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Playing by ear

Who relies on ear playing over reading?


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    117

TimboSax

Deputy junior apprentice 2nd class
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Cambridgeshire
A while ago I was jammin’ at a friend’s house, and we had nobody on piano. This friend’s daughter is a concert pianist and was staying for the weekend, and we persuaded her to help-out on keys. Without dots she was useless!
Yep, my daughter is grade 8 piano, studying music at Uni, and can't play without the dots.

Whereas I can't read the dots and have played by ear for 40 years.
 

dooce

Well-Known Member
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1,431
Location
Daventry
At Christmas, I teamed up with another villager who plays cornet in a brass band, and with me on baritone, we wandered the streets playing carols. Nothing fancy, just good old traditional stuff, but even though she has played them probably hundreds of times, she couldn't do it without dots. I guess that's the brass band way, you never see them without music in front of them, but given their fairly complex arrangements its not that surprising.

(I was using dots as well but only because I had written bass and counter-melody lines for the bari and didn't have time to memorise them....)
 

brianr

Senior Member
Messages
1,257
IMHO the vast majority of us can play by ear.

all it needs is a desire/wish to do so, coupled with doing it/practice.

Im really confident that, if done slowly, a little every practice session, you will get better at it.
Just like applying yourself to playing a new scale, or a difficult section of written music.
 
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thomsax

Well-Known Member
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4,291
Location
Sweden
I’m finding this discussion fascinating.
A while ago I was jammin’ at a friend’s house, and we had nobody on piano. This friend’s daughter is a concert pianist and was staying for the weekend, and we persuaded her to help-out on keys. Without dots she was useless!
The group I played with was going to for a hour at a small street festival. The piano man had to cancel and we had no piano player. It was just blues songs; " Dust My Brrom, Key ", " To the Highway" ... and that sort of songs. I asked my wife (a 100% reader , classic piano and church organ) if she could play piano with us. She had just 3 days to learn the songs. She said ok, just give med sheet music and not only the chords., So I sms and e-mailed friends (musicians and music teachers) if they could help us. We bought some sheet music as well . 3 days later we played with piano. And it was really good. She was not just hammering piano keys, she had a nice flow over th piano keys. But to have sheet music at a blues gig ?????? With dots we got a more steady rhythm. She told us that she could also play bass pedal if the bass player couldn't make it. A mix of music education and playing by ear is good.
 

Tenor Viol

Full of frets in North Shropshire
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6,328
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Whitchurch, North Shropshire UK
I’m finding this discussion fascinating.
A while ago I was jammin’ at a friend’s house, and we had nobody on piano. This friend’s daughter is a concert pianist and was staying for the weekend, and we persuaded her to help-out on keys. Without dots she was useless!
It's an entirely different skill set. Organists are trained in improvisation and anyone who has their ARCO or FRCO (Associate and Fellow of Royal College of Organists) will be able to improvise on pretty well any tune you give them
 

mizmar

Member
Messages
673
Location
Trondheim, Norway
Being still a learner, at this moment dots Vs ear are a movable feast.
Today, as there's still social distancing here, the other half decided she'd march in solidarity round the house. So; I could only manage The Internationale from the page but could do The Red Flag by ear?!?
(So that didn't work, she's Swedish and thought The Red Flag was some German lullaby or something)
Happy 1st May, comrades.
 

Dibbs

Member
Messages
753
Yep, my daughter is grade 8 piano, studying music at Uni, and can't play without the dots.

Whereas I can't read the dots and have played by ear for 40 years.
Funny. My Father was an excellent reader and excellent ear player. He used to call anyone who couldn't do both a "half baked musician". I guess you and your daughter are fully cooked between you.
 

aldevis

Surrealist Contributor.
Cafe Moderator
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12,303
Location
London
Being still a learner, at this moment dots Vs ear are a movable feast.
Today, as there's still social distancing here, the other half decided she'd march in solidarity round the house. So; I could only manage The Internationale from the page but could do The Red Flag by ear?!?
(So that didn't work, she's Swedish and thought The Red Flag was some German lullaby or something)
Happy 1st May, comrades.
That's my childhood repertoire (I think I noodled Red Flag on 1st of May, on sax: jazzy)
The Internationale is not the easiest by ear.
Like the Marseillaise: they start with a fourth, then they mess you up
 

farina_man

New Member
Messages
25
Location
Cumbria, England
Being able to identify, write and play intervals IS music theory. There is no such thing as a "non-theoretical" grasp of intervals. Knowing the sound of and how to construct a pentatonic scale from a major scale IS music theory. Knowing which notes to play in a given key IS music theory. 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?
I grew up with a piano in the house, which I refused to learn, but - when I got into jazz 50-odd years ago - I searched out the chords in C for the blues, then songs that I liked. I realised that the chords and intervals in C (and therefore in every key) have an arithmetical relationship to each other, which you can actually see on a keyboard. Later, playing in small "busking" dance bands, where I was expected to play the tune correctly, taught me repertoire. Playing in small busking trad jazz bands on clarinet taught me how to find the right notes not to interfere with the other horn players (harmony). Both of these taught me that most songs written between 1920 and 1950 (the GASBook) often use similar chord sequences (e.g. approx.75% of middle-8s fell into the "I Got Rhythm" or "Honeysuckle Rose" format, and after some time I found I could improvise, generally successfully, on tunes I had never heard before, provided they fell into the broad spectrum of jazz/popular music which existed before, let's say, the mid-50's, to the point that I could anticipate chord changes with a very high degree of accuracy. I do remember having trouble with "Joyspring", but strangely not with "All the things you are", which works wonderfully well mathematically.

I've never studied theory - wouldn't know a pentatonic scale if it hit me in the eye, but perhaps I do instinctively? I do think, for what it's worth, that a thorough knowledge of tunes and an hour or two at a keyboard working them out to find the "shape" of them is time well spent on the road to improvisation. AND, don't take shortcuts like reading off chords - all this produces in most players is a string of ever more tedious arpeggios. Even in good jazz players chord books make them lazy; I played a gig a few years back with a fine young jazz trumpeter who insisted on having his iPhone on a music stand so he could play off the chords, even on "warhorses" that everybody knows. I just kept nudging the stand around with the crook of my tenor in a circle while he was soloing so he couldn't see the iPhone without falling off the stage, so he had to use his ears, provided free by God on either side of his head. He called me a few names afterwards, but he also played beautifully, and with the passion that being out of your comfort zone engenders.
 

jbtsax

Well-Known Member
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Beautiful Springville, Utah USA
Mathematics is about the relationships between numbers. Music is about the relationships between notes. The knowledge and understanding of how those relationships come together to form scales, intervals, and chords (harmony) all come under the broad term "music theory". Anyone who can play a major scale has an understanding of the the theory of whole steps and half steps on their instrument. In my understanding, music has three facets which are aural, visual, and intellectual. The great players and composers in the styles of classical and jazz music we admire and try to emulate honed their skills to a high degree in all three areas---hearing, reading, and understanding. All three are important and each adds a different dimension to form a well rounded musician. Even Charlie Parker was a voracious listener to anything and everything, but he maintained a special appreciation for Stravinsky's work.
 
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MarkSax

Member
Messages
261
Location
UK
Being still a learner, at this moment dots Vs ear are a movable feast.
Today, as there's still social distancing here, the other half decided she'd march in solidarity round the house. So; I could only manage The Internationale from the page but could do The Red Flag by ear?!?
(So that didn't work, she's Swedish and thought The Red Flag was some German lullaby or something)
Happy 1st May, comrades.
Isn’t the Red Flag the same tune as ‘Mon beau sapin roi des forêts’ a Christmas song in French?
German xmas song, Workers’ song and believe it or not the anthem for the US state of Maryland ( all according to Wikipedia)
 

Pete Effamy

Senior Member
Messages
3,311
Location
Hampshire
In all the 37 pages of this thread this might have been said before, but playing by ear is not the same as playing by memory. @TimboSax said that his daughter - an accomplished pianist - can't play without music.

As a teacher I've found this to be true of many students. The easier part of the two would be to remember something that has been played dozens of times before. The ear part would be to play a tune not played before, but a tune that is known, nonetheless. This involves determining the intervals between each note.

Surely the cognitive process is different to memory recall. Everyone can remember a G, A, B sequence - so a longer sequence, a tune, can be learned.
 

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