If you hope to have a chance of figuring out how to play a song, you'll need your guitar to be in tune with the recording. Accomplishing this takes a little bit of practice, and again, you'll have to rely on your ear. One of the keys to getting in tune with a recording is to listen for open stringsin the guitar part. Open strings sound different than fretted strings... they ring more clearly, and they generally sustain longer. Certain strings, like the low E string, will actually rattle subtly when strummed hard. When you identify an open string in the recording, match it up against your open string, fine tune yours, then tune the rest of the guitar to that string. This is easier said than done, and will take some practice, but after a while, it becomes second nature.
Sometimes, you just won't be able to hear open strings when listening to a recording. What you need to do in these situations is identify *any* note in the recording, then find the note which is closest to it on your guitar, and tune your guitar until it matches the note on the recording. Once you've done that, you know the string that you tuned is in tune with the recording, so just tune the rest of your guitar to that string.
Capos, Alternate Tunings, and Other Nuisances
If life were even remotely fair, there would be no other obstacles to overcome before beginning to transcribe songs. Unfortunately, this isn't always the case. Sometimes, guitarists will use capos on recordings, to change the pitch of their guitar. This can make getting in tune with the recording difficult, especially if you don't initially realize the guitarist is using a capo. The easiest way to identify if a capo is being used is to, again, listen for open strings. If you hear what sounds to be an open string, yet the actual pitch is the fourth fret of the first string (Ab), chances are the guitarist has a capo on the fourth fret. Figuring out where/if a capo is being used is admittedly tricky, and will take a good amount of practice.
Alternate tuningscan also present a problem, and can often be quite hard to identify. Figuring out songs that use alternate tunings falls outside the scope of this article. To best identify the use of different tunings, try familiarizing yourself with many of them using the alternate tuning guide. Okay, so at this point, hopefully you've tuned up to the recording, and are ready to begin transcribing. So, without further ado, let's dive in!