Boy with lack of musical ear hopes for help

December 3, 2008 5:13 PM

Any kind Mefi Musicians out there want to help me figure out how to play this one song?

The song is the Gardener by The Tallest Man On Earth. Here is the mp3. I can't find a clear live one of him, but here is one.

I also found this tab, but it seems like a rather lame version to play. I'm pretty horrible at figuring out songs on my own, and am hoping someone out there can help me out. From the youtube, it seems clear that the capo is pretty high up.

Any help is welcome, whether you write out a tab or record a video on youtube explaining how to play, or simply tell me which string he has left unmuted on this one part, and how he kept the rest muted.
posted by Corduroy (21 comments total)

PS. I'm seeing him live in a couple weeks, and I'll be sure to watch closely on this tune. But hopefully by then I will have a totally tricked out cover version to play him on my banjolele, and then he'll ask me to open for him and I'll forget all of you, until I realize that all the thrown underwear in the world can't clothe the naked void left by MefiMu; when the music was real!
posted by Corduroy at 5:18 PM on December 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


I think the capo's on the 7th fret. I'll write the fret numbers as if the capo is open, so 9th fret=2nd fret.

Here is my best shot at the chord voicings, if the string order is EBGDAE:

ebgdae

.0202.
.0200.

2320..
232x4.

2320..
232x4.
.0402.
.0202.
3000x3
30x20.
20x20.

3000x3
30x20.
2320..
2302..
2304..

3000x3
30x20.
2320..
2324..
232...

3000x3
30x20.
2320..
2302..
2304..

3000x3
3000x3
30x20.
30x20.

repeat from the start

2320..
2302..
2324..
2302..
2320..
2300x3

xx6x4.
xx7x5.
xx7x5.
x7775.
x7775.
xx705.
xx704.
0402.
.0202.
3000x3
30x20.
20x20.

3000x3
30x20.
2320..
2302..
2304..

3000x3
30x20.
2320..
2324..
232...

3000x3
30x20.
2320..
2302..
2304..

3000x3
3000x3
30x20.
30x20.

2320..
2302..
2324..
2302..
2320..
2300x3
posted by umbú at 7:22 PM on December 3, 2008


Oops. There should be a dot before the 0402.
posted by umbú at 7:24 PM on December 3, 2008


oh my goodness, umbu! it's too late for me to actually try out what you've written, but i can't wait to try it tomorrow. thank you, i hope it works out. what is the difference between '.' and 'x'?
posted by Corduroy at 9:19 PM on December 3, 2008


. is 'don't play it at all'
x is 'mute this string using the finger that is fretting the adjacent string above it'

I hope what I wrote makes sense. Let me know if you have any questions about it. I like the song.
posted by umbú at 9:50 PM on December 3, 2008


Hm, I seem to be having some trouble lining it up. It doesn't sound right to me. I'll keep working at it.
posted by Corduroy at 1:43 PM on December 4, 2008


I lined up the words, if that helps:

.0202.
.0200.

2320..
232x4.

2320.. I sense a
232x4. a runner in the
.0402. garden
.0202.
3000x3 Although my judgement's known to
30x20. fail
20x20.

2320.. Once built a
232x4. steamboat in a
.0402. meadow
.0202.
3000x3 Cos I'd forgotten how to
30x20. sail
20x20.

3000x3 I know the
30x20. runner's going to
2320.. tell you
2302..
2304..

3000x3 There ain't no
30x20. cowboy in my
2320.. hair
2324..
232...

3000x3 So now he's
30x20. buried by the
2320.. daisies
2302..
2304..

3000x3 So I could stay the tallest
3000x3
30x20. man in your eyes, babe
30x20.

repeat from the start 2x (I sense a spy...eyes, babe)
(I sense a leak...eyes, babe)

2320..
2302..
2324..
2302..
2320..
2300x3 in your eyes, babe

2320..
2302..
2324..
2302..
2320..
2300x3 (3x)

xx6x4.
xx7x5.
xx7x5.
x7775.
x7775.

xx705. So now we're
xx704. dancing through the
0402. garden
.0202.
3000x3 And what a garden I have
30x20. made
20x20.

xx705. And now that
xx704. death will grow my
.0402. jasmine
.0202.
3000x3 I find it soothing I'm
30x20. afraid
20x20.


3000x3 Now there is
30x20. no need for
2320.. suspicion
2302..
2304..

3000x3 There ain't no
30x20. frog kissing your
2320.. hand
2324..
232...

3000x3 I won't be
30x20. lying when I
2320.. tell you
2302..
2304..

3000x3 That I'm a gardner I'm a
3000x3
30x20. man In your eyes, babe
30x20.

2320..
2302..
2324..
2302..
2320..
2300x3 In your eyes, babe (4x)
posted by umbú at 9:11 AM on December 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


Man, I feel bad because you obviously put in a ton of work and I'm really appreciative, but it just isn't sounding right to me. But thank you so much for putting in all that effort. I'm going to try again, either tonight or tomorrow.
posted by Corduroy at 7:33 PM on December 5, 2008


I played through some of umbu's chords and thought they sounded pretty good.

Did you try moving the capo to the sixth fret? That's what I had to do to get the right key. Are you reading the tab EBGDAE? (which is reverse of what I'm used to)

What do you mean by "isn't sounding right"? Are there some specific chords that you're not happy with the voicings of? If you are reading the tab right, it shouldn't sound too far off.

P.S. to umbu (or anyone who knows) -- what's the HTML for the accent over your u?
posted by abc123xyzinfinity at 12:15 AM on December 6, 2008


Thanks for trying it out, abc123xyzinfinity. I'm not sure why I wrote the string order that way. I just didn't think about it when I typed out the chords. Also, I didn't tune with a tuner before I figured it out, so sixth fret could very well be better than seventh fret.

The html is & uacute; without the space between the & and the uacute;
posted by umbú at 6:10 AM on December 6, 2008


Oh god, I feel like an idiot. I haven't been reading them EBGDAE (despite having read that and thinking 'oh, thats interesting')! But that's also a relief, and I'll get back to it now.

Thanks for pointing that out, abc.
posted by Corduroy at 6:52 AM on December 6, 2008


Ahh, now it sounds right. It's going to take me a little while to really learn it, and then i'll try to do a cover, naturally. In fact, a banjolele cover really doesn't seem too far outside the realm of possibility.
posted by Corduroy at 7:50 AM on December 6, 2008


Thanks again, umbú!
posted by Corduroy at 7:51 AM on December 6, 2008


Good! That's a relief.
posted by umbú at 8:39 AM on December 6, 2008


Corduroy just sent me a MefiMail asking about techniques for figuring songs out by ear. After I answered, I thought that I'd post my response here as well, because I'd love to hear about other people's methods:

Good question. I really love the detective work of figuring out exact chord voicings and learning a song by ear. I get into the zone, really concentrating, and giving it time. I think of it as a skill to develop rather than a natural ability, honestly.

Since we're dealing with guitars, we have the added advantage of open vs. fretted strings to help us figure out the tuning (or, in this case, the tuning as a result of the capo). Usually, the first thing I do is listen through and ask: is the harmony traditional (i.e. mostly based on the I IV V three chords, like G C D in the key of G) or is it more complicated? Are all of the chords fretted, or to they take advantage of the open strings? Hearing the open strings ring out more than the fretted ones helps in the case when there is the possibility of a capo, or an alternate tuning.

In this case, I could hear that there were lots of open strings ringing out, but they weren't the normal pitches. But I could also hear that there were some traditional folk-style chord shapes, like the 23200x D and the 300023 or 3000x3 G. Once I recognized those, I could slide my finger on the low E up the neck until I found where the G finger shape was being played.

Remember any given chord has a tonic or bass note that is one of twelve choices. And once you nail down one, the others, unless the song is really "new music"-y and avant-garde sounding, are among even less choices for the subsequent chords. So, for example, once I heard the D and G chord shapes, then I knew that the choices for the third principal chord had to be either C, making the tune in the key of G (G C D) or A, making the tune in D (D G A). Since a C# is played in the 232x4x chord, it became clear that it song is in D, not G (for the guitarist, that is: D transposed by the capo, really).

So a lot of it ends up being the experience of figuring out lots of songs until you can discern larger patterns that end up making it faster to figure out. Like the fact that at pivotal parts of the song, you'll probably hear a V-I cadence of some sort, which in the key of D is moving from the A chord to the D chord.

What ended up being a little tricky about this particular song, was the fact that he sticks pretty close to the traditional chord shapes, but not exactly. Like the 30x20x 20x20x chords not being exactly A's, but serving the role of an A in the song. Or the first two chords of the tune.

I hope that helps. Figuring out songs by ear is one of my favorite parts of playing, nerdy as it sounds. I think I'm better at it than actually practicing them after they're all mapped out. The hunt is better than the kill, I guess.
posted by umbú at 11:44 AM on December 6, 2008 [3 favorites]


Hi umbú! (did you see what I did there?)

Great advice! I also tried my hand at deciphering some of the chords in this song. The first thing I'll say is that, like you, I immediately recognized some of the 3000x3 and 23200x voicings, just from experience and playing the guitar. But it doesn't always go that way.

For this song in particular, the first step is identifying the capo. The timbre (sound) of the guitar on this track is very high, very "chimey", which indicates a capoed fret. A capo really makes the guitar ring out and has a characteristic sound all its own, totally different from just barring a fret with your index finger. This knowledge, combined with an ear for the voicings, gives you the basic starting point.

That's the biggest hurdle to overcome, and it's not easy. Alternate tunings can really leave you in the dark, which is why being able to hear familiar voicings is so important. I remember trying to figure out some finger picking on Weezer's blue album, and the parts were just so convoluded I couldn't believe it. Only later did I learn that they played all their guitars tuned down a half step! It made all the fingerings much more conventional. Because I hadn't recognize the voicings, I was trying to recreate impossible guitar lines -- the actual pitches had led me astray. If I had recognized the voicings I would've said immediately "That sounds like a generic C major chord (in voicing), but it's actually in the key of B. Maybe I should tune down..." It was an eye opening experience.

Once you know where on the neck you are supposed to be playing, you could try some familiar chord shapes to see if anything sounds right, or you could try to break down the arrangement string by string. To do this, listen carefully for one particular note in the song (the top note is often easy to hear). It's probably being played on the 1st or 2nd string of the guitar. Find the fret that the note is located on. Now listen to the song again. How does that note move around in the arrangement? Can you hear the same note from one chord to the next? That means the fingering of the string doesn't change. Does the note go up or down instead? Locate the fret that corresponds to that new note.

Using this technique you can deconstruct an arrangement without even knowing common chord shapes. The benefit of this approach is that instead of guessing, you are actually transcribing. If you ever run into trouble, or can't resolve some of the harder to hear notes in the middle of the chords, you can fall back on well know chord shapes to inform your decisions. This is really an ideal way to figure out a song like the one above.

Of course by ideal I mean painstaking and time consuming. Transcribing a song is a huge endeavor, and many times a good approximation is all you need. Some artists probably couldn't even transcribe their own music since performance is often about approximate execution for maximum emotional effect.

However, if you are trying to be as exact as possible, there's nothing better than playing along with the source recording once you have an idea of what's going on. It's actually quite an amazing experience to play an exact arrangement along with a recording (which anyone who's really nailed "Wish You Were Hear" can testify to). Matching a record note for note produces a totally different sound than playing along with an approximation -- there is a synergy there that is hard to describe, but once you hear it, you won't forget it.

The biggest hurdle to reaching this musical nirvana is not in your ear, or your ability to arrange. It is most often a question of technique. You might know the part by heart, but if you don't play it exactly like the person on the record, it will never sound quite right. This can throw off newcomers who think they have all the chords right but just can't understand why they can't emulate their favourite players. I think Jamie Abersol calls it feel, or nuance, or something. Someone just linked to his book in AskMe but I can't find it right now...

I've said too much already. Is anyone else reading this thread? ;-P
posted by abc123xyzinfinity at 11:25 PM on December 6, 2008


Is anyone else reading this thread? ;-P

I am! It's really interesting, that you guys can listen to a guitar and say, "oh, hey, capo" or "oh, hey, open strings." Crazy! I can't do that or anything close to it, and it never really occurred to me to think that some people can hear a chord and know how it's being fingered.

(My method of covering songs is: don't listen to the song more than you absolutely have to -- sometimes, if it's been years since you've heard it, it's even better. Just try and do what you can with the stuff you remember -- that's the important stuff, anyway.)
posted by Karlos the Jackal at 12:13 AM on December 7, 2008


Am I the only one who hears the Jackson 5 whenever I read abc123xyzinfinity's username?

Great advice. So often, unless you're trying to figure out something deliberately complex like rush or robert fripp or something, if it's really awkward, it's probably wrong. Like if the way your playing a chord involves stretching your pinky up four frets. I've definitely figured out some really complicated versions of songs, only to realize that there was another position to play it that was easier.

Also, starting with the highest and lowest notes is key, because they are easier to pick out than the inner voices. And once you know those, you can usually figure out the inner voices based on what you know from the outer ones. Like if the lowest note is a C, and the highest note is an E, then chances are it's either a C chord (CEG) or an Am chord (ACE).

I also second how great it is to really nail the voicings, rather than just playing approximate chords.
posted by umbú at 6:21 AM on December 7, 2008


Karlos the Jackal, the Dirty Projectors approach to covering songs has definitely served you well, as evidenced by the latest one you posted, which is awesome.

I don't think that what we're talking about is mutually exclusive, however. Just because you figure out all of the ins and outs of a song, doesn't mean that you necessarily are ultimately going to play it that way. It could be the first step of the process, where you then figure out what you're going to do differently.

I think it can be a worthwhile process, as long as you don't get the original arrangement imprinted on you like a baby duckling to his mother.
posted by umbú at 6:29 AM on December 7, 2008


To borrow a line from ORthey....
posted by Corduroy at 9:55 AM on December 7, 2008


umbú -- I wasn't aware of Dirty Projectors until just now -- interesting!

I agree that it's not mutually exclusive. Me, personally, though, I find it hard to get away from something once I've discovered the "right" way to do it. Doing something willfully "wrong" is a lot harder for me than just fucking it up through willful ignorance, for some reason.

(I do look up the lyrics and always try to get them right.)
posted by Karlos the Jackal at 5:28 PM on December 7, 2008


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