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Picking it by ear. LIVE.

Discussion in 'Tab, Tips, Theory and Technique' started by chaseroonie, Jan 22, 2013.

  1. chaseroonie

    chaseroonie Tele-Meister

    May 30, 2009
    Nashville, TN
    Hey all, I've filled in for a few bands here lately, both of which have a bad habit for not calling out the keys, they just slam it on and go. I'm doing just fine, however I'm not confident in the first half of the songs. I can pick up something fast and accurately transcribing alone however playing live, esp. in unfamiliar territory you don't get that luxury of finding your roots by feel, unless you wanna train wreck the band, lol. Do any of you have a methodical approach for picking it right up with solid confidence? I am practicing A LOT to random unfamiliar songs to acquire more instincts, but anything else? Thanks.

  2. voodoostation

    voodoostation Tele-Afflicted

    May 10, 2007
    Midlothian, Va
    It's difficult to play a song if you don't really know the changes, more so if you don't know the key. All I can say, is keep playing with the bands, learn the songs and improve. Playing blind on the fly is a pain to say the least. If you have a friend with the capabilities, have them record the shows and go from there. If they change keys to accommodate the singer it'll throw you. See if you can get one of the bandmates to write down the set list songs and respective keys and go from there.

  3. Mjark

    Mjark Doctor of Teleocity

    Feb 14, 2011
    Annapolis, MD
    These are Rock/Blues/Country songs? Find the V chord.

  4. fezz parka

    fezz parka ---------------------------

    Hang back on the 1st run through of the form. Pay attention. Repeat the form.:D

  5. ddewerd

    ddewerd Friend of Leo's Ad Free Member

    Try to sneak a peek at the other guitar player (if there is one) or the bass player. Unless it's tricky jazzy stuff, once you have one of the chords you can usually guess where the next one goes. Or walk up to him and shout in his ear.

    Or just ask if they can call it out to you before they start. You would think that they would be interested in sounding good, and this is a pretty minor thing.


  6. TeleTim911

    TeleTim911 Friend of Leo's

    Sep 28, 2009
    Calera, Alabama
    I can't believe they don't tell you the key it's in before starting...pretty unprofessional if you ask me, and I'd tell them so.

  7. max_twang

    max_twang Tele-Afflicted

    Nov 8, 2009
    New York
    With practice, you'll become better and better at picking out what people are playing just by listening. For the time being, try to position yourself so you can see the other players' hands. You could also ask them to tell you the keys...

  8. sir humphrey

    sir humphrey Friend of Leo's

    May 3, 2011
    There's a band I dep with that has a bad habit of giving me a set list two days before a gig, then completely changing it on the night. Keeps me on my toes!

    There's been occasions where I've turned down the volume knob for the first go round, then joined in when I've worked out what the hell they're doing!

    Just dial back the volume and smile until it clicks! ;-)

  9. D_Schief

    D_Schief Tele-Holic

    Apr 23, 2005
    Richmond, VA
    I learned about 50 songs for a couple of XMas parties with a band with two rehearsals -- 1/3 I had played at least once before within the last 4 decades, 1/3 I'd at least heard before, 1/3 I was clueless. So I was winging it a lot of the time.

    If you're the bass player or the drummer (who are more often required to lead into new sections and set up changes) you're screwed.

    But as a guitar player, you can sometimes hang back just a bit on the downbeat of "1" and then IF you've got good ears you can adjust on the fly. It's a little scary, but also very exciting and gratifying when you (mostly) pull it off.

    The ear is a muscle that gets stronger with use, especially if you have some understanding of musicial theory to anchor it to. (Example, in so many country and blues songs, you can just hear that momentum building to a II7 chord before the V7 chord -- in the key of "C" when the progression goes to D7, then to G7 and finally back to C.) There are only so many chord changes commonly used , so once you can hear and catagorize the changes, you're ready to fly by the seat of your pants.

  10. thumbpick

    thumbpick Tele-Afflicted

    Nov 22, 2012
    those are kinda terrifying kinda fun...ears open...keep it simple

  11. klasaine

    klasaine Poster Extraordinaire

    Nov 28, 2006
    NELA, Ca
    This is what I do.
    I'll use my volume pedal and kinda 'sneak' in and out. I also like to find a 1-note groove part (if applicable) and nail that for awhile.

    *Not calling the key is pretty bush league IMO. I've worked for a lot of f'd up band leaders and even the worst of the worst at least called the key.

  12. chaseroonie

    chaseroonie Tele-Meister

    May 30, 2009
    Nashville, TN
    WHEW, I'm glad all of you agree about calling out the keys! I thought it was bush league as well. I have played in bands where we all knew and the formation was tight, but this is my first real string as a 'hired gun', didn't know if it was expected to just fill in by ear. Thanks for all the tips, a lot of great info as always.

  13. soul-o

    soul-o Tele-Afflicted

    Jan 29, 2007
    Just pick a spot with a view of the bass player's left hand. Trust me, there's nothing worse than being the bass player and not knowing what key we're in. Everybody knows something wrong, then. With guitar, you just have to find one note that fits and try to figure out what part of the key that sounds like.

  14. brewwagon

    brewwagon Poster Extraordinaire

    Feb 6, 2009
    the delta bc
    i know some of you can wing it no problem and like it that way
    some good pre intro band communication and the nashville method could apply here

  15. fezz parka

    fezz parka ---------------------------

    Ditto. There's nothin' I love to do more than to play somethin' I don't know.:lol:

  16. Wally

    Wally Telefied Ad Free Member

    Mar 17, 2003
    Lubbock, TX
    Chase, in your situation I would confer with the bass player before the gig....during set-up maybe...and explain that it would be advantageous if he could simply place a finger on the tonal center of the key for the song before the song started...while making eye contact with you, right? This would establish a professional attitude between the you and the bass...who
    after all should be a center for both rhtyhm and key/pitch, imho. It would also alleviate what might seem unprofessional to some of these players....if indeed they know the music in such a way as to understand what key they are that there would not have to be someone shouting the key out. Maybe some of these players think that is less professional than playing out of key???? Remember, there are a great number of people playing out there who have no concept of 'key', scales, or anything else in a formal sense....and they might be very good or great players. They just don't know the formalities of the technical side of things. Hendrix was one such person to some extent.

  17. boneyguy

    boneyguy Doctor of Teleocity

    Mar 31, 2007
    victoria b.c. CANADA
    I'm sure this is largely a restatement of what's already been said but I'll say it anyway.

    Hang back just a bit. As others have mentioned we (often, not always) have that luxury as guitar players whereas the bass and drums don't get to do that (without disasterous consequences at least).

    Ask the bass player to 'babysit' you. That's what I call it anyway. When I'm in that sort of situation I'll always ask and then thank the bass player for babysitting me through it. Of course some bassists are better than others for doing that.

    As far as preparation goes learn to hear the most familiar diatonic root movements (chord progressions). 1-4-5 of course and 6-2-5-1. There are a number of 6-2-5-1 variations (mixing min and maj) but they all have the same basic sound because the root movement is the same. Learn to hear what 6, 3 and 2 minor sound like as sounds outside of a 6-2-5-1 because those chords are very commonly used in popular music.

    It can be a hair raising experience but that's part of making music it seems.

  18. Jack S

    Jack S Friend of Leo's

    Sep 25, 2008
    Berwyn, IL
    If the key is in G, A, D, C or E I can usually hear them and recognize them, other keys I sometimes have to find. It is important for me to hear myself in balance with the other instruments so that I can pick them up quickly. Hanging back for the first time through, as Fezz says is the best approach if the changes are uncertain to you.

    The other trick I use on unfamiliar territory is to stick with double stops and you can cover more bases than if you try to guess chords you are uncertain about. It is always fairly easy to find thirds in a piece even with complex chords that you are just not sure about.

  19. GigsbyBoyUK

    GigsbyBoyUK Friend of Leo's

    Apr 30, 2008
    Peterborough, UK
    All the advice is good.

    But even so. I just don't get why they wouldn't at least tell you the key. THEY all know the key. Not telling you seems like some sort of power trip.

    I've played at countless jams over the years and people always shout out the key at the very least.

  20. johnny k

    johnny k Tele-Afflicted

    Jan 15, 2011

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