I am trying to learn to play melodies by ear. I was trying to play Twinkle Twinkle by ear. Justin Guitar taught that a melody can be played anywhere on the fretboard and when I tried to do so, I found out that starting from any note and going relatively from there doesn't sound right. The starting note has to be accurate for me to find the rest of the melody accurately. How do I find the starting note on the fretboard?


The starting note has to be accurate for me to find the rest of the melody accurately.

This makes me suspect you are working from your memory of a recording or of a particular edition of notated score. Normally I would expect this to be the case with a pop song, not a nursery or folk tune like Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, because pop songs are usually know from a single recording and nursery/folk tunes have many performance versions.

When you say the "the starting note has to be accurate" I think it means you need it to the the specific pitch you know from your memory of the song. When you work out the rest of the melody you are matching pitches to your memory using your "inner ear."

The really issue we are circling around is melodies can be transposed from one key to another (or relative to some central pitch if the music isn't strictly speaking in a key.) What defines a melody (pitch-wise) is not the specific pitches but the relative intervals between the tones, and hearing pitches as degrees within a tonality/key.

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star is not really C C G G A A G G... As a series of intervals it's unison, ascending perfect fifth, unison, ascending whole step, unison, descending whole step, unison... or as tonal degrees it's tonic tonic dominant dominant submediant submediant dominant dominant...

A good way to improve playing by ear from any arbitrary starting note is practicing tunes (playing on an instrument and singing them) and transposing to other keys. Personally I think it's more effective to transpose to "distant" keys - those that differ by several sharps or flats. A quick way to transpose to a distant key is to raise or lower the starting pitch by either one half-step (5 sharps/flats) or a minor third (3 sharps/flats.) This should help you break out of memorizing melodies as fixed pitches and hear the relative interval changes as well has hearing pitches as tonal degrees like tonic, leading tone, mediant, etc.

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    I think the majority of folk would prefer '1,1,5,5,6,6,5', or 'do, do, so, so, fa, fa, so' than 'tonic, tonic, dominant, dominant... it's already unsingable..! – Tim Oct 20 at 14:41
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    @Tim, I wasn't providing song lyrics. Solfege is of course another way to show the tonal degrees. – Michael Curtis Oct 20 at 18:47

Your problem, if I understand the question, is that many songs do not start on the tonic.

Those that do are far easier to play from that note, but if you try something like Fur Elise, which starts on 5, or With a Little help from my Friends, which starts on 3, and assume that's actually the root or tonic, you come unstuck.

So, you need to establish what any start note is - which number in the scale, whether it's do, me, so or whatever.Then play up your scale till that is your start note.

However, if you mean how do you find a start note that matches the beginning of a tune you're listening to, that's rather different.

Listen to just the first note, sing it, and simply play up a string one fret at a time, until it sounds like a match. But then you're in the realm of the original problem.

Assuming you can play scales - and without them, frankly, your job is far harder - move on to plan C.

Plan C is to listen further into the tune in question, and stop it at the note you feel is most likely a 'home' point. Where the tune could stop and end. In fact, more often than not, it is the end note. That gives you the key to the tune. Then play its scale, and decide which is the start note.

After all that, I hope I understood what you are asking!

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  • For Eg. The tune for In My Life goes like E5-C6-E5-F5-G5-B6. But if I start from G4 then accordingly C6 should be converted to D5 since C6 is 8 semitones apart from E5 and so is D5 from G4. But the correct note after I start from G4 is G#5. Why is this? Its somehow that the shape of melody is preserved over the fretboard rather than the relative semitonal distance(E5 to C6::G4 to D5) – shashank singh Oct 20 at 12:49
  • If Tim hasn't already solved it for you... Play your new starting-note again and again before trying to play the tune. And sing it maybe. It can be hard to chase the sound of the old position from your mind. – Old Brixtonian Oct 20 at 13:01
  • There's something badly wrong with what you've just commented on. Makes no sense at all. E5>C6 is nowhere near the same interval as G4>G#5. Should be G4>E5 - E>C is M6, and that interval will be the same whatever key you're in. So G>E is also M6. – Tim Oct 20 at 14:51
  • @Tim Yeah you are right, I have confused some things and need to start learning music theory – shashank singh Oct 20 at 16:15
  • @Tim - typo? G> E♭. Start note E [makes the song in C] E>C is 3>1[8]. G start makes the key E♭. – Tetsujin Oct 20 at 17:50

Try first to play the scale do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do (with the halftone steps mi-fa and ti-do). You have to know the whole and semitones of the major scale! If you find the melody is fitting to this scale, you will also be able to identify the starting note of the melody, this may be the 1st, 3rd, 5th (very seldom another, or even chromatic approach to one of these degrees).

If the major scale doesn't fit, your song is probably in minor or a different mode.

You can start the scale on any string and fret just as you like. Learn the note names and the orientation of the tones on your guitar.-

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