“This Doesn’t Sound Anything Like the Song in the Recording”

Does this thought pop into your head when you play the transcription of a song you found online? Did your teacher give you the chords of a song and you can’t seem to find any similarity between the chords and what you hear in the recorded version? Then it’s one of two things.

Either the chords the teacher gave you or the transcription are incorrect (And most often then not, that is the case), or you need to work on your ear.

Many beginner guitar players can’t hear the song in the chords right away. Actually, not just guitar players. Musicians in general, when starting out, need to work on their harmonic ear, their musical hearing, to work out how the chords and the song itself relate to each other.

The problem is that a recorded version, unless done before the 1960’s, contains a lot more variables than just the chords and the melody. First, when you play the guitar all by yourself, you have no bass, no drums, no keyboards, and of course – No vocals. Beginning musicians tend to focus on the vocals more than anything else. But hearing is a lot more than that. Your ear recognizes way more than you are aware of. There’s the reverb, the effects, the envelopes, compressions, frequency specifications, and so on – That you normally don’t pay attention to. But it’s all there in the recording.

It isn’t there when you play it by yourself.

So you need your inner ear for that. You need to develop your musical imagination. It goes a lot deeper than just hearing how to connect the vocal melody with the chords. It means telling the difference between the basic chords and the arrangement of the original song. Recognizing the similarities between the mixed and mastered version and the basic, one-guitar version.

The good news: Your ear will develop by itself as you go along.

In the meanwhile, just… Believe.