I'm working on learning a piano tune from a book of sheet music.

There are 1-2 bars that just seem wrong to me, to the point of distraction. Having lost trust in the correctness, I'm not motivated to learn the piece.

I'll follow-up via other avenues about the specifics, but generally speaking, what strategies are there for a student who has lost trust in a piece of sheet music (or guitar tab)?

Edit: At the risk of invoking moderators' wrath & down-votes, several people have asked me to post.

I'm working on a version of the theme from Mission: Impossible. It is in 5/4 with key signature of C (Tim points out the piece is in G minor). I realize that the piece is quite dissonant but I'm struggling with 2 bars in the right-hand, marked in red.

The first bar shown is the ending of the first right-hand descending motif; the last bar shown is the beginning of second, sibling motif.

I appreciate those that have suggested "listen to the piece, use your ear to transcribe the part", but I don't have that ability, and it simply shifts the question to "how do I trust my ear?".

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  • Can you post those 1-2 bars so we have a reference along with the name of the song?
    – Dom
    Aug 27, 2015 at 23:56
  • I would love to post, but I asked in the chat room and they said that it was "iffy" in terms of violating the spirit of the site - music.stackexchange.com/help/on-topic . So I posted this general question instead. (IMHO, I'm not asking to identify notes in the song, I'm asking if the sharps/flats are correct in 2 bars from a book that cost $20.) Aug 28, 2015 at 0:10
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    I play it the way I want to and/or think it really is. Aug 28, 2015 at 0:29
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    Is this classical music or pop/rock? I ask because classical pieces are sometimes in published editions where "editors" have messed with the piece to some extent, or even made mistakes. And pop/rock tunes are sometimes poor arrangements (in my opinion) and not written by the original songwriter...
    – Andy
    Aug 28, 2015 at 10:10
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    "iffy" isn't necessarily wrong - I think it would be appropriate to post your example. The correct answer depends on it really.
    – Bacs
    Aug 28, 2015 at 14:37

7 Answers 7


Ok, given the example, the upper phrase you highlight is a whole-note ascending minor third with the lower note doubled in the bass (the first note is a b flat due to there being a b flat at the start of the bar), the second phrase is a chromatically ascending minor third with the lower note doubled in the bass logically leading to the next bass note.

So the consistency of upper and lower staff and the respective interval moved and the fact that either phrase are out of whack with the underlying tonality very much make it likely that what has been written here has been written intentionally and is not a typo.

Now if your impression from listening to the original is markedly different, there is a certain likelihood that the transcriber put in something that he considered a good idea. i have several versions of music where the small print makes clear that they are an interpretation of the original rather than a faithful transcription. For something like a Simon&Garfunkel collection for fingerpicking it is more commonly than not a total nuisance that you did not get the original accompaniment but rather something with the melody line crammed in as well and the rather characteristic accompaniment only present in shreds if at all.

And if you additionally get "it seemed like a good idea" passages in as well, it can be quite annoying to come to the conclusion that you wasted your money.

I do not know the original, and an actual verbatim comparison would likely be somewhat out of the scope of StackExchange. From the passages you quoted I consider it highly likely that those phrases are written intentionally in that manner. Whether they were written originally in that manner is a different question.

  • I'm accepting this answer because I came to the same conclusion before I read this post. I studied the notes in terms of theory, and found them to be consistent (i.e. minor-3rds, doubled in the bass). Also, I realized that, as I was learning the fingering, I was accenting one part too long (the final F# in the 2nd red section), and as though it was the end of the phrase. That was throwing me off completely. Aug 30, 2015 at 14:23

First thing to do is to listen to a recording - or several different ones - of the particular piece. This will give you a more accurate idea of how it goes. Or at least how others think it should go. Chords, dots and particularly tab on various sites on the internet are sometimes the product of amateurs, with little grounding in what they're doing. Thus questions like these. Other sites simply copy stuff across, with the inaccuracies intact : no great help, really.

Use your ears, get used to listening and playing what you hear. In the end it is of much greater value to you than trying to play from someone's (inaccurate, maybe) written music.

I used to find this problem also when backing artistes - the music wasn't actually written properly in some cases, so the old ears had to come back into the equation. Years of relying more on those than what the music tells you to play helped a lot.


Like you - I have come across sheet music and tabs that I did not find sounded like the song they were supposed to represent. What I have learned is that in many cases, the sheet music you buy or find on-line, is nothing more than someones interpretation of a particular song or their own personal translation. Often they contain some inaccuracies.

I don't trust anyone else's interpretation of a piece I want to learn. I use those interpretations as a starting point. Often a good portion of the author's interpretation or translation works well and sounds very authentic. But more often than not, there are parts that I don't feel sound the way I hear the music on the recording.

So I listen to the recording and (sometimes through trial and error) arrive at my own translation or interpretation of how it should be played. If you aren't able to do that yet, find someone to help you learn how to find the correct notes and/or chords from listening to a recording of the piece.

As Jacob said in his answer, if you don't really care to learn the piece, there is no reason to spend time translating it yourself by ear. I only learn pieces that I am specifically interested in being able to perform.

Good luck.


Play it how you think it should be played. Just because it's in a book doesn't mean it's correct and you can't change it. It could also be good ear training.

If you are self learning, there isn't anything preventing you from totally skipping the song, if you still aren't motivated.

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    And if you have a teacher, tell them about your issue, and they can either tell you what the reasoning is behind the way it's written, or skip it. Or both.
    – Karen
    Aug 28, 2015 at 13:07

Just one thing to keep in mind: when you find something sounds utterly wrong, it may just be that you're reading the notation wrong. I find that a particular trap are keyboard fugues from Bach where there is modulation back and forth in a measure and an accidental that occured at the start of the measure is not repeated close to its end even though it is a mere accident that the accidental has not been resolved in the mean time and the second note is not even in the same voice as the first.

In such cases, the autograph from Bach tends to be quite more liberal with accidentals than modern editions which turn the reading into an intellectual challenge.

I am afraid that more of my initial readings turned out to be wrong than I discovered actually wrong editions, so it's always worth making doubly sure that you read the notation correctly before suspecting notation error.

Which does occur, of course.


This seems like the original version:

I think part of the problem with "trusting your ears" is that your piano version is very simplified. In the original it sounds to me like the chords you underlined were three notes, F-Ab-C F#-A-C# and Bb-Db-F C-Eb-G. That gives quite a different sound, especially if you are playing the top notes of the right hand as if they were "the tune" (which they aren't - the bass line is "the tune" in so far as there is a tune at all.)

This looks like a more advanced piano arrangement, with more complete chords - but I've only looked at the first (free preview) page of it. http://www.musicnotes.com/sheetmusic/mtd.asp?ppn=MN0091182


Use your ear to figure out how the music should sound. This also includes knowing the style of the music noting that what sounds somewhat "wrong" in some contexts may sound "right" in others. Music is often mis-transcribed into sheet music.

Some performances may differ. I learned "San Antonio Rose" from both sheet music and Bob Wills' recordings. There is a common I,IV,II7,V7 (or more analytically I,IV,V7/V,V7) but I have heard some piano bar pianists play with a jazzier sounding I,IV,ii,V7.

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