Learning by Ear (Guitar Lesson)

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Brad Henecke

Learning by Ear

This lesson is all about learning how to play songs by ear. Brad Henecke provides valuable tips regarding the transcription process.

Taught by Brad Henecke in Rock Guitar with Brad Henecke seriesLength: 23:00Difficulty: 3.5 of 5
Chapter 1: (00:36) Lesson Introduction Ear training is an essential component of every musician's growth. In this lesson, Brad will give you some tips to get you started on this valuable, life-long process.
Chapter 2: (01:11) Learning Songs by Ear The first step in learning any song or piece is to listen to it several times. Like Brad suggests, you may want to listen to the recording twenty or thirty times if necessary. This must be your first step regardless of whether you have a transcription of the song or not.

This step accomplishes many preliminary goals. It is much easier to learn a song by ear quickly if you are already very familiar with how it goes. Listening to a song repeatedly will help you internalize the rhythms and melodic content. If you can't sing the song in your head, you will have a very difficult time transcribing it.

After your first couple of listens, determine the structure of the song. The structure of a piece of music is referred to as the "form." For example, does the song begin with an introduction? Does the introduction theme occur anywhere else in the song? Or, does the song follow a simple verse, chorus, verse structure? Once you have determined the form, write it down on paper in a basic outline format.
Chapter 3: (01:22) Listening for Chord Changes Your next step in learning a song or piece is to listen for the chord changes. You don't necessarily have to determine what the chords actually are at this point. Just make a note of when and where the chords change. To complete this process, isolate one part of the song and examine it thoroughly. First, you must determine what time signature the song is in. This requires that you learn the basic music theory rules pertaining to time signatures. Is it in 4/4, 3/4, 12/8 or something else? The vast majority of popular songs are played in these time signatures. Then, determine how often the chords are changing. The metronomic rate at which chords change in a piece is referred to as "harmonic rhythm."
Chapter 4: (05:30) Figuring Out Tunings In order to properly transcribe a song by ear, you must determine which tuning the band is playing in. The most commonly used tuning is referred to as "standard tuning." In this particular tuning, the open strings from low to high are tuned to the following pitches: E, A, D, G, B, E.

When this tuning is employed, the band members typically tune their instruments to A=440. Pantera is one exception. This means that the pitch known as A is defined as a frequency of 440mHz. The abbreviation "mHz" refers to a unit called megahertz. This indicates how many vibrations a string produces in a given unit of time. A=440 is the international standard for tuning a musical instrument. This musical standard is frequently called "concert pitch."

Although standard tuning is the most widely used tuning, many songs are played in different tunings. This is especially true of the rock genre. For example, many bands prefer to tune each string of the guitar down a half step. This serves many purposes. This tuning, gives the guitar an overall lower range. Bands that have singers with low voices typically play in this tuning because it suits the singer's voice better. Other bands may prefer this tuning because it gives the guitar a slightly heavier sound. Famous rock bands that frequently employ this tuning are KISS, Van Halen, Alice In Chains, Smashing Pumpkins, and Guns N' Roses.

Other bands prefer to tune each string down by another interval. Pantera frequently tuned each string down a full step or a step and a half. Regardless of what tuning Pantera played in, they always tuned down an additional several "cents" using a digital tuner. Queens of the Stone Age tunes each string down 2 whole steps. Smashing Pumpkins use this tuning quite often as well.

Another very common tuning is referred to as "dropped-D" tuning. This means that all of the strings remain in standard tuning with the exception of the low E string. This string is tuned down a full step to the note D. Many bands employ this tuning on top of tuning each string down a specified interval. Eddie Van Halen frequently tunes his guitar down a half step then tunes the low string down an additional full step.

Open tunings are quite common as well. A guitar is played in an open tuning when the open strings spell a specific triad. The most commonly used tunings in rock music are open G, open D, and open E. Open tunings have a very distinct sound that many guitarists prefer. For example, Keith Richards usually plays in open G tuning.

With so many tunings out there, how is one supposed to know which tuning a song is in?

Follow these tips to determine the tuning:

1. Find the lowest chord in the song. If the root is lower than an E in concert pitch, then you know that the guitars are tuned down. For example, if the lowest chord contains a low B root note, the song is most likely performed on a guitar tuned to dropped-D down one and a half steps or it is played on a 7-string in standard tuning.

2. Listen for "open" chords. These are the best indicator of a song's tuning. If it sounds like the guitarist is playing an open E chord, but this chord sounds like a D#, then the guitars are most likely tuned down a half step.
Chapter 5: (03:32) Which Chords Are Being Used? After you have completed the preceding steps, it is time to figure out all of the chord progressions in the song. The easiest way to do this is to use the bass guitar part as a reference. Typically, the bass player will play the low root of each chord. This is not always the case. However, this is a good starting point when learning a song.

Then, you must determine the quality of each chord in the song. "Quality" means major, minor, diminished, etc. Are the chords triads, seventh chords, or power chords? Do the chords contain any extensions or altered tones? If you have a vast chord vocabulary, it is much easier to recognize a specific chord when you hear it. Knowledge of chord theory also helps immensely when determining the quality of a chord.
Chapter 6: (04:30) Using Chord / Music Theory As mentioned in the previous scene, knowledge of music theory is extremely important when transcribing any piece of music. An important component of music theory development is learning the diatonic triads within every tonality. Brad introduced this idea in a previous Phase 2 lesson. Essentially, a triad can be built from each scale degree within a tonality. These are the chords that are used most often within a certain key center or tonality.

For a review of the diatonic triads in the most common major and minor keys, access Brad's chart under the Supplemental Content tab.

Often, non-diatonic chords are used in a chord progression. These particular chords are an example of "chromaticism." Chromatic notes are notes that are outside of a particular key signature. For example, the triad built from the seventh scale degree in a major key is diminished. In the key of A, the vii chord is G# diminished. However, the b7 chord is frequently used instead within the context of a major key progression. In the key of A, a G major chord is built from the b7 scale degree. This b7 chord gives the progression an overall Mixolydian quality.
Chapter 7: (05:56) Figuring Out Solo Sections When transcribing a solo, music theory comes into play once again. The more scales and arpeggios you know, the easier it is to determine what a soloist is playing. Knowledge of rock guitar vocabulary is also a great help. For example, there are numerous pentatonic licks that just about every rock/blues guitarist learns in his or her lifetime. These licks, or licks that are very similar appear in countless recorded and live solos.

When learning a solo by ear, you must first determine which scales, modes, arpeggios, etc. the guitarist is using. For example, the solo to "Enter Sandman" begins with some licks from E minor pentatonic. Then, Kirk Hammett builds tension by playing diatonic arpeggios from the E Dorian Mode. Next, he plays licks from a combination of B Aeolian and the B minor pentatonic blues scale. For the next portion, he switches gears to F# minor pentatonic. He concludes the solo by returning to the E minor pentatonic scale. Most guitar solos typically employ at least two different scales or modes.

Once you have learned the recorded solo, you have several decisions to make. Essentially, you have four options. You may choose to play the solo exactly how it was recorded. Or, you may want to improvise the entire solo. This approach works the best when playing a song that contains a solo part played at a very rapid tempo that changes keys or time signatures often. For example, if you are covering a Slayer song played at 220 bps, you probably want to memorize the recorded solo and stick to it. When covering a song, some guitarists prefer to write out their own memorized solo. Lastly, the most common approach used by soloists is to combine signature licks from a solo with improvised portions. Signature licks are the licks from a solo that are instantly recognizable by most listeners. Brad typically takes this approach to playing a solo. The song "Stairway to Heaven" begins with one of the most recognizable licks of all time. If you play a solo over this progression, you probably want to include this signature lick in order to grab the audience's attention. Then, move into improvising your own material.

Stay tuned for more ear-training advice!

Video Subtitles / Captions


Supplemental Learning Material



Member Comments about this Lesson

Discussions with our instructors are just one of the many benefits of becoming a member of JamPlay.

grburgessgrburgess replied

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grburgessgrburgess replied

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grburgessgrburgess replied

right on, Rock on.

GondekGondek replied

Thanks for some solid advice.

adjohns3adjohns3 replied

You have some GREAT lessons and info...don't think these are among them!

danielcmalloydanielcmalloy replied

where is your guitar? mybe you should demonstrate with an actual song. Duh..

joemontijoemonti replied

Brad... I agree, sing the note, hum the note... when you're trying to figure something out. In fact anyone who's playing, whether trying to figure out a solo or whatever, hum the note your playing... all the best players hum the notes they're playing... watch their faces.

dash rendardash rendar replied

A minor correction is needed in the 'Info' part. Concert pitch is 440Hz, not 440MHz. (Human ears are sensitive to frequencies up to about 20000Hz, which is only 0.02MHz.)

matteyematteye replied

I tune to a drop D using the first few notes of Nirvana's Heart Shaped Box. It works great for me.

headbanger245headbanger245 replied

To tune down to drop d, i pluck the A string and tune down the E string until it makes a power chord. That's easier for me and i just thought i should bring it up.

mattbrownmattbrown replied

I love the Price is Right comparison! I might have to steal that.

Brad.HeneckeBrad.Henecke replied

Thanks Matt . Im trying to come up with some new ways of explaining things . The next lesson on ear Training should be kinda fun . I hope it turns out good .

jboothjbooth replied

I should have it online in a few hours :)

rhoadsfreakrhoadsfreak replied

Great lesson Brad. Very informative and shows just how much work one needs to put in to be able to figure songs out. I agree with Nessa, that is a sharp guitar you made

jboothjbooth replied

I really liked the way it sounded. Really sharp, crisp sound. A lot of acoustics seem to almost have too much bass so that was refreshing.

nessanessa replied

I love your self-made guitar! Nice!

Rock Guitar with Brad Henecke

Found in our Beginner Lesson Sets

In this Phase 2 series Brad Henecke will school you in the art of rock guitar. You will not only learn how to play some of your favorite songs in this series, but you will also learn how to create your own.

Basic Rock GuitarLesson 1

Basic Rock Guitar

This lesson covers the absolute basics of rock guitar. Learn about the electric guitar, pickups, amplifiers, changing strings, and more.

Length: 52:09 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
Learning ChordsLesson 2

Learning Chords

The first step of your rock guitar experience is learning some of the more popular chords and that is what this lesson is all about.

Length: 42:30 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Barre Chords and MoreLesson 3

Barre Chords and More

Brad Henecke introduces common strumming patterns and barre chords.

Length: 42:23 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Your First SongLesson 4

Your First Song

In this lesson Brad covers some of the more advanced barre chord shapes. He applies these shapes to the song "Hotel California."

Length: 41:31 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Blues and ScalesLesson 5

Blues and Scales

Rock has its roots in the blues. Brad helps you explore the wonderful world of blues in this lesson. He also covers some chord theory.

Length: 48:14 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Tricks and LeadLesson 6

Tricks and Lead

This lesson is all about specific techniques used by lead guitarists.

Length: 52:02 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Jammin' with ScalesLesson 7

Jammin' with Scales

This lesson details how to improvise with the blues scale.

Length: 27:27 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
3 SongsLesson 8

3 Songs

In this fun lesson, Brad Henecke teaches you riffs from 3 classic rock songs.

Length: 28:28 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Power ChordsLesson 9

Power Chords

Power chords help give rock music that "punch you in the face" feel. Learn basic power chords in this lesson.

Length: 13:22 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
2 New SongsLesson 10

2 New Songs

Are you ready to learn "Ain't Talking About Love" by Van Halen and "You Shook Me All Night Long" by AC/DC? That's what this lesson is all about.

Length: 27:32 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Pentatonic ScaleLesson 11

Pentatonic Scale

Brad teaches the first pattern of the minor pentatonic scale and explains how it relates to the blues scale.

Length: 14:30 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Second PatternLesson 12

Second Pattern

Brad covers the second pattern for both the minor blues and minor pentatonic scales.

Length: 9:07 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Message in a BottleLesson 13

Message in a Bottle

Learn the classic rock song "Message in a Bottle."

Length: 10:22 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Third PatternLesson 14

Third Pattern

This great lesson covers the 3rd fretboard pattern of the minor pentatonic and minor blues scales.

Length: 7:19 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Colorful Chord TensionLesson 15

Colorful Chord Tension

Brad demonstrates how open strings can be added to chord shapes you are already familiar with.

Length: 9:09 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
The Fourth PatternLesson 16

The Fourth Pattern

Brad covers the fourth pattern of the minor pentatonic and minor blues scales.

Length: 8:28 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
DaytripperLesson 17


In this lesson Brad demonstrates how to play the Beatles song "Daytripper."

Length: 15:21 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
The Fifth PatternLesson 18

The Fifth Pattern

Brad demonstrates the 5th pattern of the minor pentatonic and minor blues scales. He also discusses practicing and memorizing them.

Length: 13:05 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 19

"Brown Eyed Girl"

Learn the classic rock song "Brown Eyed Girl" in this episode of Rock Guitar.

Length: 11:23 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
PhrasingLesson 20


Brad introduces you to the importance of phrasing. Quality phrasing is essential when performing any melodic line.

Length: 14:19 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Basics of TappingLesson 21

Basics of Tapping

Tapping is an idiomatic guitar technique that offers a unique sound.

Length: 14:34 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Intro to ModesLesson 22

Intro to Modes

Learning the modes is essential to the development of your scale vocabulary.

Length: 31:04 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Understanding Chord ShapesLesson 23

Understanding Chord Shapes

Brad further explains what chord shapes are and how they relate to barre chords.

Length: 10:15 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Natural HarmonicsLesson 24

Natural Harmonics

Learn the right and left hand mechanics involved in playing harmonics.

Length: 13:16 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Advanced HarmonicsLesson 25

Advanced Harmonics

Brad covers more advanced harmonic techniques such as harp harmonics, pinch harmonics and tap harmonics.

Length: 16:10 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
The Dorian ModeLesson 26

The Dorian Mode

Brad moves on in his modal lesson series to explain the Dorian mode. This lesson includes 2 backing tracks.

Length: 22:00 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Phrygian ModeLesson 27

Phrygian Mode

Brad explains and demonstrates the Phrygian mode.

Length: 13:33 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
The Lydian ModeLesson 28

The Lydian Mode

Brad continues his discussion of the modes. You will learn the Lydian mode in this lesson.

Length: 9:27 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Mixolydian ModeLesson 29

Mixolydian Mode

Brad explains the Mixolydian mode and its practical applications.

Length: 10:00 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
The Aeolian ModeLesson 30

The Aeolian Mode

Continuing with his modal lessons, Brad Henecke teaches the Aeolian mode.

Length: 9:09 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
The Locrian ModeLesson 31

The Locrian Mode

The final lesson in our modal series covers the Locrian mode.

Length: 9:00 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
The Ace ZoneLesson 32

The Ace Zone

Brad teaches some licks inspired by Ace Frehley of KISS. Incorporate these licks into your own solos.

Length: 7:18 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Learn LicksLesson 33

Learn Licks

In this lesson Brad Henecke teaches you some fun licks that can be used in your own guitar solos.

Length: 10:00 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Blues LicksLesson 34

Blues Licks

Brad Henecke demonstrates some cool blues licks.

Length: 17:00 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Modes and ScalesLesson 35

Modes and Scales

Brad Henecke provides an alternate way of comparing modes and scales.

Length: 8:00 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
A Different ViewLesson 36

A Different View

In the last lesson, Brad Henecke compared some scales that are major or dominant in quality. Now, he repeats this process with minor scales.

Length: 7:00 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
One String ScalesLesson 37

One String Scales

This lesson is all about 1 string scales. Learning scales on 1 string is essential to your knowledge of the fretboard.

Length: 8:34 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
One String Ionian ModeLesson 38

One String Ionian Mode

Brad demonstrates a one string version of the Ionian mode. This lesson demonstrates the importance of horizontal scales.

Length: 7:27 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Aeolian Mode on One StringLesson 39

Aeolian Mode on One String

Brad continues his discussion of single string scales. He explains how to play the Aeolian mode across a single string.

Length: 4:11 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Octave ScalesLesson 40

Octave Scales

Brad explains how to locate octaves within scale patterns. He demonstrates a cool lick that involves playing simultaneous octaves.

Length: 7:07 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Using OctavesLesson 41

Using Octaves

Brad explains how to use octaves in the context of an exercise. Octaves can also be used to build effective licks.

Length: 5:18 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Harmonic Minor ScaleLesson 42

Harmonic Minor Scale

Brad introduces the harmonic minor scale. He explains how it can be applied to the solo break in "Sweet Child O' Mine."

Length: 7:00 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Learning by EarLesson 43

Learning by Ear

Brad Henecke provides valuable tips regarding the process of learning songs by ear.

Length: 23:00 Difficulty: 3.5 Members Only
Ear Training GameLesson 44

Ear Training Game

Improve your ear training by playing "The Tone Is Right" with Brad Henecke.

Length: 29:00 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Diminished ArpeggioLesson 45

Diminished Arpeggio

Brad Henecke explains diminished chords and provides a fun diminished arpeggio exercise.

Length: 19:00 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Understanding Time SignaturesLesson 46

Understanding Time Signatures

Brad Henecke addresses time signatures.

Length: 10:00 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Diminished ChordsLesson 47

Diminished Chords

Brad Henecke explains the construction of diminished seventh chords. He also provides a diminished chord exercise.

Length: 10:30 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Open G TuningLesson 48

Open G Tuning

Brad Henecke introduces open G tuning in this lesson.

Length: 23:50 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Drop D TuningLesson 49

Drop D Tuning

Brad Henecke introduces drop D tuning in this lesson. He explains many advantages of this tuning.

Length: 12:57 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
G Major PentatonicLesson 50

G Major Pentatonic

Brad Henecke teaches the G major pentatonic scale. He demonstrates all 5 patterns and explains how they can be transposed to any key.

Length: 22:50 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Changing Scales with ChordsLesson 51

Changing Scales with Chords

In this lesson Brad Henecke talks about changing the pentatonic/blues scales with each chord in a chord progression.

Length: 11:08 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Mixolydian Scale and ChordsLesson 52

Mixolydian Scale and Chords

Brad will show how to use the Mixolydian scale with a blues chord progression.

Length: 6:56 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Gear and EffectsLesson 53

Gear and Effects

This lesson is all about gear and effects. Brad begins his discussion with power conditioning and removing hiss from your amplifier. He progresses to discuss a plethora of effects pedals. Brad explores...

Length: 52:48 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
The Wah PedalLesson 54

The Wah Pedal

In this lesson, Brad Henecke introduces the wah pedal and demonstrates its many applications.

Length: 15:53 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Brad Henecke

About Brad Henecke View Full Biography Brad Henecke was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on May 5th of 1963. He has been a fan of music for as long as he & his family can remember. You could always find him running around the farm wailing on his cardboard guitar, pretending to be a member of the rock band KISS. Additional inspiration came during his first concert when he got the chance to see Boston & Sammy Hagar in the early 1970's.

This opened up a whole new world of rock and roll music for him; his parents noticed his growing interest in music and enrolled him into guitar lessons when he was 13.

From there he jumped into two years of lessons at a local music store in Cedar Rapids. After discovering Eddie Van Halen, Brad knew that the guitar would always be a part of his life. He took his love throughout the city as he played as a pit musician & jammed at parties for friends.

This made him thirsty for more. He enrolled classes at Kirkwood Community College & also took lessons from the one & only Craig-Erickson (www.craig-erickson.com).

His love for music landed him a gig opening for Molly Hatchet in Cedar Rapids with a band called "Slap & Tickle". He has also played in the Greeley Stampede show for quite a few years with "True North".

Brad is currently playing in Greeley, Colorado with a rock band titled "Ragged Doll". They play a wide variety of music with an emphasis on classic rock from the 60's to present, with Brad playing electric guitar in the five piece lineup.

He currently jams on his all-time favorite guitar: a Paul Reed Smith Custom 24. Beyond guitar, he plays also plays drums & bass guitar. He has also been known to thrash a banjo from time to time. He is still actively playing & passing his 31 years of playing experience on to others (you!).

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I'm a fifty eight year old newbie who owns a guitar which has been sitting untouched in a corner for about seven years now. Last weekend I got inspired to pick it up and finally learn how to play after watching an amazing Spanish guitarist on TV. So, here I am. I'm starting at the beginning with Steve Eulberg and I couldn't be happier (except for the sore fingers :) Some day I'm going to play like Steve! I'm self employed with a hectic schedule. With Jamplay I can fit in a random session when I have time and I can go at my own pace, rewinding and replaying the videos until I get it. This is a very enjoyable diversion from my work yet I still feel like I'm accomplishing something worthwhile. Thanks a lot, Greg


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I am commenting here to tell you and everyone at JamPlay that I believe this is the absolute best site for guitar students. I truly enjoy learning to play the guitar on JamPlay.com. Yes, I said the words, ""enjoy learning."" It is by far the best deal for the money.

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