Any advice on recognising the tuning of a song (e.g. half-step down) when transcribing single notes?

Any advice on how to figure out what tuning a song is in before you begin transcribing? Or how to know early on? There’s been times I’ve begun transcribing and find out it’s in a different tuning when I go to check my answers. Most of the time I am still getting the right “notes,” they just are in standard tuning and by default are in the wrong position of the neck.

Hi Sean,

I’d assume the song is in standard tuning (unless I already know it isn’t, e.g. a lot of Rolling Stones tunes), and if the open chords are too “stretchy”, I would start to think about alternative tunings.

For me, a more important question would be what inversions are played, if any.

Thanks for the reply Jozsef!

I should’ve clarified that I run into more when I’m transcribing individual notes versus full chords. For example, I was transcribing Simple Man and when I checked the TAB, it was all tuned down half a step.

I think to your point, if I had looked for the chord shapes around the individual notes, I would have seen there weren’t any (or that they were weird) and that would’ve been my first sign.

Thanks again,


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Fair enough :slight_smile: It also happens to me when transcribing a melody that I miss a semitone, but after a few run-throughs I tend to notice my errors.

If you know the key of the song or find some scale patterns in it, that can also help you “guess” the missing notes.

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Thanks! Appreciate it :slight_smile:

Another thing that might come in handy is listening if any string rings longer/cleaner/stronger (not sure if this makes any sense) than others - it is usually an open string.

Additional benefit of trying to hear open strings for me is that it usually also helps me hear if the song is tuned “somewhere in between”, e.g. a lot of AC/DC songs are tuned just a bit sharp (less than a semi-tone) and I match whichever string to the “open ringing string” on the track and then tune the rest in relation to it.

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Yes, love that. Great advice. I keep trying to remind my self to check where else the note can be played and trying to hear the differences. Great call on how the open string notes usually ring out longer and cleaner.