A lot of times music meshes, or glues, together so well that it’s hard to hear all the different parts and instruments by themselves. One great way to help with learning to play by ear, or if you just want a good way to take a song apart and learn about it, is to do something called “hard panning” the speakers. What this means is that you can use the pan control knob on your music player to completely turn down one of your two speakers so that music only feeds through one of them at a time. This is a really simple technique for playing by ear that anyone can do. And you don’t even have to learn any music theory!
The reason this can be helpful to you is that sometimes, not always but sometimes, when a song is being recorded and mixed at a recording studio, the mixing engineer (the person in charge of organizing all the audio tracks and deciding 1) how loud every part should be, or more importantly for us right now, 2) where in the stereo field -or more simply put what speaker- to put all the tracks in) will “hard pan” the guitar part over to one speaker. Or if there are multiple guitars, one in each speaker.
This can be a HUGE help when you’re trying to pick out and learn a guitar part that seems to be getting mixed up with everything else going on in the song you’re working on.
Look For The Pan, or Balance Knob
If you’re not sure how to go about trying this experiment out, there is usually a pan knob, or a left and right balance knob on most sound systems. Just turn it all the way to one side and see if it cuts the volume out of one speaker. If the song has “LCR style panning” (Left, Center, Right), then this will single out any instruments on the side that you pan it to. Or, if you don’t have any way to do it like this and desperation is starting to set in, you could always just put in some earbuds and leave one of them out.
Try Out Different Songs
Now, like I said earlier, this isn’t going to work with every song you try. It really just depends on the song. Sometimes guitars are panned directly in the middle (the guitar part is being divided equally between both speakers). It could even be somewhere in-between, partly in one speaker but still partly in the other, in which case you’ll never really get that good separation from the other parts that you may need. It really does just all depend on how the mixing engineer mixed that particular song, so don’t give up if the first song is a bust!
So, the next time you listen to music, try playing around with this technique a little bit and see what you come up with. Now that you know about about this technique of hard panning your speakers to single out guitar parts, leave a comment below on how this experiment went for you. Was it something you had ever done before, or was it a completely new experience? I’d love to know!