How To Learn Songs by Ear on Guitar: Step-by-Step Guide

How To Learn Songs By Ear On Guitar

Masters of the guitar can easily play any song they hear on the first trial. What’s their secret? It’s all about learning and playing songs by ear on the guitar.

How do you learn and play songs by ear on the guitar?

Train your ears. Learning to play songs by ear is all about listening. Don’t be in a hurry to strike a chord; listen and harmonize with the song first.

Learning songs by ear starts with training your ears and letting your fingers flow. In this guide, you’ll find the secret to learning and playing songs by ear on the guitar.

What Does It Mean To Learn Songs by Ear on the Guitar?

What Does It Mean To Learn Songs By Ear On The Guitar?

Have you ever seen someone listen to a song once, and they are playing the same song on the guitar the next moment without missing a beat? That was a practical example of learning and playing songs by ear on the guitar.

Usually, to play a song on the guitar, you need to read it on the guitar tablature. You have to see the chords and strum pattern written out. Reading the guitar tablature is essential for learning the guitar and playing songs.

However, if you want to learn to play any song on the guitar quickly, you need to learn to play by ear.

So what does it mean to learn songs by ear on the guitar?

Learning songs by ear on the guitar means being able to play a song that you heard without being told or shown what to play on the guitar. When you learn songs by the ear, you trust your instincts to guide you to the right notes on the guitar. There’s no prior reading of the music sheet.

You just listen, then play what you hear.

How To Learn Songs by Ear on the Guitar

How To Learn Songs By Ear On The Guitar

Learning songs by ear on the guitar is a great way to improve playing the guitar. While some believe that you need to be born with the skill, it’s possible to learn it.

Here’s how to learn songs by ear.

Listen to the Melody

Frequently, newbies are rushing to pick the guitar and strike the strings to a new song. But that zeal won’t help you learn the song or play it accurately.

The first thing you should do in trying to learn any song by ear is first to listen. Listen to the melody and try to ‘hum’ along to it. Put your guitar aside and listen instead of jumping on your guitar and playing what you think synchs with the song.

Listening helps you internalize the song’s melody, and when you hum along to the song, you begin to visualize the tones that make up the melody.

When you listen and hum along to a song, you break it down to its playable tones.

Test What You Heard

Having listened and internalized the tones you heard in the song, now is the time to try them out. This part is filled with trial and error, so don’t stress.

As a rule, a note is a sound written out, while a tone is a sound that you hear. So when you see or read ‘C,’ it’s a note until it’s played as a tone.

Now then, after listening to a song and you can conveniently hum the song without it being played, pick up your guitar and trace the tones you’re humming.

You’ll hardly get it on the first try in this phase, so keep humming and tracing on your guitar until you get it right.

When you sing or hum a particular tone, trace it on the guitar until you get the same note reflecting what you’re humming.

Write Down the Notes

It’s easy to forget or mix up what you’ve heard and played on the first trial. To make things easier, write down the notes you play.

Once you successfully trace a tone on the guitar, write out the corresponding note before moving on to the next one. This way, you’ll not forget or mix things up.

When you write down the notes completely, you’ll have finally scored or transcribed the song solely by ear. Once you have every note written down, listen to the song afresh and play along with what you’ve written down.

Depending on how accurate your notes are, you should have a smooth play on your guitar. If something sounds off, trace it and adjust accordingly.

Make the Strumming Pattern Your Own

To finally be the boss of the song, listen carefully to the song and try strumming along to it.

If there’s a lead guitar accompanying the song, try listening to the strumming pattern, and replicate it. But don’t depend solely on the strumming pattern you hear. In figuring out the strumming pattern, you can try the basic 4-beat per note principle and adjust to what you hear. The 4-beat per note principle means each note is strummed four times.

In learning songs by ear on the guitar, your goals are; to be able to play the song as it is and to fuse your unique style of play with the song. After writing down the notes, and figuring out the strumming pattern, now’s the time to bend it to your style.

Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced guitarist, if you’re watchful, you’ll notice that you, like everyone, have a unique playing style. This uniqueness is mainly seen in strumming.

Once you’ve been able to play along to the song accurately, add a few self-styled variations to the strumming pattern. 


Learning songs by ear can be intimidating on the first try. You won’t become a pro overnight, so keep trying and trust the process. Listen first, then trace what you heard on the guitar, pen it down, and repeat the process until you’ve scored the whole song.