42. Watch Out For These!

When trying to learn a song or piece of music, there are some elements that can confuse and mislead the untrained ear. All these things become much less confusing over time, but it takes a lot of exposure to different music and song forms. This is one reason why so many internet transcriptions, Youtube videos and songbooks contain so many inaccuracies. Always watch for the following:

 1. Use of Capo.

The most common ‘curve ball’ there is for guitarists. When a capo is used, it can be difficult to establish key or hear the progression.  The player may hear what sounds like a familiar chord, not realizing the capo is on. This is especially true when it is on the 1st or 2nd fret, where the timbre of the guitar is similar to its natural (no capo) sound. If you think you are hearing a familiar chord or progression, but it sounds wrong when playing along, check to see if placement of the capo puts you in the right key.

2.  Use of capo on only one  of two or more guitars.

This can be very tricky.  The sound created by 2 guitars playing in E major, for instance, might contain the following:

A. One guitar, no capo, playing in the key of E

B. Another guitar, capo on the 4th fret, also playing in E, but by playing in the chord shapes of C major.

3. Voices and other instruments.

Anything that ‘gets in the way’ of the guitar parts you are trying to hear can cause confusion. Isolate the guitar as much as possible. Sometimes the desired part will be better heard on the left or right channel of a stereo recording.

 4. Open Tunings.

Open tunings on guitar will often be obvious, but sometimes not. With practice, the sound of the most popular open tunings will be heard.

5. Recording not in concert pitch.

This is a big one. Many recordings have been manipulated to sound slightly faster or slower than they were recorded. Sometimes the pitch is raised or lowered in the process, sometimes not. In other cases, the instruments were not in concert pitch to begin with. Always check for this. Also, many singer-guitarists, and guitarists in general, like to play their instruments detuned ½ step. Naturally, all others in the ensemble will follow. Thus, for example,a song that is played as if in the  in the key of E will actually be in Eb.


The better you can hear these types of things, the easier it is for you to analyze a song. It’s really important, because as you may have already learned, there is a lot of erroneous information out there, especially on the internet. Being able to depend on your own ear is very rewarding.

© 2012  Jim Greenfield