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Playing by ear

Who relies on ear playing over reading?


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U CAN CALL ME AL

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Why has this thread become obsessed with the position of a particular note or its theoretical relationship to others? After all music is about pitch,rhythm, tempo, volume,intensity emotion a host of other variables. Music is what you feel. It effects what you play when you play. Playing music effects our emotions, our emotions affect our playing. Playing by ear forms a bond between performer and instrument. Love the sound you make, even when discordant, learn from it. Make the best noise you can even just one note (long tones!) enjoy it and love it. Just play it.
It is possible to be totally illiterate and still tell many great stories without ever writing them down by listening to and mimicking others.
 

Bernie

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Being able to identify, write and play intervals IS music theory. There is no such thing as a "non-theoretical" grasp of intervals.

Of course there is. If you sing Ba Ba Black Sheep to a child and the child sings it back accurately they have a non-theoretical understanding of intervals. It's the same for most adult singers, they have never learned anything about 4ths and 5ths, tones and semitones.

What if someone claimed to be able to do calculations and solve equations with a "non-theoretical" grasp of mathematics? Would that make any sense?

Yes, in fact I learned of an interesting example the other day: when we catch a cricket ball or baseball, we move to the correct position on the field by means of a complex calculation involving the speed of ascent of the ball.
 

gladsaxisme

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I have to say I'm in the Bernie and Al camp here and feel that knowing all the theory in the world is going to do nothing to help you play by ear even though actually doing it is actually practicing the theory,a bit like pouring water down a slope it works every time but do it in reverse and it's a no go.
I can't see how being able to recognise a single note in a tune is let's say a C and then being able to recognise the intervals between the notes from there has anything to do with knowing music theory but everything to do with having perfect pitch and being able to recognise all notes heard for what they are instantly.
Even if you can sing a song in the right key and in tune I don't see how that helps a sax player to transpose that on to the sax which to me would be done by the fingers having an automatic knowledge of where to go to hit each required note in order.
I do believe that being fluent in all the scales arpeggios and various other practice pieces must help in this,but I don't think that is music theory in action
 

richardr

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Here's an easy one for anyone who wants to make a start at playing by ear. It's in 4/4 time, Key of F concert which means G for Bb instruments (soprano and tenor and D for Eb instruments. The start note is E for Bb instruments and B for Eb instruments. By "start note" I mean the note that corresponds to the first word of the lyrics, "I" as in "I went down to St. James' Infirmary...." (ignore the dranatically macabre intro) If you know the tune already, that makes it easier but if you don't, I suggest you break it up into phrases and copy first one, then the next until you can string them all together and play along with Satchmo. If you're new to playing by ear, don't worry about intervals and all the theoretical stuff. Simply start with the start note then hunt around for the next one, then when you've got that, hunt for the next and so on. That's how I started playing sax in the days when I didn't even know which way up the mouthpiece went!
I hope this works. I'm not a teacher but this method worked for me. Have fun and please let me know how you get on or tell me (and everyone else) if I'm plain wrong.
One other thing: take Colin the Bear's advice and learn the words, at least the first verse. That will help you to remember the tune.
 

Targa

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I'd like to be able to play by ear, literally, because I only have one that works and even in that I've got the usual top end deterioration.
I can't even tell which way the notes go in a chiming of clock and I hear that every 15 minutes.
It must be similar to the way in which if you close one eye you can't judge distance, without the stereo effect I can't detect the subtle difference in tone.
Does anyone else have the same problem and able to get over it? I know at least one of you who wears hearing aids.
 

Bernie

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I can't see how being able to recognise a single note in a tune is let's say a C and then being able to recognise the intervals between the notes from there has anything to do with knowing music theory but everything to do with having perfect pitch and being able to recognise all notes heard for what they are instantly.

That's a misunderstanding I think. You don't need perfect pitch to be able to identify intervals "non-theoretically".
 

richardr

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I have to say I'm in the Bernie and Al camp here
Rather than argue about how to do it, why not post an exercise and tell us how you'd do it. We're all coming to this thread from different levels of attainment and what works for some won't work for others. I've just posted an exercise for absolute beginners; I'd like to have a go at something slightly more advanced and I daresay that some of us who are way ahead will post exercises that are way beyond me.
 

Bernie

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Here's an easy one for anyone who wants to make a start at playing by ear. It's in 4/4 time, Key of F concert which means G for Bb instruments (soprano and tenor and D for Eb instruments.

Don't tell them all that stuff!

If you know the tune already, that makes it easier but if you don't, I suggest you break it up into phrases and copy first one, then the next until you can string them all together and play along with Satchmo.

That's not what I would suggest. I would suggest that people just starting to play by ear should only play tunes they already know, so if you don't know St James Infirmary, play something you do know.

I also don't go with the idea of breaking music up into phrases and learning those. That is not how you learn to sing nursery rhymes, hymns or football chants. I would suggest that learners try to make this as natural a process as possible.
 

gladsaxisme

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I'd like to be able to play by ear, literally, because I only have one that works and even in that I've got the usual top end deterioration.
I can't even tell which way the notes go in a chiming of clock and I hear that every 15 minutes.
It must be similar to the way in which if you close one eye you can't judge distance, without the stereo effect I can't detect the subtle difference in tone.
Does anyone else have the same problem and able to get over it? I know at least one of you who wears hearing aids.

I don't know if your referring to me about the hearing aids,but I am in full stereo in that regard and I'm never really sure if it does affect my recognition of notes in anyway but I know I can tell if some one sounds off key but I'm never sure if my own playing is on or off key all the time without the use of a tuner
 

richardr

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I'd like to be able to play by ear, literally, because I only have one that works and even in that I've got the usual top end deterioration.
I can't even tell which way the notes go in a chiming of clock and I hear that every 15 minutes.
It must be similar to the way in which if you close one eye you can't judge distance, without the stereo effect I can't detect the subtle difference in tone.
Does anyone else have the same problem and able to get over it? I know at least one of you who wears hearing aids.
I don't have this problem so perhaps what I have to say may be unhelpful but I'll try.
I don't think you can be absolutely tone-deaf, or how could you play sax at all - are you related to Ludwig van Beethoven? I wonder whether sort of re-training your ear would work? I don't know how except that you might try listening with the sheet music in front of you. I have no scanner so I can't send you mine but I'm sure you'll be able to find a free download on the 'net. Try to get it written in F but if you can't, any key will do for learning which notes go up and which go down. I appreciate that this could end up with you playing from sheet music when you want to ply by ear, but if it's a means to an end, go for it. There's nothing purist about playing by ear: whatever helps you, do it!
Another thought: when you're playing along, whether to a backing track or to a melody, the recorded music must be loud enough for you to hear it over your own playing. I struggled with this for over a year until I though of plugging an old guitar practice amp into my laptop. Now I've got volume a-plenty!
 

Bernie

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It must be similar to the way in which if you close one eye you can't judge distance, without the stereo effect I can't detect the subtle difference in tone.

That doesn't sound right to me (!), I don't believe the stereo effect has any relevance to the detection of pitch, I think you can do this just as well with one ear as two.

Can you sing Baa Baa Black Sheep in tune?
 

Bernie

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I don't have this problem

I don't think anybody has this problem!

Another thought: when you're playing along, whether to a backing track or to a melody, the recorded music must be loud enough for you to hear it over your own playing. I struggled with this for over a year until I though of plugging an old guitar practice amp into my laptop. Now I've got volume a-plenty!

I just put on headphones, you can take one side off your ear if necessary.
 

gladsaxisme

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Rather than argue about how to do it, why not post an exercise and tell us how you'd do it. We're all coming to this thread from different levels of attainment and what works for some won't work for others. I've just posted an exercise for absolute beginners; I'd like to have a go at something slightly more advanced and I daresay that some of us who are way ahead will post exercises that are way beyond me.

I think you might have missed my point and that is that I CANT DO IT and have never been able to fathom how to,I suppose its the same old potato where's saxes are concerned PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT.
Love your choice of tune to practice on nice and slow and steady, I will give it a go
 

richardr

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Don't tell them all that stuff!
Bernie, I agree completely that the simple way to start is, think of a tune and play it in any old key. That's how I started. However, I know that for some of us that just doesn't work. I think it's a confidence issue or maybe some people have difficulty remembering a melody in a way that enables them to play it. Therefore I've provided a melody to dissect and play along with. To play along you have to know the key and, more important, the start note. If it doesn't work, nothing's lost and we'll know to try something else.
To make this thread provide help for people trying to play by ear we've got to get beyond discussing what will and will not work and try-out ideas.
Why not post an exercise that you think will work? If your idea helps people I'll be the first to applaud.
 

Bernie

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Why not post an exercise that you think will work? If your idea helps people I'll be the first to applaud.

I never do any exercises myself, never have, I just play the tunes I want to play. That's what I think works. Listen to the tune until you can sing it, then play it on the instrument.
 

fibracell

Senior Member
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It all depends what you want from your playing and your musical ambitions.If your quite happy playing by ear with other people, then that's fine.

But it's also true that the effort to practice correctly is the same as to practice incorrectly. Make sure you get a good tutor.
 

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