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Playing by ear

Who relies on ear playing over reading?


  • Total voters
    121

Tenor Viol

Full of frets in North Shropshire
Café Supporter
Messages
6,409
Locality
Whitchurch, North Shropshire UK
Now that Covid is fading in the rear-view mirror (hopefully) a couple of guitarist mates and I are jamming one evening a week. This is new to me on sax as I took it up during lockdown, and practice to-date has been exercises and learning to read the dots.
Improvising, I’m fast discovering involves being unafraid to make mistakes! You soon learn to avoid notes that would take down the walls of Jericho, or leave in accidentals that sound OK.
Sounds good. Unfortunately, I don't know any people to try that kind of thing with.
 

Halfers

Finger Flapper
Messages
2,424
Locality
Hampshire
My playing mainly consists of trying out melodies or bits of solos that come to mind and trying to get them down from memory. I'll then at some point play the original, find out I'm a half a step or more out on the original key, which gives me the opportunity to transpose, if I fancy doing so.

It's amazing just playing around with scales, I'll stumble across an interval that reminds me of a tune, which I then spend some time working out. And we go from there. It keeps me happy..
 

Moz

Senior Member
Messages
868
Locality
North of Liskeard, Cornwall,UK
While I can read music, I'm really not very good at it and prefer to learn the piece by ear then play it. I know the notes but I never have any idea what key anything is in. My son plays piano and tells me what key he's going to play in and I just ask how many sharps or flats as the name of the key means nothing to me, I also get him to tell me how many on a sax too, that helps a lot :).

I know C though! :)

I can listen to a tune once then play it on the saxophone, for most tunes I can listen and improvise at first listening as I tend to know instinctively where the song is going next.

Having said all that, I would love to be able to read music as if I were reading a book, it must be lovely.
 

John Setchell

Member
Messages
249
Locality
Norfolk UK
While I can read music, I'm really not very good at it and prefer to learn the piece by ear then play it. I know the notes but I never have any idea what key anything is in. My son plays piano and tells me what key he's going to play in and I just ask how many sharps or flats as the name of the key means nothing to me, I also get him to tell me how many on a sax too, that helps a lot :).

I know C though! :)

I can listen to a tune once then play it on the saxophone, for most tunes I can listen and improvise at first listening as I tend to know instinctively where the song is going next.

Having said all that, I would love to be able to read music as if I were reading a book, it must be lovely.
Ah - but is that C on a blues scale?
3 black notes.
 

Moz

Senior Member
Messages
868
Locality
North of Liskeard, Cornwall,UK
Ah - but is that C on a blues scale?
3 black notes.
Don't start. We'll be talking mixolydian and frigian next and no, I don't know anything about those either. I look upon things like that as knowing what metal they made engine mounting bolts out of on a car -- it's something I just don't need to know.
 

Taz

Busking Oracle
Messages
3,669
Locality
Rugby UK
Everyone plays by ear. Unless they're completely deaf and still play.
I disagree, both my niece and and good friend both play sax, one to a very high standard. If you take the dots away from them both, they don't have a clue what to play. Both have tried and both have failed miserably, yet both can sing in tune with no problem!
 

thomsax

Well-Known Member
Messages
4,423
Locality
Sweden
I can read music but I was never any good reader. Playing by ear? Sometimes, but not that often. I was more or less playing from memory most of the time. I learned from reading and when I could play it as it was written then I put away the sheet music. When I played a solo I played something that I have heard before or done before. For many years we were 3 friends that played in a 3-horn section. Rock and Blues stuff. The trumpet player couldn't play without a notestand and sheet music. Another guy (soprano, alto, tenor. bari, flute, harmonica ...) he became so nervous when he saw sheet music so I just couldn't play. He didn't read at all. The trumpet player did a good job at the horns rehearsals. When we had learned to play the parts as it was written we used to say: "Now it time to make it more dirty!"
 

Moz

Senior Member
Messages
868
Locality
North of Liskeard, Cornwall,UK
I disagree, both my niece and and good friend both play sax, one to a very high standard. If you take the dots away from them both, they don't have a clue what to play. Both have tried and both have failed miserably, yet both can sing in tune with no problem!

I can read music but I was never any good reader. Playing by ear? Sometimes, but not that often. I was more or less playing from memory most of the time. I learned from reading and when I could play it as it was written then I put away the sheet music. When I played a solo I played something that I have heard before or done before. For many years we were 3 friends that played in a 3-horn section. Rock and Blues stuff. The trumpet player couldn't play without a notestand and sheet music. Another guy (soprano, alto, tenor. bari, flute, harmonica ...) he became so nervous when he saw sheet music so I just couldn't play. He didn't read at all. The trumpet player did a good job at the horns rehearsals. When we had learned to play the parts as it was written we used to say: "Now it time to make it more dirty!"

The inability to play by ear or, by definition, improvise, baffles me. I know everyone is different but to not be able to play unless someone has written it down is, to me, just weird.

The band in which I used to play had no music written down at all, not one jot (except the very first piece I learned because the band didn't know what I would need when I joined -- I didn't need it). In the end we had two and half hours of original music and could do three sets without repetition and every note played by ear. I'm not bragging, I just find it difficult to understand why everyone can't do this. Even my old music teacher couldn't play a note unless it was written down.
 

mizmar

Member
Messages
929
Locality
Trondheim, Norway
I find it interesting both that some people don't understand how playing by ear can be hard; and others that reading can be hard. Both are learned skills. Some folks pick one, the other or both up more or less easily while others struggle. Folks are different.
 
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thomsax

Well-Known Member
Messages
4,423
Locality
Sweden
The inability to play by ear or, by definition, improvise, baffles me. I know everyone is different but to not be able to play unless someone has written it down is, to me, just weird.
In this case it was more a ritual. He knew what to play. But to feel good the notestand, the small light, the folder with sheet music was important to him. I did that as well when I worked as a chef. The "Mise en place" was 100%. Something like to get ready before the battle. I think we should blame the "Sone Age man" that still lives inside of us.
 

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