Really struggling on transcribing

A semitone might not be much, but it sure is an unfortunate interval to be wrong by, for anyone who has to listen to me sing! That semitone dissonance is nasty.

I’m playing the note on the guitar, then trying to match it with my voice. I’ve got both the guitar and the microphone going into an interface, and monitoring them in my headphones, while checking a tuner on-screen in GarageBand to see where my voice is landing.

Usually I will play the G on 6th string 3rd fret, then try to sing or hum the same note while the guitar is still ringing out. I do a bit of warbling around until I get the needle zeroed in. Then I repeat that a few times, then I try to sing the same note again without playing it on the guitar. Then I move on to another note. For now I’m just doing the major triad from G.

G2 seems to be a natural resting point for my voice, it’s the note that I get closest to most often if I’m not consciously trying to hit any particular pitch. So that one is the easiest for me to start on. Then I go for the major third (B) and the fifth (D). I seem to land sharp on all 3 of those more often than I land flat.

I can dimly sense a weird kind of resonant feeling with the headphones when I get the note right. I’m trying to pay attention to that feeling and get better at noticing it.

I’ve also seen that when I try to hold a sung note, it tends to pull sharp, the longer I hold it, the more sharp it goes. I can’t hear that, but the tuner shows it very clearly.

As for whether I am ‘hearing’ the note in my mind before I sing it … I think yes? I am trying to recall what the note sounds like, maybe that amounts to the same thing?


I don’t think you could call it cheating, especially if you use GPs Fretboard view. All you are doing is identifying the note, as you would with the guitar but with the benefit of not needing to write it down manually. Was actually thinking of combining the two tools, guitar and GP, for audio and physical confirmation, if that makes sense.

I am one of those people that has struggled with this over the years and at my age started to think its easier just to find the tab somewhere. But having gone back to the new Grade 3 modules and found the Transcribe lessons again, I actually found the Power Chord “challenges” much easier. I did not get them all 100% and missed a few quick notes but overall, it was much better than it was a few years back. I actually put that down to the development of my lead/impro-ing skills. Especially in that area of being more focused on intervals, allowing licks to be moved around Keys more easily. I think this has helped my ears and made it easier to identify subsequent notes, having first “guessed” the first one.
having the scales in my head gave me a better educated guess of what followed.

This has certainly helped me but obviously it comes in much further down the line/journey, in respect to where Justin introduces transcribing. I am not saying that is too early but you have to start somewhere. Some folks will get it and some, like me will struggle. But with time and development and knowledge (and I’d stress understanding intervals and seeing scales licks etc as intervals) it will get easier.




A small amount of frustration while learning a thing is good. It’s that which triggers your brain to make those new pathways that give you new skills. But you do want to be working on the boundaries of your comfort zone rather jumping in the deep end. It sounds like you need to develop those bits of brain that recognise that two notes are the same. Maybe start simple and get someone else to play a single note on a guitar that you can’t see and practice trying to find the same note on your own instrument? That way you know for certain whether your answer is correct and the feedback loop is important for that learning process. It may take quite a few sessions to get good at it, but you will get good at it.

Thanks Toby! That makes me feel better about it :sunglasses::+1:
It’s such a great tool!

Totally makes sense! I’m sitting there, guitar in hand, using both the majority of the time actually. Really helps to run it through on the guitar as well, even if just to make sure the riff makes sense from a playability perspective I reckon.

Yeah I’m hearing you on that! :sweat_smile: Although I’m definitely coming around to the idea of doing this more often, it’s certainly quite rewarding.

I have got to learn this :nerd_face:

Thanks again Toby! Great to hear that the hard work does pay off down the track. So much to learn but I’ll keep sticking at it! :metal:

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Yes! Keep developing that feeling.

A trick that helps is to plug one ear with a finger while singing the note. It seems easier hear if your voice is matching the note being played.

Sounds like you are doing the right things to address this. I think it will pay off if you keep at it.

The two things that help me the most when transcribing are:



A couple more thoughts…

I was playing around with figuring out children’s songs by ear. Found it much easier to do with a single finger on a single string.

Trying to do it with a movable scale was much harder than just sliding my finger up and down the neck on one string until I found the right note.

Also, it seemed more intuitive somehow - big jumps in pitch correlated with big moves up and down the neck.

Some children’s songs are harder than others. Jingle Bells is easier than Row, Row, Row Your Boat.

Happy Birthday was surprisingly difficult, especially the last 2 lines! Probably not a good one to start with.


And practice melodic patterns.

Its amazing what you discover by accident and can use for later reference. The other week I was noodling some patterns I’ve not played in a while and suddenly realised I’d played the start of When The Saints and could then work the rest out from there. Same with Obla Di Obla Da, another found by accident. Walked away from that one very quickly, :rofl:

When I tumble Ted Nugent’s TNT Overture in the same way I’ll be happy as a :pig2: in :poop: !



I agree that it is easier. I try to stick with the single string as much as I can for finding root notes of chords especially.

For one note at a time melodies, I tend to use the scale shapes. I like that it’s helping me to learn how changes in pitch relate to the geometry of the fretboard. Like, if you go up 1 string and up 2 frets you get 7 semitones which is a fifth interval, except when you’re going from the 3rd to 2nd string, in that case you need to go up an additional fret. I am enjoying picking up on that kind of thing. But you’re totally right, moving across strings adds extra mental work to the task.

Yeah it’s great when that happens. I think I accidentally started doing “Three Blind Mice” when I was improvising over a moody rock backing track yesterday. :laughing:


I had a look at this course, but hit a sticking point almost immediately. The first exercise Justin asks us to do in Grade 1 is try to sing a fifth interval and then “check yourself on the guitar”.

Well I already know for a fact that I can’t tell whether or not my voice is matching the guitar. So I think I am not yet at a level where I can even begin this course. I’ll just keep working on trying to sing single notes, and try to learn how to recognise when I’m on pitch, for now. Maybe one day if I work hard, I might be able to ascend to such grand heights as attempting exercise 1 of Grade 1 of ear training :laughing:

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Brendan, Boss have a free tuner app for Andriod and I guess on Apple as well. You could use this to try and help you hit single notes when you are singing to hopefully help you learn to recognise the notes you sing.


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