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Thread: How to get songs by ear... When you have no ear?

  1. #1

    Default How to get songs by ear... When you have no ear?

    Good evening, I don't know if this topic has been addressed or if I'm in the right place, sorry, I'm new, and English is not my first language (sorry for the faults).
    I recently got a mandolin as a gift. I had been wanting to play for some time but after a failed attempt with the mountain dulcimer I thought this type of instrument was not for me. However from the first moment I am convinced that the mandolin is my instrument and I can't be happier.
    However I don't have access to many resources at the moment, and apart from old piano or dulcimer sheet music I don't have much mandolin sheet music, and I have a hard time finding sheet music for some of the songs I like.
    On the other hand, I've always been one of those who want to fly without knowing how to walk.... So I try to get songs by ear. With some songs I don't have a hard time, I think the key for me is to find the first note and go from there (which, if you don't have an ear, is not always easy), but there are times that even though I have the first notes (sometimes I even have a piece of sheet music, so the notes are correct), I get stuck and get into a loop that I don't know how to get out of. Sometimes it's just that I'm not in the right key, sometimes I just have to let a day go by and pick it up again.... But other times I just quit the song.
    So, are there any tricks to improve your ear, how do you guys get songs out without sheet music?
    Thank you very much in advance for any advice, and I hope my question is not untimely (or in the wrong place).

  2. #2
    Registered User Simon DS's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to get songs by ear... When you have no ear?

    Welcome!
    My usual advice is to learn ten or fifteen fiddle tunes:
    mandolessons.com

    and when you’re comfortable in G or D major, learn those scales, then you can copy any song you like from a guitar TAB website while transposing the song into your favourite key.
    Good luck!

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    Registered User Simon DS's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to get songs by ear... When you have no ear?

    Welcome!
    My usual advice is to learn ten or fifteen fiddle tunes:
    mandolessons.com

    and when you’re comfortable in G or D major, learn those scales, then you can copy any song you like from a guitar TAB website while transposing the song into your favourite key.
    Everything’s much easier at the beginning if you’re singing in one or two easy, and familiar keys.
    Good luck!

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    Registered User Ranald's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to get songs by ear... When you have no ear?

    Welcome to mandolin playing. There are many resources for beginners on the internet. I'm sure other Cafe members will tell you about them. A good place to start though is by trying simple tunes that you know really well, childhood songs for instance. "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" (or whatever it is called in your language) is a common first tune for beginners on either violin or mandolin (both have the same tuning, in fifths). Start playing two open notes on the G-string then two open notes on the D-string (that is, strum the open string) and work out your tune from there. Once you have that, play the tune again starting with open D then open A. Next, play it starting with open A then E. It shouldn't be too hard to work out, and will teach you quite a bit about how the mandolin's tuning works. Try other simple tunes, and, when you're not playing, listen to mandolin music that you like over and over. If you can already sing, hum, or whistle a tune, you'll find it easier to work out on the mandolin. Playing by ear is a good thing! Enjoy your musical journey.
    Last edited by Ranald; Jan-14-2022 at 5:46pm.
    Robert Johnson's mother, describing blues musicians:
    "I never did have no trouble with him until he got big enough to be round with bigger boys and off from home. Then he used to follow all these harp blowers, mandoleen (sic) and guitar players."
    Lomax, Alan, The Land where The Blues Began, NY: Pantheon, 1993, p.14.

  5. #5

    Default Re: How to get songs by ear... When you have no ear?

    You have an ear. You can hear different tunes and recognize them. Your ear is simply not trained. That takes time and work. The first ones are difficult. Then you will start to recognize common phrases and patterns to make it easier.

    A few things to make it easier. First learn the tune by heart. Listen to it over and over till you can hum or sing it and hit every note. Second, slow down. Nobody starts at top speed. All of the best players say this. They do not learn a new song at full speed either. YouTube has a a place where you can slow videos down if you click on the little gear for settings. That can help you find notes. Third, play close attention to rhythm and timing. That is at least as important as melody. Fourth, take one phrase or line at a time. If you learn a speech you do not try to memorize the whole thing at once nor do you learn individual words. You learn a sentence or two at a time.

    Finally think about the structure of the tune . Is it verse -chorus, verse chorus or is there a bridge or some other structure . How many lines are there ? Fiddle tunes have an A part and a B part that gets repeated for most of them. Is it a blues? How long are the lines? Do any repeat? If you have the song mapped out in your head beforehand it makes it easier. Listen closely to the recording and make sure it goes the way you think it does.


    All these things make it easier but there is still work and time involved. It takes more effort than anyone expects.

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    Registered User mbruno's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to get songs by ear... When you have no ear?

    IMO learning by ear starts with memorizing the tune and being able to roughly hum or sing it. Generally when I have a student that wants to get better at learning by ear (or just soloing) I have them start off with learning nursery rhymes without looking at sheet music or tab. At the start of this, I'd give them the first note (and in some cases, the first couple notes), but from there, they need to figure it out.

    The reason I choose nursery rhymes is because most often (not always, but usually), the next note in the song is the next note in the scale. For example, Mary had a Little Lamb in G starts with the notes B A G A B B B. This practice can help you develop and train your ear using songs you likely already know by heart.

    Also, if you find you are having trouble, I would suggest getting a teacher / coach to help point you in the right direction when starting. If you're interested in Zoom lessons, I'd be happy to help (just PM me). Otherwise, I would search your local area for a mandolin teacher and/or a jam that you can attend (where you can find a teacher).

    Good luck!
    www.mattcbruno.com
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    Default Re: How to get songs by ear... When you have no ear?

    I’ve talked with many teachers in many musical fields and the majority of them say that the most effective way for a beginner to learn is to choose simple songs you already recognize and to sing along with them. Singing is better than playing when you’re a beginner because the brain makes that connection more easily than the connection from ear to hands. Once the brain has embedded the song’s “pattern” then it is easier to teach the hands. HTH
    Rookie, but determined to learn!
    Ratliff F-style Country Boy
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  10. #8

    Default Re: How to get songs by ear... When you have no ear?

    If you want to learn a song by ear but you can't do it, slowing it down is a good idea. If you find the tune you want to learn on Youtube, if you are on a computer you can use the settings menu (cog near the bottom right of the video) to change the Playback speed. If you have a recording, you can invest in software such as "Transcribe!" (https://www.seventhstring.com/) which allows you to slow down mp3s and other kinds of sound files. There are other options for different devices and platforms.

    But it's also worth bearing in mind that many tunes have been transcribed by others and published for free and you can find them using Google. Depending on what style you are interested in, I'm sure there are many here who can make recommendations, but for example have a look at TheSession.org https://thesession.org/tunes, which has an enormous and searchable library of tunes from many different traditions.

    You may also wish to obtain a copy of TablEdit (https://tabledit.com/), which will give you access to a wealth of freely downloadable mandolin tablature, some of which can be found on this website: https://www.mandolincafe.com/te/

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    Registered User Simon DS's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to get songs by ear... When you have no ear?

    Abcnotation.com too.

    Another way, very often recommended, is to take singing lessons, sing scales and arpeggios. Sing with every note you play as David says, slowly, and try always to guess the notes in terms of pitch before you play them.

  12. #10

    Default Re: How to get songs by ear... When you have no ear?

    Thank you very much for all the replies.
    Simon DS, thanks, I didn't know mandolessons, although the language is a slight barrier I have been able to have a look and I think it could be a great help! Regarding the idea of singing lessons, I went as a child, now I'm trying to remember what I learnt
    Thanks Ranald for the advice, I'll have to try it, I usually start any instrumental with "Greensleeves" because I learned the notes by heart and could play it without blinking, so I'll use that song (if it fails, I may try "Twinkle twinkle little star", although I'll have to keep thinking of the notes).
    CarlM, those are good tips (especially the one about speed, I get carried away a lot of times!), I'll try focusing on one phrase at a time, I usually try to always play the song in a row, if one part fails I just move on.
    Thanks for the advice mbruno, and for the offer of zoom lessons, very generous of you! I'm in Spain though, so I'm afraid the schedule would be incompatible. I'm looking for a teacher around here, although at the moment I'm refreshing my solfege knowledge.
    Kenny, I do indeed try to learn with songs I know, like "Greensleeves" that I mentioned before, or easy Bluegrass songs that I learned on the dulcimer like “Turkey in the Straw” or “I’ll Fly Away” (and with the mandolin I've managed to make sound great).
    OldSausage, thanks for the suggestions, I knew TheSession but not the others, they will be very helpful. Sometimes if I can find the first note(s) I can go from there but there are songs that even though in my head I can repeat them over and over again, I'm not able to get it out, I'll have to try it that way.
    Again, thanks to everyone for the advice (and sorry for writing so much!)

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    Registered User Charlie Bernstein's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to get songs by ear... When you have no ear?

    All the suggestions above are great.

    I have a visual brain, so learning scales works best for me. I can picture them.

    I play with a guy who hits the same wrong note in one song constantly, simply because he doesn't know the A-major scale. (Or when to use it. The song's chords are D and E, and A-major is the scale that has all the notes of both those chords.)

    It would save our audience a world of heartache (and earache) if he'd just learn the scale, because then he'd hit a G# instead of a G.

    We all have ears, but we don't all know where the notes are. Scales will show you where the notes are.

    By the way, I tutor students learning English. Your written English is excellent better than most native English speakers.

    Welcome!
    Gibson A-Junior snakehead (Keep on pluckin'!)

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