Learn solos by ear or tab?

Hi everyone

With YouTube and the internet , it’s easier than ever to find what you are looking for these days. This can be good and bad I guess. Some say it’s essential to learn solos by ear while others say just hit up YouTube.

Does anyone have any advice on this? I’ve tried learning by ear but it’s a pain in the ass so I just go for the tabs or YouTube. Am I cheating myself of valuable ear training by doing this or simply being practical?



I personally don’t get the whole “learn by ear” thing. :slight_smile:

I think we need tab to know which notes we need to focus on, but use our ears to get the feel right. Also, sometimes the tab is wrong, so we will need our ear to find the right note.

Just learning by ear seems like so much work. :slight_smile:

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I learn by tab because i simply dont have the ear for it but my son learns everything by ear, hes one of those people that is playing along with the song by the first chorus. Some can and others like me can’t

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I recommend using whatever resource that will help. Those are all good ways. Ignorance is bliss brotha!

When I started to play there was no internet. :wink:
So I always learned the songs by ear and it was a hell of an ear training.

Instead of asking what would be the best way to learn how to play a piece, you should rather divide between ear training and learning to play stuff.

Ear training:
1a: Take lessons
1b: Learning songs by ear
2: Form a group to practice
3: Ear training software

Learn how to play:
1: Take lessons
2a: Look at the tabs
2b: Look at the videos
3: Adjust by ear

Important note: Ear training is absolutely trainable. Most people just don’t know, where to start.


I may be a bit late, but i have multiple approach. When i learn fast licks/groupnotes/classicallike (fast kiko licks or petrucci runs for example) i start from a tab and then i try to fix notes and position. After i really learn it put it in the context of the song. But if i am learning something like a blues solo or a angus young solo where rythm and feel is everthing, then i just go by ear and try to catch the feel first, before and above all. There i dont care about the position on the neck or the precision of “trascription”, i just try to send the same message and intention.


Hi Marcello, I didn’t think of that but you’re right, who wouldn’t learn to play a blues solo the same way as a technical/very precise dream theater solo, good point!

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A mix of everything.

I use tabs, video lessons and my ears.

I don’t tend to learn the solos spot on though, i get the feel, structure and sound then I make my own version of it.

Different things work for different people.


It will eventually come in with time and experience. I can just listen to music and figure out the just of it. Using the basic form of using intervals to lyrics or melody worked for me. Its helps to pay attention to detail and by listening to music and practicing. Keep up the good work and you will discover brotha!

Riff~Life :purple_heart:

I like it when I learn a part by ear feels great. I also like playing rocksmith the video game which uses real guitars. Ultimately I want to learn everything by ear. My belief is I like a lot of unpopular bands and they just don’t transcribe them as there isn’t as big of a demand.

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Well use whatever resources that you can to learn… Who cares where it comes from. Eventually you’ll get better as you learn your way around the neck and your ear training will improve with practice and some understanding.

I didnt start learning till I was 38 years old and started with and acoustic guitar and a Eagles Greatist Hits Book with a cord diagram for each song and cords written over top of the lyrics.

I never had a lesson and was self taught until recently with Kiko’s Guitar Hacks. I started playing on the electric guitar about 6 years ago in my attempt to learn Yngwie’s style of guitar playing with great difficulty. Although I made some great accomplishments I could just never get it up to speed… Singing and Rythm Guitar seemed to come more natural for me so I focused on my strengths.

I used to think I could never be a good lead guitar player until I found Kiko’s Guitar Hacks course. I’m very greatful that I am being taught how to develop this skill. I used to always think that I wasnt good enough or I was just not born with this kind of talent… On the contrary :face_with_raised_eyebrow:

You only get out what you put in my friend. Keep playing and keep practicing and things will work out… A little less talk and a little more action my friend. :wink:

Best Regards,


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I think for beginners like me TAB is the extremely helpful while we learn the intervals and train our ears. I also am taking the time to learn to read sheet music. My goal is to be able to hear a melody or chord progression once and be able to play it (and then write it down so others can understand it!). Why? Because that is what musicians do, and I want to be a musician!

To be able to recognize music by ear means you understand it without having to look up tab or music, and you can play along with anyone. Isn’t that the ultimate goal? Jam with anyone and make great music?

Do I think it is necessary? No. I can play a ton of great songs and my ear is not trained. But I can only play by learning shapes. And the songs in my head? They are stuck there for now.


I’m essentially an old school ear-learner but when it comes to fast, long or complicated solos, I feel absolutely no shame at looking up for tabs. In fact, since I’ve been trying to play mainly metal songs recently… Tabs have been my main medium for learning solos (and the rest of the song too as a matter of fact).


I’m old school I find it much faster to learn it by ear my fingers just go to the note that I hear it’s all feeling the music and the notes you hear.

And if there is something I’m having trouble with I will go to tab.

It took many yrs. of playing you have to put in the time just play as much as you can and your fingers will know where to go.

Yes, the fast complex stuff tab will save you alot of time and head ache, just don’t get to dependant on tab only.

I understand that when your just starting it’s hard to hear the notes the right way and theres so many different ways to play the samething whether its the same as recorded is another story. Ear training takes a while to develope.

Just listen very closely to the sound of the notes and the sound of the pitch when your playing and to what ever song your trying to learn and you will find the note your hearing

practice practice practice


There’s a video on YouTube somewhere where Nuno Betancourt absolutely stresses learning things by ear even if it’s all wrong. He claims that your growth as a player actually happens when transcribing by ear even if it’s wrong. Van Halen said something similar as well. Could they be on to something?

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I can learn by ear and have done a lot of transcribing. It takes more time which I need. That’s why tab is great and I would really like to spend more time playing the song. Over all though? I prefer to be good at BOTH.

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Reading @shredspillers’ post, I realized I forgot to precise a few things…
When I say I use tabs to learn metal songs, it’s really something I started doing a few years ago when I discovered scrolling tabs. I started using them for the convenience of being able to play along, choose the speed and having the possibility of doing different “playlists” of tabs according to weather they are good for this technique or that technique. But for example… When I started doing this course, I learned the fundamentals through watching Kiko’s video using sight but also mostly through listening. I only started using the tabs when I heard I was missing one or two notes from what Kiko was playing in Phase 2.
But, like a lot of people here, I started learning guitar in the pre-internet era…
Tabs existed back then but I quickly realized that using my ears saved me, not only money, but also some TIME. The majority of Led Zeppelin riffs I learned were by ear. But when it came to solos it depended…
I also quickly realized that many songs weren’t in the exact same tuning, so learning how to tune the guitar just by finding an open E, open A (or any other note I could find) in the song I was trying to play along to, revealed itself essential (And by the way, the only note I could use as a tuner back then was an A… In France the dial tone of a phone was in A :grin:).

So I obviously do agree that when you start learning guitar you should use your ears as often as possible.
It also makes it easier when playing with other musicians…

Nowadays I use my ears to figure out “easy” riffs or solos I can play along to or when I feel like like improvising along to a song.

So basically…
-When I want to learn for the sake of pleasure : I use my ears
-When I want to learn for progress and challenge : I use tabs

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Yes practice, practice, practice, play hard :grin:

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