We all want the ability to play all of our favorite songs. Some musicians are born with the ability, but for the rest of the world, learning songs by ear can be like trying to decipher an ancient puzzle.
Well, I’m here to tell you that it is in fact possible, and actually quite easy to do.
First off, you will need to train your ear. The easiest way to do this is to sing. When you play a song you already know, break the chord up into separate notes. Play each note and simultaneously sing the note.
Take your time finding the pitch, as this is the first step towards pitch recognition, which is what finding song keys are all about. Once you reach the pitch of the first note of the chord, play the next note and sing until you reach the pitch. Be sure to sing the note’s name.
If you don’t know the notes of the fretboard or you just have trouble memorizing them, simply look them up. This is the most important part of learning to find song keys on your guitar, so don’t skimp. Take your time to familiarize yourself with each note. There is only seven total, and once you know them by ear, you will be able to pick out their octaves with ease.
If you can’t hit a particular octave of a note, that’s fine; a lower octave of a C note is still a C note. It is the note itself that matters. Not all of us can break glass with the power of pitch. In fact, I myself am a baritone, and yet I know all my notes simply because they translate regardless the octave.
Once you have the ability to notice notes, the next part is to analyze the song which you wish to learn. This entails listening to the song and singing along, not to the lyrics, but to the voice of instrumentation. Once you can discern which notes are being played, the next step is searching for the tonic.
Chord voices correspond to the keys which make them up, so a G Major chord will always sound like a G, whereas an A minor will always sound like an A.
Search for the lowest-sounding note within the piece. If you hear an octave of G within a chord shape in the context of the song which is lower than any other note being played, you are halfway to finding out the key of the song.
Then do the same to the other chords, going from lowest to highest. This is important because high notes can actually strain your ears, which means if you study them first and foremost, focusing all your attention on them, chances are your ears won’t be up to their full ability to study the lower notes.
Once you have written the chord names, simply compare them to scales. If the song is upbeat and has no accidental notes involved, you have just deciphered a C Major song. Studying chords and notes is the only way to discern the key, so be sure to take your time. This way you will achieve proper results. Good luck!
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