listening bannerspacer   homelink                                                                                                            

Listening to music         Listening to yourself          Listening to others        

Listening to music

The art of listening        Analyzing songs

"I try to listen to a lot of music to keep a perspective.  If you don't, what you bring to your own playing will become real shallow."    -Vernon  Ried

Listening to music “is maybe the greatest art.  Playing is not, maybe sometimes it is, but listening to the music…can keep your sanity."      -Kieth Richards

"So much great music has already happened that catching up is a hell of a job."      -Jerry Garcia

Satellite radio

You'll hear new bands and get new ideas.  You have to pay for it.  They have a playlist, just like regular radio. 

Play along and try to make up your own part.  
Some music is easy to play along with:  dance music, rap, techno, some pop, some blues, some metal.  These styles tend to have less chord changes, or they have predictable chord changes.  A chord change is what makes a proper note sound like a wrong note.

Internet radio

Free satellite radio.  
You need a high speed modem.  You can skip or pause songs.  Select favorites and hear similar songs  You can start your own radio station
Pandora radio

Play along and try to make up your own part. 

Regular radio   

Is garbage.  It has commercials and a top 50 play list. 

The art of listening

Ear training develops relative pitch.   See Ear Training
You can recognize intervals, chords and scales.  It's a subtle skill and it takes time.

"Listen to a lot of music... familiarize yourself with the sound of different kinds of chords.  Decide if it's major or minor... Everybody's ear is different, so each person has a different approach."     -Jerry Garcia   

Play each chord type, with extensions.
This helps you subconsciously.  Listen to chord extensions online.  Practice the ones you like.  

Play the chord in it's proper context in relation to the key.   
For example: play the dominant 7th as the 5 chord  Theory      Chord substitutions      Advanced chord theory

Know your genre.
If it's gothic music, or sounds somber,  it's likely minor.  
If it's country, pop, or happy sounding,  it's likely major.    

These are common patterns. 

Analyzing songs

There's a lot you can hear.

Separate the instruments
Focus on the guitar, hear everything it plays.  
Focus on the Bass, vocals or lyrics.  
Drums: listen for the snare, bass, cymbals or toms.  

Eventually, you can hear everything separately, at the same time.  

Listen for:
Sounds or lines that repeat.   (even over long periods.)  
Sounds that don't repeat.  
Changes in tone, speed or volume.
Same notes.


Arrangement and sections

Is there an intro?  
Does it repeat?  
Does it help the build?  
Is it a variation of the chorus?  
How long is it?

How many chords are in the Verse?  The Chorus?  
Do they sound standard or extended?  
Are they tense, do they resolve?

Is there a bridge?  
Does the song move from Verse to Chorus the same way each time?
How does the bridge provide contrast?

How is each section different?  
The Verse shouldn't sound like the Chorus.
Does any Verse or Chorus sound different?  
It could be a different key, or rhythm variations.  

How do they transition between sections?
Is there a riff or drum fill leading into the next section.

Do they transition within the section?
After 8 measures, there's often a drum or guitar embellishment.

Where's the title line located?
The first or last line of the chorus?
The pre-chorus?   The verse?
Songwriting    Title strategies

How many title repeats are there?  Too many?  
How many Verse - Chorus cycles?  

What kind of ending is there?
A fade, dead stop, or custom ending?  

Does the song suck?  
Would you have done it different?
What did you like and dislike?

Singing and melody

Does the song have a melody?  
Is is independent?  
Or does it require the chords behind it?

Does the singer follow the chords?  
If not, the melody notes will sound more tense.    

How does the singer take breaks?
Breathing pauses?  or longer rhythmic pauses?   


This is the development of the songs energy, or groove.  

Does the song:

Move forward smoothly?  
Is it forced?  Does it grab you?  Get your blood flowing?

Change dynamics?
Increase or decrease the volume? 

Speed up the rhythm?
They'll use faster strums     (rhythmic acceleration).

Slow the rhythm?
They'll use longer rhythm notes.  (rhythmic deceleration)  

Add instruments?  

Shorten or lengthen any phrases?
This unbalancing causes tension.       

Tone qualities

Is it clean or distorted?, or somewhere in between?  

Is it punchy, or smooth and mellow?  

What instruments are mixed the loudest?  
Do they distract from the other instruments?

Whats the tone of the vocal?
Does it match the mood and message of the song?  
What style is the vocalist going for?  

Do you like the tone choices?


Distortion        Heavy, full, grinding tone.  Feedback.  Lots of sustain.  Edgy.  
Clean               Smooth and clear.  Individual notes are easy to hear.
Wah pedal      Changes the tone.    Sounds like "waaahhh-oohh".   
Echo                Light or heavy echo?  Multiple echoes?  or just one?
Pedal bend     It can bend riffs or chords.  
Chorus            Sounds like multiple guitars.  Sometimes it sounds "full" or "shimmery"
Tremolo          Sounds like "finger tremolo", but it's applied to the riff.
Auto riff           A cycling riff that sounds impossible to play.   
Flange            Strong: wind blowing in an up and down cycle.  
                         Light: a cassette tape distorting the music  


Any sounds:   Grinding metal, barking dogs, clips from movies, audible quotes, etc..

Samples can be added to live music with a sequencer, or with Ableton.
Or you can create a backing track in a DAW and play along to it at the show.
At the best show I ever played, we had our drummer drumming over a partial drum track and it sounded VERY good.

Buy CD's of sampled sounds online.

Chords or linear notes?

Is the guitarist playing scales or chords?  

If it's a scale:
Are the notes in order?  Are they varied?  Is it a lick, riff or sequence?

If it's chords:
Is it full chords or arpeggios?  If its arpeggios, are the notes in order?  
Is he likely cross picking or finger picking?

Sometimes it's impossible to tell.
Chords are scales and scales are chords.

Doubled vocals 

They're often mixed under the vocal,  (lower in volume). 
Is it a different note?   Or the same note?  

They may use a guitar, (Peter Frampton)      Or a keyboard tone.  

Production techniques

Doubled vocals and effects are in this category.  

Instrument choices.
Hand claps, rain stick, harmonica, tambourine, saxophone, etc.

Backward cymbals or backwards instruments
This is easy to do in a DAW.

Does it pan left or right?
Is anything mixed left or right?

What do they use for the pulse?
A hand clap?  A snare?  A bass drum?  A processed bass drum?
Does it change between sections?  Do you like it?

Are the drums real or DAW processed?

You'll hear the difference.  Real drums have more ambient character.  DAW drums are perfect the entire song.
Sometimes it's very obvious, like in rap or dance music.  These are 99% DAW drumming.

If it's processed, do you like the drum samples they used?

What instruments are being played, and which are DAW processed?
A guitar part is always being played.  DAW parts will be more processed and use tricks like "portamento" which sounds like a
trombone slide.  Dubstep sounds are all DAW.  Piano players tend to play like piano players.  You can usually tell the difference.

Is the singer too loud? 
Are they too quiet?  Are any instruments mixed improperly?

Production covers a lot of things.  
I'll make a production section eventually.      

Counting variations  

Most music is in 4/4 time.  
That can change in a song.   

Counting helps you hear phrase and section lengths.
It trains your subconscious. 
It teaches you rhythm variations.

Count                                         1 2 3 4    1 2 3 4    1 2 3 4    1 2 3 4  
Count the measures          1 2 3 4    2 2 3 4    3 2 3 4    4 2 3 4   

If the song changes from 4/4 to 3/4 the counting won't add up.  

                                     1 2 3    1 2 3    1 2 3        
Count the measures        1 2 3    2 2 3    3 2 3    4 2 3   

This will cover most music.

12 / 8 time  =   (12) 1/8 notes    OR    (6)  1/4 notes  

Count      1 2 3 - 1 2 3      you're counting   (6)  1/4 notes     It'll feel right. 

See Indian counting methods for more fun tricks.

Listening to yourself

While you play        After you play         Figuring out what you did

While you play

Some guitarists don't hear their playing.
They play on autopilot.   This skill can be good and bad. 

Letting technique overcome feeling can be a problem "but in the long run it stops being a problem.  The point is to keep looking.  I go through spurts and start really poking away at my technique.  Pretty soon 'I'm playing all habits.'  I'm doing these things because I practiced them so much.  My fingers do them and I'm not even there.  Finally I get bored with my playing and I change myself somehow.  But it has to come up to the wall, because my musical me is  delighted to be able to execute stuff that's difficult.  You want to be able to absorb the technique and let the musicality be the thing that comes forth."            -Jerry Garcia      

It's a paradox.  
You want to play without thinking, but you don't want to play without thinking.
Try not to go crazy yet.  

An example:
There are two levels of meditation.  
The 1st is a false achievement.  You think you have it.
The 2nd is enlightenment.   You really have it.        

There's always a higher plateau.  You can climb up or down.

"There are players who don't really hear everything they're playing.  They're just letting their fingers do the work without letting their head or their feelings get involved."       -Pat Methany

"If you've got a lot of chops you can play by rote.  you've got to really work to connect."     -Vernon Ried

Meditate before playing.
   See meditation.
This prepares your mind.  

Listen to your playing.  
Shut your eyes.
Focus on the tone.
Don't get distracted by passing thoughts.
Exist in the sounds.

Listen to the notes interacting.  
Do they work together?  Do they clash?    
Do they feel right?  

Change how you pick.    
Try a softer or harder touch.
A soft strike can sound stronger than a heavy strike.  
Turn up the volume.

A soft strike can make "clashing" notes sound better.

Play a long note and hold it.  Listen to every nuance.  
One note is a mix of many "notes" or "overtones" working together.    See overtones  

As the note fades, the sound breaks apart, like a wave crashing on the shore.  

Guitar effects will create different sounds as a note fades.  

These nuances give your sound character.  

"The most important sounds to capture when recording are the ghost tones."      -Carlos Santana   (the overtones) 

"The tone is more important to me than anything else... Your soul identifies with it and then you will either laugh or cry."       -Carlos Santana   


B.B. King is the Godfather of Soul.  

I used to listen to B.B. "and say 'Wow, it took me forever to learn that riff, and I still don't have it down pat the way B.B. hits it."      -Carlos Santana

Carlos is an excellent guitarist.  B.B. King licks are often called "easy."

Subtleties are found in the simplest lick.

You don't have to play 500 mph to be good.  You have to listen, and understand what is good.

"After I saw him play, I could see that he'd make a certain face and then hit the note...I figured that he would go back somewhere in time to a certain place, or somewhere inside himself, and then hit the note."    -Carlos Santana

Clear your mind.  Focus on the sounds.  
What meaning do they hold for you?

See Playing with feeling.  

After you play

You'll need to Record.  
Use any recording device.   

"I tape rehearsals.  "It's very helpful, but it makes me depressed. "     -Alan Holdsworth

It separates you from your playing.  
It lets you hear the strengths and weaknesses. 

If you don't record a good idea, it's gone.
Great ideas have nuances that won't easily happen twice.

If I'd recorded every practice session, I'd be a rock star right now.  
No BS.  Don't make this mistake.

Don't assume you'll play something better.  
Skills can easily disappear.  Document them.

If you're improvising, record it.  
Put the good parts on a CD, tape or I-pod. 

I always recorded practice sessions "and when I wrote all the material for the latest album, I did a lot of recordings."     -Yngwie  Malmsteen

It helps you develop a style.

"Get a tape recorder…turn out the lights in your house…then just play with a rhythm machine…you can begin to see...  the two or three riffs that are yours...  That’s a very beautiful gift, your own individuality, even if you only know three notes…  if you are able to play those well and know who you are.”        -Carlos Santana

Develop any good ideas. 

Don't lose your unique skills.  
Skills can be re-developed.
They might not have the same vitality and innocence.  

Figure out what you played.
I used to improvise cycling riffs, solos and lines that rocked.  
I could start playing and a song would happen.
I didn't record it, figure it out, or write it down.   
I was too lazy, stupid and high.     
I'd just play something else. 
Sometimes I'd stop to grab a pencil and I'd lose the riff.

I quit playing several times because I was playing too good!
It makes me laugh, and cry. 

Get a recorder with a foot switch.
Press the switch to record.

If it blows your mind, it's worth the effort.  
Don't be like me.

Figuring out what you did

Use a DAW, it will keep track of the counting for you.

Slow down the recording

You can do this inside a DAW program.  Ableton is good for this.

Start with a known pattern
Pick a riff, scale, chord progression, melody, rhythm... etc. 
Play variations.       
Everything on the recording will be similar.

Sit there until you get it.     
I avoid transposing.   
When I do try, I give up too easily.  
Neither method is effective.

Use melodyne   See Melodyne     Essential is 100$   Studio is 600$
This program is amazing and it tells you everything about a vocal melody or guitar part.
It also lets you fix any part of the vocal or guitar part.  It's so powerful you can change a Major chord to a minor chord.  etc.
I use it all the time.

Hum or sing a melody while you play.
This helps song creation.
Parts will work together.
The vocals trigger your memory and you'll play the same guitar part..
You'll play simpler things.

Use a video camera.  
Point it at your hands and get the audio right.  

Synchronize the audio and video recording.
Prop your recorder in front of your hands.  
Record the time counter on the display screen.

A program called Plural Eyes will synch multiple cameras.  (300$)

Digital cameras and software let you watch in slow motion.

Next page:  Listening to others  (Jamming)


"Everything influences you man.  As you go along you pick up stuff, It’s just like how you learn to talk.  Stuff just soaks into you."        -Duane Allman

It helps to keep up with what’s popular, "but you don't have to listen to guitar players to do that.  I really don't think you should have to be aware, because that’s what makes everybody so clinical.  Everybody tries to be like everybody else.  I refuse to do that."     -Yngwie Malmsteen

 "Stop listening to other guitar players.  Stop listening to me.  Don't do what I'm doing, do something else. 
Do what you want.  That's my advice."    -Yngwie Malmsteen  

  If you want to train your ears "listen to a lot of music.  I amuse myself by trying to figure out intervals whenever I listen to something.  I've gone through all kinds of processes learning how to do that, and they wouldn't apply to someone in the initial process of learning.  It seems to be a cumulative thing.  Familiarize yourself with the sound of different kinds of chords.  Decide if it's major or minor.  Is it the I chord? the II chord?  Everybody's ear is different,
so each person has a different approach."     -Jerry Garcia 

"I like to use the influence [of others] but not get too heavily buried in it.  It's too easy to get marched off somewhere by somebody; you get swept away by them, and before you know it your copying them.”     -Jeff Beck