View Full Version : what do you do when you want to learn a song from a cd

Aug-20-2010, 3:30am
I just want to learn a 30 second mandolin part of a song but its impossible to find tabs anywhere.

Aug-20-2010, 3:31am

I just want to learn the 30 second part 1:10-1:35

Rick Cadger
Aug-20-2010, 3:45am
A good place to start is with a facility to slow down an MP3 file of the tune.

Try Googling:

Amazing Slow Downer
Best Practice
VLC Player

All these, and many others, are capable of slowing down audio without altering pitch.

Also, when you are familiar with scales and arpeggios it makes it easier to figure out what the player is doing to get the sound you hear.

I always figure out tunes and songs by ear. Tabs from the web are usually of questionable accuracy anyway.

Clement Barrera-Ng
Aug-20-2010, 5:02am
Thanks for the tip re: VLC. I was using Audacity before but each time it requires the song to be re-sampled before being played in slow motion. Didn't know VLC has the ability to do real time slow play. Excellent.

Rick Cadger
Aug-20-2010, 5:45am
Another cool feature with most of those progs is that you can export/save your slowed down file to an MP3 or WAV, so you can use it as a practice track on your iPod or generic player.

Of course, with Audacity you have the added benefit of being able to edit out the parts of the tune that aren't immediately relevant to the passage you're learning before saving your practice track.

(I know all parts of the song are "relevant", but if you're working on one specific part it can be helpful not to have to keep searching through the track for the spot you want...)

Jon Hall
Aug-20-2010, 6:36am
I have converted an mp3 to an Audacity file, slowed it down(Tempo Change) and saved the slow version. I didn't have to re-sample it.
Thanks for the tip re: VLC. I was using Audacity before but each time it requires the song to be re-sampled before being played in slow motion. Didn't know VLC has the ability to do real time slow play. Excellent.

Aug-20-2010, 8:07am
Lord i love you guys, lol. Been trying to find an inexpensive way to slow these tracks down, without much success. The irony doesn't escape me that i already had audacity installed, just didn't know it had the tempo change option. Live and learn, lol.


Aug-20-2010, 8:36am
Well, this doesn't really apply because you're learning from a clip, but I guess it still applies, somewhat: repeated listening. With a CD, I rip it into my Media Player library, dial up the song, find the passage I want, and leave the mouse pointer just a second or two before it. That way I can just click and replay from that point. Repeat as necessary, either while playing along or just listening. With a video clip, do the same thing. The time indicator is indispensable for this purpose.

If you've got any of them there programs, you're already ahead of the game. One of these days I'm gonna have to go there myself. ;)

Aug-20-2010, 10:24am
once i find a version i like, i don't really listen to it more than a couple times to get so i can hum or whistle it. From there i let obsession do it's job. :)
I don't rush it. i know it takes days to smolder. 90% comes quick. The last 2% sometimes can take years. I totally re-learn tunes all the time too.

im not one to try or want to learn something note for note. i realize my point of view and somebody else's may not be the same. tiz only a tune, after all. :)

Aug-20-2010, 11:03am
I've played banjo for years, and have learned to 'speak banjo', so to speak, because of that experience. All I need is the tune in my head and I can find the melody notes and fill in around them to come up with a break.
For guitar or mandolin, that doesn't work well for me because I'm not experienced on those instruments. The notes I hear in my head don't always work out on the fingerboard and then I'm stumped. It's like I've taken a wrong turn and hit a dead end and I can't get any further so I have to go back, but I don't know where else to go... so I have to copy someone's break. (Get someone who knows the way to lead me, in a manner of speaking.)
It occurs to me that I used to have to do that on banjo too, until I learned the 'language'. If I keep at guitar and mandolin long enough I suppose I'll learn those 'languages' too and be able to work up my own breaks, maybe even on the fly like I can with the banjo.

Anyway, the point of this post is; your level of experience with an instrument can have a profound effect on how you go about learning a tune, song, or break.

Paul Kotapish
Aug-20-2010, 11:54am

All of the above suggestions are helpful, but you are going to have a little problem trying to learn the Matt Costa break note-for-note on the mandolin exactly as as he plays it in the video because it's a guitar break and the voicing, phrasing, and pitch are very "guitaristic." It's possible, but you would probably need to pitch it up a full octave.

My suggestion would be to work out the chords to the song and then learn to play the basic melody for those 32 bars (or however long the break is). Once you have that down convincingly, dress it up with a few ornaments (pull-offs, hammer-ons, slides) and a few arpeggios or double stops, some lead-in and tail-out notes and you would have a serviceable break. From the few tracks I've heard, Matt Costa seems to favor a very clean, stripped-down approach to his music, so you wouldn't have to do anything fancy.

Good luck.

Aug-20-2010, 12:42pm
I agree with Paul that it'd sound more "mandolinistic" transposed up an octave, but the break is actually high enough that it'd also be reproducable (more or less) on mandolin in the same octave as he's playing it on the guitar.

Just to get you going - We're in the key of D. If you want the break in the same octave as the guitar, start with a hammer-on from the second to the fourth fret on the third string while simultaneously playing the second string open. Alternatively, an octave higher, start with a hammer-on from the seventh to the ninth fret of the second string (using your second and third fingers) while simultaneously playing the fifth fret on the first string (using your first finger). That'll give you the opening riff, and the rest of it's not too far away in either direction in a D major scale. (I could tell you more, I suppose, but it'll be much more fun finding it on your own from there, no?) :)

One other little detail, though: in the video he's fingering in the key of D but it's actually sounding in E-flat, so he's tuned a half-step above standard pitch. (Yes, I'm aware he's lip-syncing and miming to the recorded track, but let's not split hairs...the point is, it's sounding in E-flat.) That being the case, if you want to play along with the video you might want to consider capoing at the first fret. Not that the key of E-flat isn't possible on a mandolin, but it won't give you all the ringing open string resonance that the key of D will, so fingering in D with a capo at the first fret will get you somewhat closer (IMO) to the feel of the guitar part.

Denny Gies
Aug-20-2010, 12:44pm
I get the tune in my head first, then play around with the CD playing and find out what key the thing is in. Then it's just a matter of trial and error to get the melody going. Good luck.

Aug-20-2010, 3:06pm
get to where I can whistle it while I'm on the bike path, second function I don't have to ring the bell,
for the pedestrians to know there's someone coming up behind them ..

Aug-20-2010, 5:24pm
I've used the Audacity slow down a fair bit in combination with Tabledit. Listen to a phrase, type in into tabledit, then play it back to hear if it is correct. Sometimes there are single notes I have trouble finding, so I expand the display until I can see where that note is, highlight it, and then play the repeat button, ( Shift play if I remember correctly ) I doesn't sound too great, but the note can be made to sound almost steadily, and you can usually find it quickly on the fret board, before it gets on your nerves. Then I have a nice tab/std notation file to use for learning the tune. I find if I lower the pitch too much with Audacity, the sound quality suffers quite a lot.


Ivan Kelsall
Aug-21-2010, 12:58am
I'm with Journeybear & John Hamlett on this. I do as JB does & rip the track to my PC. Windows Media Player will also let you slow down the tune,but it doesn't retain the true pitch. John H.is a Banjo player (he very likely helped make my own Stelling banjo) & you do develop a 'quick ear' when learning tunes.You also learn to 'listen through' the other instruments in order to pick out the instrument you want to listen to. That's the way i've done if for over 40 years & it works. It takes time to do it,but it's worth the effort & it's helped me enormously since playing Mandolin. Personally,i don't like to slow the music down,even at true pitch,it's like listening to somebody falling asleep while they play (for me). I play the track(s) at proper pitch / tempo & get it into my head that way,that's how i want to hear it 'in my head' whilst i'm playing it,not at half speed - but that's just me maybe,

Aug-21-2010, 8:53am
I,ve copped most of my stuff just by repetition.Don't need to beat yourself up. Come up with a version of your own that's "close enough" & move on. You'll have more of your own sound. (Some of the things I try will never be as good as the original; think Thile, Bush,O'Brien,Fleck......). :mandosmiley:

Aug-21-2010, 1:31pm
Personally,i don't like to slow the music down,even at true pitch,it's like listening to somebody falling asleep while they play (for me). I play the track(s) at proper pitch / tempo & get it into my head that way,that's how i want to hear it 'in my head' whilst i'm playing it,not at half speed - but that's just me maybe,

Same here. I try to avoid slowing down tunes for learning, unless it's something that's so difficult that I can't get it any other way. When I slow tunes down, I might get the notes a little more easily, but I risk loosing the feel of the tune. Once I've got the notes under my fingers, it can be very tempting to think that I've "got" the tune, and never go back to really listen to the groove of the original. And if I do make it a 2-stage process of getting the notes first slow, then practicing along at full speed for the groove, it feels like a lot more work.

As a side note for Irish trad: It's also impossible to really appreciate the ornamentation in this music when it's slowed down. A fiddle roll, or treble ornament on tenor banjo just sounds weird that way. Those are supposed to be little fast flicks of the fingers, or the pick, independent (more or less) of the tune's actual tempo.

Another reason I avoid it, is to help build the skill of learning tunes on-the-fly at jams and sessions. It's important to "hear at full speed' in those situations. It doesn't help build that skill if I learn tunes in slowed-down MP3's at home.

P.S. That said, there's a Kevin Burke jig I'm trying to learn this weekend, and it has some tricky accidentals that I can't quite figure out at full speed. And worse, he's doing variations each time through. I think I'm going to have to slow it down to understand exactly what he's doing. So for me it's not a rigid approach. I'll occasionally run into tunes like this that stump me, but I try to learn as much as I can at full speed.

Aug-21-2010, 1:41pm
You answered your own question, LISTEN ! In my opinion nothing sounds the same slowed down. My main mandolin mentor { Herb Lambert} taught me 40+ years ago to listen to what you wanted to learn at the speed it is supposed to go. He would play something over and over as many times as I asked him to, but allways at the tempo it was supposed to be. It helps train your ear. Herb was an amazing mandolin picker, he could mimic anyones style note for note. I found that you listen closer that way, thus learn faster. Now as far as tabs, reading music etc. , I don't know a dang thing about how to do that.

re simmers
Aug-21-2010, 1:57pm
What do I do:
I have to be honest. I PLAN to listen to it over and over. Try playing along. Try slowing it down. That's my plan.

However, I have a list of 2-300 songs than I determined was a fantastic mandolin break...........but never got to it. That's the truth 99% of the time for me.

I can't remember, but I think it was Niles who wrote somewhere, that if you really want to learn a break, tab it out.

"In the Shadow Of Your Wings," a great CD by the Forbes Family with Union Station, came out about 12+ years ago. I tabbed out every one of Adam Steffey's breaks from that CD back then. That really was a good way to learn the breaks.


Aug-21-2010, 5:06pm
I use Best Practice frequently. I can readily get the melody, which is good, I think. My frustration develops when I want to use different filler notes so it does not sound like I am copying another player. I just can not seem to master the filler note thing.

Aug-21-2010, 5:24pm
I just want to learn the 30 second part 1:10-1:35 <<

First I start with http://www.video2mp3.net and download the audio part of the youtube video as an mp3
Then I use Amazing Slow Downer ( www.ronimusic.com) to slow down the mp3 so I can hear it, and hear it and hear it - at a slower tempo
Then I proceed to figure it out by ear. I have occasionally written out the part for remembering etc, especially if it's a 3+ minute tune with lots of different parts.

Ivan Kelsall
Aug-22-2010, 1:52am
Bob - Tabbing the tunes out is a good idea if you're able to do it. It'll certainly get the tune 'in your head'. It's the same as writing any information down,you don't forget it as easily.
Re. the 'filler notes' mentioned by mnosretep,you're meaning your own improvised parts in a tune which will make it your own rarther than a slavishly copied one ?.That's an art in itelf. Learn any tune exactly the 'way it is' on the CD etc.,so well that you could play it in your sleep.Then,you have the bedrock for doing your own thing. It's very difficult to improvise on a partially known tune that you can't play too well to begin with. One of my favourite 'warm-up' tunes is "Up & Around The Bend" from Bela Fleck's CD "Drive" on which Mr.Bush takes the Mandolin honours. I've played that tune so many times,i could almost play it backwards. I can play it my own way,play harmony to it - juggle with it if need be,simply because i know it so very well. OK - it's taken a few years,but if that's what it takes (for me) then i have to do it.
Adam Steffey summed it up nicely in his Tuition DVD. He says how when putting together a solo break in a tune,he learns the basic 'bare bones' of a tune to begin with, & when he's totally familiar with it,he can then put together his break,