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I've been a guitar player for years - I've done covers so far. But all the covers I've played were taken from online tabs - the reasoning behind this is that I'm absolutely awful at recognizing intervals. If I've played a note, most times, I will not be able to sing it back. If I've played an interval, I a) will have no clue which interval it is and b) won't be able to sing it back. I continuously mix up minor second and minor third, and I couldn't sing a minor second even if my life depended on it - not even "remembering intervals from songs" helps.

Transcribing music was a suggestion I've gotten to train my ear, but that's just impossible, since everything sounds "right".

Does anyone have any tips or advice on how to stop being so awful at this?

  • What kinds of music have you tried to transcribe? This can take some practice; it might help to start with tunes you know so well you can sing them without thinking: Happy Birthday, Jingle Bells, Mary Had A Little Lamb, etc. Just try to play the melodies from memory. For chords, simple folk songs are good. The main thing is to listen to the song a lot before you start; you can't play what you can't hear. Try to sing the bass lines; try to sing the melody lines. Then try to transcribe. Keep at it, do the best that you can, and keep at it. – David Bowling Mar 8 '18 at 17:50
  • Thank you so much for the answer and for the positivity! Here's the thing - I can't sing the melody and I can't sing the bass lines, because in over 50% it will be terribly wrong. I've tried all the way from simple guitar solos (Seven Nation Army) to simple song melodies (Ramones' songs) and I've failed miserably at both. I do sometimes recognize a note as G or D or whatever, but I can't for the love of god sing it or recognize the interval. Do you have any other tips as in - what to do when the singing part fails? – someonepleasehelp Mar 8 '18 at 18:22
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    Can you tell the difference between the first 7 notes of "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and the first 7 notes of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star"? (Note that they have the exact same rhythm.) If you can't, then you have bigger musical problems. – Dekkadeci Mar 8 '18 at 21:44
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Try an app called Tone on the app store - description will be something about perfect pitch training. It is incredible. My relative pitch improved dramatically in just 1 'session' of using it.

If you don't have a device compatible then sit at a keyboard and just play intervals. Or get somebody to play different notes of a scale (if unmusical just ask them to play random white notes within an octave). Or even sit down yourself and play random white notes without looking at the keyboard. Every time you answer one, look and see if you're right.

Something that also helps hugely is practicing sight singing. Or anytime you're reading sheet music, try and hum along. If you're stuck on an interval, instead of just finding it on the keyboard, try and work it out using arpeggios and scales.

  • Sadly, that's way out of my range. You lost me at sight reading - I can't read music, not even after many lessons with a teacher. The guy got frustrated and gave up on me. I can't even tell intervals apart, remembering them to the point of sight reading is something I'm pretty sure I just don't have the talent for. – someonepleasehelp Mar 8 '18 at 18:24
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    Then download the app I mentioned in my first paragraph! No sight reading required. It literally just plays a note and you have to work out what note it is. You can start off really really easy (such as just the first 5 notes of C major scale) and progress. – Ben Hughes Mar 8 '18 at 18:26
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    From my experience, not many teachers are good at teaching sight reading. Do try to find one - they're worth their weight in gold, and will spur you on to greater things. Honest! – Tim Mar 8 '18 at 18:32
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    I'll download the app. Thanks for the help, I appreciate it! – someonepleasehelp Mar 8 '18 at 18:37
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I've no idea whether this will work for you. It did for me as a teenager (I'm way past that now and don't know if I could do it again if I tried). I do have an interesting story on Quora about how I did regain this ability after an ear injury twenty-odd years ago.

This is "developing relative pitch".

Have one instrument that you love to play (a guitar in your case, I assume). Every day, sit down with it and play one note ... let's say, since it's guitar, an open G.

Listen. Play it again, listen. Hum it. Sing "la" on it. Listen, play it again. And again.

After a few minutes, put the guitar down and do something else for a minute or two. Hum the "G" ... then go back to the guitar and see if you hummed the correct pitch.

Do this every day ... as often as possible without driving yourself crazy.

Once you can pick a "G" from thin air, learn to play G - A and then sing both notes. And G - F and then sing both notes. Listen to how "A" is higher than G. Listen to how "F" is lower than G. See if you can pick "A" from thin air based on your knowledge of its relationship to G. See if you can pick "F" from thin air based on your knowledge of its relationship to G. Continue with B, with E, etc., etc.

This is developing "relative pitch". Rick Beato has some fascinating stuff on YouTube about "perfect pitch" and its relative cousin, and how we (as non-toddlers) are going to have to settle for the latter ability.

However, there's nothing too wrong with that. I did this as a high schooler with B-flat on the trombone and it paid off "in spades".

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Recently, I mentioned to a fellow guitarist that I need better aural skills, and he suggested sitting down and playing different intervals while singing along to them. Don't play the notes together, but one right after the other, like it's a melody.

I also like all the suggestions in the comment from David Bowling. I think there are several things you can do, but you can't give up when things aren't going well. I would set aside a specific time block every day (even as little as 15 to 30 minutes) to work on it. At first, improvement may be small, but let the small improvements encourage you to keep going! And don't give up!!

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