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Hearing rhythms?

Andrew Chung

Music Theory Bragger
Nov 11, 2019
How do I go about figuring out rhythms by ear? It boggles the mind that people can hear, say, ZV's rhythm playing amidst everything else happening---heavily distorted leads, drums, bass, FX, vocals, etc. My mind flits between everything so fast that I can't lock onto any one part, much less the specific rhythm used.

I'm currently learning a couple of songs via Ultimate Guitar, mostly focusing on rhythm playing, and it's going well enough, but I know I have to get my ear up to snuff---having played classical piano for ten years, I was never taught how to learn by ear---not in group lessons, nor when I moved on to a private instructor; it was always from sheet music.

For example, I'm working on "Bat Country"---who doesn't love that song?---and when I listen to the chorus, when Shadows sings "too many doses...," to me, each chord could be played once for all I can tell; the tab, of course, tells me that's not the case. Another example is the chorus of "Beast and the Harlot," which I'm also working on. Zacky's rhythm, to me, sounds like whole notes, but it's not.


Ids Schiere

Sold-out Crowd Surfer
Nov 11, 2019
Try to focus on the part you really want to learn, all the other instruments can be used as clues of when the next part comes in and stuff like that but hearing rhythm is more about what you focus on while learning the song than anything else.

Chris Johnston

Music Theory Bragger
  • Nov 11, 2019
    North Ayrshire, Scotland
    Hey Andrew! I totally get what you mean, it can be really difficult to hear individual parts in a tune. With distorted and sometimes blended guitars in a track, the pick attack of a strum can really get lost in the mix.

    In these situations I'd say try looking up live videos and seeing what Zacky's strumming hand is doing. That will give you the most accurate version of what you're hearing 🤟

    Ed Seith

    Supreme Galactic Overlord
    Staff member
  • Nov 11, 2019
    Marana, AZ USA
    If it's a very specific chug-like pattern, you kind of have to figure it out, but for strumming chord stuff - and this may be a case of it's been so long since I learned this stuff that I forget HOW I learned it - capturing the FEEL of it is much more important than focusing on the mechanics of the exact timings of everything.

    To this day, there are some songs, even some tunes I've done on Metal Minutes, where I know what I'm playing is definitely NOT exactly what the rhythm guitars are doing, but it definitely is my interpretation of how it feels.

    This may or may not he helpful. :cool:
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    Calvin Phillips

    Music Theory Bragger
    Nov 11, 2019
    Tabs give you the notes and chords but not the rhythm and timing. You gotta figure that out for yourself.


    Campfire Attention Holder
  • Dec 1, 2019
    I would add a suggestion to you: use Songsterr. Most of the time the tabs are way more accurate and you have the rythm written, and a playback, so you can hear what's going on and play it with a metronome.
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    Andrew Chung

    Music Theory Bragger
    Nov 11, 2019
    Okay, so here's an update, if anyone wants to know. I found this app called Up Tempo by an app studio called Stonekick, and my God, it's incredible! The pitch- and time-shift and marker-setting capabilities are standard and the former two are about as good as can be expected, given the nature of a digital signal, but the Pro features -- $3.99USD well spent, and from a gift card I received, so ha! -- are the real treasures! There's an adjustable bass cut feature and a center/sides isolation feature, and they are immensely helpful for hearing the rhythm tracks, which are indeed pushed to the sides of the soundstage. Cut some of the bass, and nix the center, and I can actually hear what's going on in the rhythm parts! Highly recommended! You could focus on vocals, leads, rhythms -- whatever you want, really.

    The app is, according to the developer website, available for Android and iOS.

    The studio also has an app called Riff Studio that I'd used, which seems like it might have been a precursor to Up Tempo -- fewer features. Both Up Tempo and Riff Studio are freemium, but Up Tempo is definitely better.
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