Advice from a "good ear" on figuring out lead runs and chords...

jbmando

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I have been playing guitar, mostly "by ear," for over 60 years and I have been told many times over the years that I have a good ear. I have almost always been able tell what a chord is and accurately transcribe riffs, licks and lead fills just by listening to them and playing around on the guitar until I have them correctly figured out.

Most recently I have been trying to cop a Robben Ford solo, note for note. The reason I want it note for note, is because his phrasing and note choices are so cool, I just want to see exactly what he does. If I were to ever perform the tune, I would undoubtedly make it my own, and play it like me, but I want to learn some of Robben's technique just to incorporate a little of it into my own playing.

Here is what I recently discovered: with all those years of playing, I have "muscle memory" and lick repetition so ingrained in my playing, that I think I hear a lick the way I would play it, despite my "good ear" and it isn't until I play along a bunch of times that I can hear what I'm doing is not "right" and I have to slow it way down (more on this later) and really listen to finally actually hear what he played. Adding to the confusion is the fact that he doesn't play the same thing every time, so I justify not getting it exact to myself, and call it good.

Today I really spent some time on a few sections of his solo and I realized I wasn't getting it. So, I slowed it down to like 35% and really listened and played along until I had learned exactly what Robben played. I whole problem was the way I was tricking my ears into "hearing" something that wasn't there. I've seen this on the forum from time to time when somebody will post something like, " I'm hearing an Em7b5 there" and I say to myself, "You can't be hearing an Em7b5 there because it's a G augmented." I think experienced guitar players have done the common licks so many times, they just automatically play them, and if it fits and sounds good, that's all that matters.

The other thing I have learned over the years is this: The guy on the record did not deliberately play something the hard way, contorting his fingers to an extreme just so you can't figure out how he's playing it. Keep moving it around until you get it to the easiest, most logical way to play it. If there are a couple ways to fret it, see where you're going next and play the lick in question so it leads you to the best position to continue in the tune.

Slowing down can be your friend. Who among us (of at least a certain minimum age) did not sit there in front of the turntable and play 45s on 33-1/3 and album cuts on 16 if our turntable had 16 rpm as a choice? About 20 years ago, a steel guitar player who was a bandmate introduced me to the Amazing Slow Downer, a software program which can change the speed of music without changing the pitch. In addition, it can change the pitch incrementally by the cent so you can put, say, a Beatles' song which they have sped up or slowed down, thereby changing the key from the one in which they originally recorded it, into a key based on A440. For example, "I'm Only Sleeping" was released over a 1/4 tone flat in pitch. I had to increase it 65 cents to get it to sound right in E minor, which is the published key. Many of the old bluegrass songs are all over the place pitchwise. Sometimes I think somebody tuned by ear and everybody else tuned to the first guy, they called it good and proceeded to record.

In summary:

Come in with a blank slate - no preconceived notions of how particular runs were played.

KISS. It probably isn't as hard to play as you're making it.

LISTEN. Over and over. Maybe you didn't hear what you thought you heard.

Slow it down if you have to. You will most likely hear something you didn't pick up at full speed.
 
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mystichands

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I have been playing guitar, mostly "by ear," for over 60 years and I have been told many times over the years that I have a good ear. I have almost always been able tell what a chord is and accurately transcribe riffs, licks and lead fills just by listening to them and playing around on the guitar until I have them correctly figured out.

Most recently I have been trying to cop a Robben Ford solo, note for note. The reason I want it note for note, is because his phrasing and note choices are so cool, I just want to see exactly what he does. If I were to ever perform the tune, I would undoubtedly make it my own, and play it like me, but I want to learn some of Robben's technique just to incorporate a little of it into my own playing.

Here is what I recently discovered: with all those years of playing, I have "muscle memory" and lick repetition so ingrained in my playing, that I think I hear a lick the way I would play it, despite my "good ear" and it isn't until I play along a bunch of times that I can hear what I'm doing is not "right" and I have to slow it way down (more on this later) and really listen to finally actually hear what he played. Adding to the confusion is the fact that he doesn't play the same thing every time, so I justify not getting it exact to myself, and call it good.

Today I really spent some time on a few sections of his solo and I realized I wasn't getting it. So, I slowed it down to like 35% and really listened and played along until I had learned exactly what Robben played. I whole problem was the way I was tricking my ears into "hearing" something that wasn't there. I've seen this on the forum from time to time when somebody will post something like, " I'm hearing an Em7b5 there" and I say to myself, "You can't be hearing an Em7b5 there because it's a G augmented." I think experienced guitar players have done the common licks so many times, they just automatically play them, and if it fits and sounds good, that's all that matters.

The other thing I have learned over the years is this: The guy on the record did not deliberately play something the hard way, contorting his fingers to an extreme just so you can't figure out how he's playing it. Keep moving it around until you get it to the easiest, most logical way to play it. If there are a couple ways to fret it, see where you're going next and play the lick in question so it leads you to the best position to continue in the tune.

Slowing down can be your friend. Who among us (of at least a certain minimum age) did not sit there in from of the turntable and play 45s on 33-1/3 and album cuts on 16 if our turntable had 16 rpm as a choice? About 20 years ago, a steel guitar player who was a bandmate introduced me to the Amazing Slow Downer, a software program which can change the speed of music without changing the pitch. In addition, it can change the pitch incrementally by the cent so you can put, say, a Beatles' song which they have sped up or slowed down, thereby changing the key from the one in which they originally recorded it, into a key based on A440. For example, "I'm Only Sleeping" was released over a 1/4 tone flat in pitch. I had to increase it 65 cents to get it to sound right in E minor, which is the published key. Many of the old bluegrass songs are all over the place pitchwise. Sometimes I think somebody tuned by ear and everybody else tuned to the first guy, they called it good and proceeded to record.

In summary:

Come in with a blank slate - no preconceived notions of how particular runs were played.

KISS. It probably isn't as hard to play as you're making it.

LISTEN. Over and over. Maybe you didn't hear what you thought you heard.

Slow it down if you have to. You will most likely hear something you didn't pick up at full speed.
Interesting for sure. I also used to slow records down to try to cop solos note for note, but I grew tired of it. It took a lot of the fun of playing out of the equation for me, so I just learned by ear, and yeah l gave up trying to get riffs by other people right. Over the years I have practiced playing the stuff I like; it has worked for me in most band/ live playing situations. I also listened to a lot of Robben Ford, but it was in ‘72 or ‘73, blues mostly before he was fully developed in the more jazzy blues he’s noted for. I was playing in my friends blues band and he’d just discovered the Charles Ford Band album on Arhoolie records, but I was into the chord inversions more than soloing at the time.
 

AAT65

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Really good points there from the OP!
I think it is very true that you will hear what you expect to hear, often enough. Really close listening to what’s actually on the record without superimposing what you would have played, or the licks you heard other people playing, sometimes needs some real effort.
 

sax4blues

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Maybe in a similar vein, I heard John5 in an interview say he purposely composes his solos on recordings because we all have our subconscious safety licks/landing spots/turn arounds/etc.... that will creep in when composing on the fly. He thought it's not common to create something really new on the spot.
 

schmee

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I agree about the muscle memory overcoming the ears. It happens for sure. Or in some cases it's the brain overcoming the ears. I find myself humming or playing fills and licks and melodies that aren't really what the recording is doing! My brain has taken me there! often to a more complicated place.
Robben's phrasing is amazing IMHO.
 
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StoneH

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Who among us (of at least a certain minimum age) did not sit there in front of the turntable and play 45s on 33-1/3 and album cuts on 16 if our turntable had 16 rpm as a choice?

I learned one song by recording it fast on a reel-to-reel, and playing it back at half speed. The song was "Whole Lotta Love". For about 30 seconds, I was awesome. :cool:
 
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klasaine

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Great post JB! And I concur, your ear is very good.
I think the most prescient point you make is, "The guy on the record did not deliberately play something the hard way, contorting his fingers to an extreme just so you can't figure out how he's playing it. Keep moving it around until you get it to the easiest, most logical way to play it".
It's almost always easier than you think it is.

What Robben Ford tune?
 

jbmando

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Cool track!
I'm not familiar with that Robben record.
I need to check it out.
It's a tribute number to Freddie King, AKA the "Texas Cannonball." You can hear Freddie all through it.
There are familiar sounding licks throughout the piece, but when you listen more closely you hear little differences in phrasing that are all Robben. Those are what I'm trying to pick up on.
 

ndcaster

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I have been playing guitar, mostly "by ear," for over 60 years and I have been told many times over the years that I have a good ear. I have almost always been able tell what a chord is and accurately transcribe riffs, licks and lead fills just by listening to them and playing around on the guitar until I have them correctly figured out.

Most recently I have been trying to cop a Robben Ford solo, note for note. The reason I want it note for note, is because his phrasing and note choices are so cool, I just want to see exactly what he does. If I were to ever perform the tune, I would undoubtedly make it my own, and play it like me, but I want to learn some of Robben's technique just to incorporate a little of it into my own playing.

Here is what I recently discovered: with all those years of playing, I have "muscle memory" and lick repetition so ingrained in my playing, that I think I hear a lick the way I would play it, despite my "good ear" and it isn't until I play along a bunch of times that I can hear what I'm doing is not "right" and I have to slow it way down (more on this later) and really listen to finally actually hear what he played. Adding to the confusion is the fact that he doesn't play the same thing every time, so I justify not getting it exact to myself, and call it good.

Today I really spent some time on a few sections of his solo and I realized I wasn't getting it. So, I slowed it down to like 35% and really listened and played along until I had learned exactly what Robben played. I whole problem was the way I was tricking my ears into "hearing" something that wasn't there. I've seen this on the forum from time to time when somebody will post something like, " I'm hearing an Em7b5 there" and I say to myself, "You can't be hearing an Em7b5 there because it's a G augmented." I think experienced guitar players have done the common licks so many times, they just automatically play them, and if it fits and sounds good, that's all that matters.

The other thing I have learned over the years is this: The guy on the record did not deliberately play something the hard way, contorting his fingers to an extreme just so you can't figure out how he's playing it. Keep moving it around until you get it to the easiest, most logical way to play it. If there are a couple ways to fret it, see where you're going next and play the lick in question so it leads you to the best position to continue in the tune.

Slowing down can be your friend. Who among us (of at least a certain minimum age) did not sit there in front of the turntable and play 45s on 33-1/3 and album cuts on 16 if our turntable had 16 rpm as a choice? About 20 years ago, a steel guitar player who was a bandmate introduced me to the Amazing Slow Downer, a software program which can change the speed of music without changing the pitch. In addition, it can change the pitch incrementally by the cent so you can put, say, a Beatles' song which they have sped up or slowed down, thereby changing the key from the one in which they originally recorded it, into a key based on A440. For example, "I'm Only Sleeping" was released over a 1/4 tone flat in pitch. I had to increase it 65 cents to get it to sound right in E minor, which is the published key. Many of the old bluegrass songs are all over the place pitchwise. Sometimes I think somebody tuned by ear and everybody else tuned to the first guy, they called it good and proceeded to record.

In summary:

Come in with a blank slate - no preconceived notions of how particular runs were played.

KISS. It probably isn't as hard to play as you're making it.

LISTEN. Over and over. Maybe you didn't hear what you thought you heard.

Slow it down if you have to. You will most likely hear something you didn't pick up at full speed.
excellent advice, great post

especially about the easy fingering

there often 3-5 places could play something on the fretboard, and I bet your ear can hear plain vs wound strings, which is another clue
 

jbmando

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The album, "Keep on Running," came out in 2003. The title track was better, IMO, by the Spencer Davis Group, but almost nobody can sing like Stevie Winwood.
 
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Alex_C

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I've only learned a handful of tunes in my life. I never found it enjoyable to copy another's music. Inspiration from my favorite player is what floats my boat.
I've never heard the Robben Ford tune you mentioned. If you can get a transcription, you can perform a harmonic analysis and that will guide you as to what scales can be played over each chord. This may help you understand what Robben was aiming at when he played a line. Audacity is a good free tool when you want to slow something down and keep the same pitch.
 

loopfinding

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It’s funny when you slow it down and try to learn it, cause you have to gauge what’s a mistake and what’s intentional.

On giant steps at one point coltrane rams a D natural over the Bmaj sequence in anticipation of the Gmaj section, and it seems pretty intentional, but there are other points where he hits the maj 7th on the Bb7 and I think it’s just a mistake. In the latter case for your own sake I think you have to decide that it’s better to play the changes and not the actual solo.

Similarly Wes does some things like that as well, but then other times he’ll sub a min7 or min9 arp over dim or half dim, but it sounds cool and he’s doing it on purpose (maybe for facility’s sake?), so just roll with it and do it his way.
 

fenderchamp

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I have been playing guitar, mostly "by ear," for over 60 years and I have been told many times over the years that I have a good ear. I have almost always been able tell what a chord is and accurately transcribe riffs, licks and lead fills just by listening to them and playing around on the guitar until I have them correctly figured out.

Most recently I have been trying to cop a Robben Ford solo, note for note. The reason I want it note for note, is because his phrasing and note choices are so cool, I just want to see exactly what he does. If I were to ever perform the tune, I would undoubtedly make it my own, and play it like me, but I want to learn some of Robben's technique just to incorporate a little of it into my own playing.

Here is what I recently discovered: with all those years of playing, I have "muscle memory" and lick repetition so ingrained in my playing, that I think I hear a lick the way I would play it, despite my "good ear" and it isn't until I play along a bunch of times that I can hear what I'm doing is not "right" and I have to slow it way down (more on this later) and really listen to finally actually hear what he played. Adding to the confusion is the fact that he doesn't play the same thing every time, so I justify not getting it exact to myself, and call it good.

Today I really spent some time on a few sections of his solo and I realized I wasn't getting it. So, I slowed it down to like 35% and really listened and played along until I had learned exactly what Robben played. I whole problem was the way I was tricking my ears into "hearing" something that wasn't there. I've seen this on the forum from time to time when somebody will post something like, " I'm hearing an Em7b5 there" and I say to myself, "You can't be hearing an Em7b5 there because it's a G augmented." I think experienced guitar players have done the common licks so many times, they just automatically play them, and if it fits and sounds good, that's all that matters.

The other thing I have learned over the years is this: The guy on the record did not deliberately play something the hard way, contorting his fingers to an extreme just so you can't figure out how he's playing it. Keep moving it around until you get it to the easiest, most logical way to play it. If there are a couple ways to fret it, see where you're going next and play the lick in question so it leads you to the best position to continue in the tune.

Slowing down can be your friend. Who among us (of at least a certain minimum age) did not sit there in front of the turntable and play 45s on 33-1/3 and album cuts on 16 if our turntable had 16 rpm as a choice? About 20 years ago, a steel guitar player who was a bandmate introduced me to the Amazing Slow Downer, a software program which can change the speed of music without changing the pitch. In addition, it can change the pitch incrementally by the cent so you can put, say, a Beatles' song which they have sped up or slowed down, thereby changing the key from the one in which they originally recorded it, into a key based on A440. For example, "I'm Only Sleeping" was released over a 1/4 tone flat in pitch. I had to increase it 65 cents to get it to sound right in E minor, which is the published key. Many of the old bluegrass songs are all over the place pitchwise. Sometimes I think somebody tuned by ear and everybody else tuned to the first guy, they called it good and proceeded to record.

In summary:

Come in with a blank slate - no preconceived notions of how particular runs were played.

KISS. It probably isn't as hard to play as you're making it.

LISTEN. Over and over. Maybe you didn't hear what you thought you heard.

Slow it down if you have to. You will most likely hear something you didn't pick up at full speed.
this should be pinned!
 

fenderchamp

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when you really try to cop licks off of somebody else, and play them with the right feel, and vibrato and everything, it's not all that easy.

You can slow any video now, with pitch correction using youtube now. It's pretty helpful, it's still a lot of work to get somebody elses licks down, but it's a nice freely available tool, with massive amounts of music sitting right there for the taking. It also makes video lessons that people put out there, much more usable.

I think it's ok to learn songs by ear, they way you learn them too, even if it's not spot on. I've found that if I get a good transcription of a song or two, put in the time to learn it, that when I approach other songs by the same artist, I get closer, as I've learned a few of their tricks already.
 




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