Most people that can do this on the fly are piano players that have been playing those chords below the melody for years.
    Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jul 2015
    Location
    Yorkshire
    Posts
    285

    Default

    I do a mixture really. I like working songs out by ear, and also, if it's not the right key for me, transposing up or down. Sometimes if I'm looking for a particular song I will just look up a tab online, but sometimes tabs don't give you right chords, in which case I just have to work it out by ear. Some chords will come easily, but for others, what I personally find helpful is picking out a standout note from the chord I'm hearing, I won't know know whether that note is a C, C #, D or whatever, I just find I can single it out from the chord and then find that note on the fret board. Then I try out the chords that have that note in it. It's a process of elimination I know but I usually get it within two or three chords. Knowing what a minor, a major, a diminished chord etc sounds like helps too. I don't know if that helps you. My knowledge of music theory is very limited, but if it helps, try picking out that particular note and take it from there.
    Last edited by One Man And His Uke; 05-12-2017 at 08:18 PM.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jul 2009
    Location
    Seattle, WA
    Posts
    1,912

    Default

    besides learning from my teacher in 6th grade in Hawaii,
    i learned everything else by ear.

    primarily, listening to rock-n-roll songs in the 50's and 60's on the radio.

    I learned to play the chord shapes from the key of C, and worked up
    the neck to find a sound that matched the song on the radio.

    then I learned the names of the new chords, and learned to play the
    first position shapes in that key.

    Now, with regard to even figuring out the sounds initially, well, there
    was a lot of listening and experimenting.

    I kind of knew that in the key of C, I would be playing Am, F, and G7,
    D7 sometimes, etc. So armed with those basic Key of C options, I
    tried to figure out the songs I wanted to play. Back then, the chord
    progressions were a lot simpler than they are today, so you will truly
    have your work cut out for you

    anyway, once I had a rough progression that permitted me to sing the
    song I wanted to learn using the key of C or a barred application of
    the Key of C somewhere else up the neck, and having then figured out
    the proper name of the Key and learned the first position chord forms
    for that Key, I then played 'my' song in the new key with the new chord
    forms.

    (BTW, that's how I learned to play practically all the keys, since most of
    the songs were written, sung, recorded in keys other than C! )

    Bottom line, I was motivated by wanting to sing songs I was listening to
    on the radio. And I stuck with it until I could do just that... for my own
    pleasure. I never performed them to anyone until I got to college, but even
    then it was only for those who wanted to sing along in the dorm.

    I did play for my church youth group, especially during the holidays when
    we went caroling, so I had to figure out the chords in my vocal range so that
    I could accompany the carolers

    it will take time and experimentation... and try not to get discouraged. you will
    be training your ear/hearing.

    initially, you'll be using major, minor and 7th chords mostly. As your hearing improves
    to where you are able to distinguish between similar-sounding chords, you may want
    to add, replace, and otherwise adjust your song sheets to reflect more sophisticated
    rendition... and to make it more fun for yourself

    keep uke'in',
    Uncle Rod Higuchi
    ( rohiguchi@gmail.com )

    MP3s: http://www.mediafire.com/?50db7nls4o6m6
    Ukulele Boot Camp, FREE Songbook, Holiday Songbook & More: http://ukulelebootcamp.weebly.com

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Dec 2015
    Posts
    7

    Default

    I have made a spinning circle of fifths disk that I put in front of me to show me the major chords in a key (and to quickly transpose keys) which is at least narrowing down my options on chords!
    1960's Martin Style 0

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Dec 2015
    Posts
    7

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Uncle Rod Higuchi View Post
    besides learning from my teacher in 6th grade in Hawaii,
    i learned everything else by ear.

    primarily, listening to rock-n-roll songs in the 50's and 60's on the radio.

    I learned to play the chord shapes from the key of C, and worked up
    the neck to find a sound that matched the song on the radio.

    then I learned the names of the new chords, and learned to play the
    first position shapes in that key.

    Now, with regard to even figuring out the sounds initially, well, there
    was a lot of listening and experimenting.

    I kind of knew that in the key of C, I would be playing Am, F, and G7,
    D7 sometimes, etc. So armed with those basic Key of C options, I
    tried to figure out the songs I wanted to play. Back then, the chord
    progressions were a lot simpler than they are today, so you will truly
    have your work cut out for you

    anyway, once I had a rough progression that permitted me to sing the
    song I wanted to learn using the key of C or a barred application of
    the Key of C somewhere else up the neck, and having then figured out
    the proper name of the Key and learned the first position chord forms
    for that Key, I then played 'my' song in the new key with the new chord
    forms.

    (BTW, that's how I learned to play practically all the keys, since most of
    the songs were written, sung, recorded in keys other than C! )

    Bottom line, I was motivated by wanting to sing songs I was listening to
    on the radio. And I stuck with it until I could do just that... for my own
    pleasure. I never performed them to anyone until I got to college, but even
    then it was only for those who wanted to sing along in the dorm.

    I did play for my church youth group, especially during the holidays when
    we went caroling, so I had to figure out the chords in my vocal range so that
    I could accompany the carolers

    it will take time and experimentation... and try not to get discouraged. you will
    be training your ear/hearing.

    initially, you'll be using major, minor and 7th chords mostly. As your hearing improves
    to where you are able to distinguish between similar-sounding chords, you may want
    to add, replace, and otherwise adjust your song sheets to reflect more sophisticated
    rendition... and to make it more fun for yourself

    keep uke'in',
    Thanks. I think that this kind of mirrors how I thought I would approach this. I am going to try and not cheat and stop looking at tabs for now. I figured if I pretend that the internet doesn't exist and I stop googling chords for songs* it will force me to spend time really listening to songs and trying and figure them out for myself. I guess if I get them to a point where they sound ok-ish to my untrained ears, as I get better at it and revisit the songs I will refine them more and more.

    * for now I may allow myself to google the right key
    1960's Martin Style 0

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jul 2009
    Location
    Seattle, WA
    Posts
    1,912

    Default

    More power to 'ya!

    it's trail-blazing... when you may not have to, but you'll
    be learning alot of Ukulele 'Woodcraft' along the way!
    you'll be surprised by many 'Ah-ha' moments that will help
    you in your playing-by-ear adventure.

    not sugar-coating, it is hard work... initially. but as you
    put more time and effort into it, you will be building a special
    skill that can be very rewarding and satisfying.

    after all, you'll soon be in a position to create your own song sheets,
    and even be in a position to offer chording suggestions to make
    the songbook(s) you're using, even more rewarding (to discriminating
    listeners and players)

    Caveat - not everyone will want to make changes to the songs they
    already know... even if it makes the songs sound better. If it means
    learning it in a new key... forget it!

    so in your newly-acquired skill, tread softly with regard to sharing with
    others. Take advantage of open mic opportunities, and if there's interest,
    offer to do an informal workshop for those who want to learn what you're
    doing to make the songs 'prettier' and the time will come, sooner or later

    keep uke'in',
    Uncle Rod Higuchi
    ( rohiguchi@gmail.com )

    MP3s: http://www.mediafire.com/?50db7nls4o6m6
    Ukulele Boot Camp, FREE Songbook, Holiday Songbook & More: http://ukulelebootcamp.weebly.com

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Aug 2016
    Location
    Walla Walla, WA
    Posts
    375

    Default

    I played flute from grade school to my 20s and could always play any melody I heard. Playing just a melody on the uke is similar to that. For chords, I've been approaching it in a way similar to Uncle Rod. I also occasionally am granted the privilege of playing with Bluegrass players where no one has a gig book and you just have to figure it out. This is not only great practice, it's a good confidence booster. You know, except the part where the Bluegrass players ignore me completely because--ukulele.
    Kiwaya KTS-6
    Kiwaya KTC-2
    Mahilele 3.0 Skull

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Mar 2014
    Location
    Ames, Iowa/San Juan, Puerto Rico
    Posts
    2,590

    Default

    I have not found that trying to use the circle of fifth is helpful with anything but fairly basic chord progressions. For me, listening to what I'm playing and memorizing songs was a big turning point. I learned that a lot of songs share chord progressions and that many of those chord progressions even have names. As I memorized more and more songs, I started to recognize those progressions when I saw them. After a while I might recognize that Hit the Road Jack shares some progressions with Stray Cat Strut. Salty Dog Blues shares a progression with Hey Good Lookin'. So if I could play one song and another one came up with the same progression, it was easier to memorize. So I started listening for them. I'm not to the point where I can just play anything I hear, but often times I hear things that I can play. The twelve bar blues is everywhere. Because I listen for them, I hear that all the time. Just the other night I was playing along with something on Netflix and my wife commented on it. I told her that I'd played that progression ten thousand times in a hundred different songs. Anyway, listening to what I'm playing has helped me in that direction.
    I don't want to live in a world that is linear.
    There's more than one road into Richmond. Lil' Rev
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2LEY9E_W5sw

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jul 2009
    Location
    Seattle, WA
    Posts
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    Default

    Rllink, I believe you hit the nail on the head with the listening, paying attention, making connections, etc.
    that's what playing by ear is all about. - the high cost of paying attention

    it's nice to have things already worked out for us, but if that kind of material is not available, well, we have
    to buckle down to do it ourselves. and that means a lot of experimentation, trial and error. but the payoff
    can be great as we learn and trust ourselves to learn what we need to get where we want to go.

    don't be afraid to make mistakes. Self-correcting is part of learning. If we don't recognize our mistakes,
    how will we ever make the proper corrections and get better?

    Great advice everyone. learning to play by ear is a skill well worth the effort. Also, there's a certain
    amount of Music Theory that will be acquired along the way

    keep uke'in',
    Uncle Rod Higuchi
    ( rohiguchi@gmail.com )

    MP3s: http://www.mediafire.com/?50db7nls4o6m6
    Ukulele Boot Camp, FREE Songbook, Holiday Songbook & More: http://ukulelebootcamp.weebly.com

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