How to take a popular song, learn it by ear, and arrange it to fit your
playing style and ability.
I could easily write a book on this subject...but here now are my beginning
thoughts to help get you started. Part one will give you an overview of the
process...part two will show you the process and how to get started actually
Start by picking a popular song you enjoy and really want to learn to play
in your own way. This can be done without written music...we are going to
try learning the song by ear, and then do our own arrangement of the
piece...an arrangement that fits our style and playing ability. We will use
the song, 'Don't Stop Believing' originally by the rock band Journey, and
now again made popular by the cast of television's 'Glee'.
If a song has been recorded and covered by multiple artists, you might want
to listen to these various versions...see what you like or don't like in
these. I also recommend finding the original artist's recording so you can
get the essence of the song in question. Your version may end up sounding
like the original, or you may want to transform the piece into your own
invention...changing the key, tempo, chord structure, and even the melody. This is
all up to you and where you want the song to go!
Begin by listening closely to the song¹s melody. It may also help if you
have the lyrics printed out to reference the melody too. Also, listen to
the underlying chord progression. Notice that the verse chords change once
every bar in this song. See if you can hear the bass notes of the chords as
they go by. Often times, by either playing a major or minor chord over the
bass line, you will start to find your chord progression...but this is NOT
fool proof...just a way to get started. More on this later!
The chord progression of any song is really the foundation on which you add
the melody and any other embellishments. If you enjoy improvising within a
song, you will most likely do this over this same chord progression. Any
song's chord progression is comparable to the foundation of a building.
You start with the foundation, and then everything else is added to it.
Many songs pop and otherwise, use very standard predictable chord
progressions. Of course you can re-harmonize the song using different and
alternate chord changes that still support the melody, but I recommend
finding out the original song's chord structure first before you alter it.
As it is said, best to learn the rules before you try and break the rules. :-)
Note: If you find it impossible to hear the chord changes of any given song,
you most likely could find a simple chord chart on the internet, but be
forewarned that many chord charts can be over simplified and even sometimes
include the wrong chords.
You will also gain valuable insights into song writing by looking and
listening to all variety of songs; pop, rock, folk, hymns, and even jazz
standards, analyzing the chord structures they are built on. And as I said,
many songs rely on simple tried and true chord progressions, so after
awhile, you will begin to see similar and even identical chord progressions
being used. You can even take these same chord progressions and by adding
your own melodies and rhythms, write your own songs!
Note: part 2 will deal with figuring out our song's chord progression and
melody and then putting our song¹s arrangement together...from the
intro...to the ending!