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Playing by ear

Who relies on ear playing over reading?


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Bernie

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Relative pitch is an innate human capability. Many languages use relative pitch to distinguish between words, Chinese for example. Interestingly it has been shown that speakers of these so-called "tone languages" perform better on relative pitch tests than speakers of non-tone languages.

We use relative pitch in spoken English to indicate such things as questions.
 

Bernie

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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.

What exactly is the tutor going to do for you, in connection with learning to play by ear?
 

richardr

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Make sure you get a good tutor.
It's my impression that the overwhelming majority of teachers know no other way than by the dots and that those who can teach "ear" are few and far between. I don't think there is a "correct" way to teach playing by ear. That's one reason for this thread. Among other things I hope we'll find what does and what doesn't work and perhaps establish some guidelines for teaching.
 

Bernie

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I'll re-phrase: to beginners it may be helpful to know the key and, more importantly, the start note.

Possibly, but they don't need somebody else to tell them it. The ability they need to acquire is to be able to do this for themselves.
 

Bernie

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I don't think there is a "correct" way to teach playing by ear. That's one reason for this thread. Among other things I hope we'll find what does and what doesn't work and perhaps establish some guidelines for teaching.

What teaching did you need to enable you to sing nursery rhymes, hymns, pop songs, nursery rhymes?

It's a natural, innate human capacity.
 

Nick Wyver

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It's my impression that the overwhelming majority of teachers know no other way than by the dots and that those who can teach "ear" are few and far between.
And my "impression" is different. Slagging off teachers is not going to win you any friends.
 

Bernie

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playing by ear also involves hearing modulations, and cadences, intervals and recognizing chord changes, etc

Right, but that is something you have to do for yourself. The teacher can't do it for you, and it isn't something you need to be taught anyway. Would you need a teacher standing beside you in a karaoke bar?
 

Bernie

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And my "impression" is different. Slagging off teachers is not going to win you any friends.

Correct me if I'm wrong Nick, but didn't you say that you don't play by ear? It seems strange in that case that you have formed an impression about the ability of teachers to teach playing by ear.

I don't think Richard was "slagging off" teachers anyway, he was making a more emotionally neutral point.
 

mpjbiker

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I do both to a certain extent, but I find that once I've played something with the dots, I struggle to play the piece without them, whereas if I've been thrown something and had to play it from memory or imagination, it sticks in my memory and I can play it fine without the dots. This includes stuff I've played dozens of times with the music!
 

gladsaxisme

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I'm not sure that this playing by ear can be taught but probably only encouraged to be tried as an extra string to your bow
 

U CAN CALL ME AL

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To play by ear it helps to close your eyes!

There is then nothing, but the sound, real if listening or imagined if in silence, to distract or come between you and your instrument. The feel connection between you and your instrument becomes more intense and personalised.

I always practice scales and arpeggios this way.
 

gladsaxisme

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I do both to a certain extent, but I find that once I've played something with the dots, I struggle to play the piece without them, whereas if I've been thrown something and had to play it from memory or imagination, it sticks in my memory and I can play it fine without the dots. This includes stuff I've played dozens of times with the music!

That's strange my experience is the exact opposite, once learned from the dots I can always bring back from memory and play it unless it's been a really long time.
How well I play it is a different matter
 

Taz

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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.

My first problem with this, Richard, is that you obviously know the key, the time signature and the name of the first note. To me, this isn't playing by ear, it's using prior knowledge of theory. If you gave an average English 5 year old a Japanese news paper, I'm fairly sure he wouldn't be able to read it. If you stood the same child next a a Japanese narrator and asked him to mimic him, he would probably do a fairly good job! He would, for a better way of putting it, be "playing by ear"
What I want to do is challenge you all, to take a tune that you can humm, whistle or sing, and play it on your sax. Try not to think of the key or what the first note is, or even the timing. Listen to the singer, as Colin advises, and try to mimic their timing. Sinatra is a great example, holding notes longer than normal, pausing before a note should be sung. Listen to him at work, the man was a genius!

playing by ear also involves hearing modulations, and cadences, intervals and recognizing chord changes, etc

I hear all these things but I have no idea that they had names :rofl:

Please remember folks, this is a lighthearted discussion, as I said before there are no right or wrong ways of doing this:yess:
 

jimmylh

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I think the poll should have had one more pick. Both ear and dots equally. I rely on both at my stage of sight reading. I could make a stab at sight reading a song cold, but it may not sound exactly like the author meant. If the sheet music has complicated timing and rhythm, I listen to the real song on youtube to hear what it's supposed to sound like. After that, the dots are just there to remind me what notes to hit. The timing is in my head at that point and I can hear the changes coming. If I do not have the sheet music, and I want to learn a song, I just listen and pick out the tune and memorize the fingerings. But guess what? After leaning and playing my scales everyday, I can figure out what key I'm playing in from the overall sound. I can then start noodling around the melody with less problem. My muscle memory knows what notes sound good in the scale I'm playing. Now I can begin to play the same song in another key if I want and it becomes easier to hit the right notes the first time instead of hunting and pecking again from scratch. On the theory side, knowing how to spell chords in my head has helped a lot too. I've seen my teacher play a very nice solo from sheet music he has not seen before because he can instantly see what notes are in every chord. Yes, he could do it strictly by ear, but he can find the interesting and color notes faster by reading the chord changes. That puts him in the "professional" category which is what I want to aspire too. (ha ha, will I ever make it there). I can see first hand how reading and ear go together and why you want to practice doing both. When I got to my lesson one day, he had a song playing on the stereo. We listened for a few minutes he started breaking down what the guy was playing. Examples like: hear that? He just went down the scale in thirds and then did a turn around and laid on the 7th for a bar.

Yep, he's that good.
 
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Chris

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Having been around the forum for quite a while now and having listened to the large percentage of the music guys post in the playing sub-forums. @Taz probably has one of the 'best/biggest' pair of musical ears around here. To be honest it probably boarders on 'perfect' pitch or at worst excellent 'relative' pitch, the first is a gift or a curse depending on how you live with it, the second can be developed but it takes time. More over he is always in 'tune'. Good tutors can help players out, if only by making them start with easy tunes, as more complex ones will just be off-putting.
Also the style of music you want to play can influence the degree of difficulty. Single key 'Blues' is a world away from complex Jazz changes. Also your listening habits, if you want play a certain style but never really listen to seriously, then you'll never really find it easy to play that style. Sure guys can get round tunes, but normally these are guys that have been playing for years, so there 'ear' has developed. Experienced players can 'know' where tunes are going even if they can't tell you.
So keep things simple to start with and don't be put off if you find it hard, if it was easy there would be no need for a thread like this one:)

Chris..
 

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