These days it’s so easy for guitarists, pianists and bass players to go online and download chord sheets, tabs and sheet music. This is turning learning music by ear into a dying art. However, learning to transcribe this way will complement all areas of your musicianship and make you a better instrumentalist. It will take time, practice and patience but the rewards will be great. Here is a great method for those interested in learning by ear. Please note, this is a beginner’s guide to getting started with aural transcription and as a result, is very simplistic. It is not meant to be the definitive, theoretically perfect authority, but if you have always wanted to play by ear and never knew how, this guide is for you.
The first thing you should do is listen to the song and try to pick out the bass line. The bass usually plays the root of the chords and can be a huge help in figuring how to play the song yourself. Try humming along to the bass line and latching onto the most prominent note for each chord change.
Now, go back to the beginning of the song and hum along with the bass again. But this time be ready to pause the track before the chord changes. The note you are humming is probably the root of the first chord, keep humming it and play different notes on your instrument until you find the same note. For the purposes of this example, we will pretend it is C.