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Playing by ear

Who relies on ear playing over reading?


  • Total voters
    128

mizmar

Senior Member
Messages
1,021
Locality
Trondheim, Norway
So, I'm a later starter - every skill in music playing has to be learned and none are easy for me, but I practice; sight reading, learning from dots, playing by ear (for various values of that concept) etc. It's all interesting.

Here is what baffles me. I find it hard to play stuff I've learned from dots, from memory for the sax. I can, Like Tenor Viol, it takes work. But I'm also learning piano and everything I've learn I can immediately play from memory without having to try ... given that after some time I might forget how some bits go and have to check the sheet music. For example, I have arrangements of Watermelon Man, with fun chorus variations for, both piano and sax. I can play the piano version, and each varied choruses, without sheet music no problem; and the basic, head tune of the sax arrangement - but the details and choruses take a lot of work for me.
It's weird.
 

Veggie Dave

Sax Worker
Messages
3,425
Locality
Citizen of Nowhere
Here is what baffles me. I find it hard to play stuff I've learned from dots, from memory for the sax. I can, Like Tenor Viol, it takes work. But I'm also learning piano and everything I've learn I can immediately play from memory without having to try

When playing piano you can see the keyboard, which makes playing both aural and visual. This is what I found was really hard at first on sax - I couldn't see the keys so had no visual representation of what I was playing. With guitar and piano I can see the music as shapes on the keyboard/fretboard, which makes life much easier for me.
 

mizmar

Senior Member
Messages
1,021
Locality
Trondheim, Norway
When playing piano you can see the keyboard, which makes playing both aural and visual
Could well be. It's also been suggested that on the piano (and, guitar?) You're playing chords etc at the same time which might give extra support to the melody notes.
I also think I'm more methodical on the piano - for something like watermelon man; practice the base/rhythm, a right hand phrase, put them together, next phrase, together etc. Where as on the sax I probably spend less / too little time on individual chunks. Before dashing to the tune. Something to work on.
 
Last edited:

John Setchell

Member
Messages
285
Locality
Norfolk UK
So, I'm a later starter - every skill in music playing has to be learned and none are easy for me, but I practice; sight reading, learning from dots, playing by ear (for various values of that concept) etc. It's all interesting.

Here is what baffles me. I find it hard to play stuff I've learned from dots, from memory for the sax. I can, Like Tenor Viol, it takes work. But I'm also learning piano and everything I've learn I can immediately play from memory without having to try ... given that after some time I might forget how some bits go and have to check the sheet music. For example, I have arrangements of Watermelon Man, with fun chorus variations for, both piano and sax. I can play the piano version, and each varied choruses, without sheet music no problem; and the basic, head tune of the sax arrangement - but the details and choruses take a lot of work for me.
It's weird.
Keyboard pretty much is The Perfect Instrument visually. 88 notes laid out before you in chromatic geometry, with those black keys giving clear position of sharps/flats and marking repeating octave patterns.
The saxophone? Holy smoke! You can’t see the keys, and they were arranged by a committee of idiots. Not only that, they don’t all work the same and are eager to jump an octave or harmonic.
-You gotta love it!
 

Colin the Bear

Well-Known Member
Messages
14,956
Locality
Burnley bb9 9dn
I have a piano keyboard in my head. It's monophonic and uses saxophone fingerings.
Coming to saxophone via recorder and clarinet the keys are a great relief.

Being able to play by ear is a great hinderance to reading. However I can sight read anything if I know how it goes.
 

Jimmymack

Member
Messages
867
Locality
London
If I know it I can pretty well read it. I find it preferable to do it that way than read it and then have to get to know it after.
 

aldevis

Surrealist Contributor.
Cafe Moderator
Messages
12,331
Locality
London
I've done a lot of first-sight reading gigs. It can be fun.
In particular when you play something and realise you already knew the tune (I am terrible with titles)

On the other side of the spectrum, someone I know printed all the horn parts for some 70s funk band, but the drummer told me that "they usually get lost counting the rest bars on the intro, get lost and never play a note"
 

jazzdoh

Well-Known Member
Messages
2,559
Locality
West Midlands
I can remember back when I started, my music teacher used to say that counting the rests was harder than playing the dots.
 

jbtsax

Well-Known Member
Café Supporter
Messages
8,782
Locality
Beautiful Springville, Utah USA
I can remember back when I started, my music teacher used to say that counting the rests was harder than playing the dots.
As a middle school band teacher for many years I can verify that the greatest percentage of counting errors students make reading music have to do with coming in too early or too late after a rest. I used to tell them that the last thing they should do in a rest is "rest". Another common counting error is not holding longer notes their full value and playing notes that follow too early. I agree that rests are a lot harder to play than notes.
 

Dr G

Member
Messages
491
Locality
Northern California
As a middle school band teacher for many years I can verify that the greatest percentage of counting errors students make reading music have to do with coming in too early or too late after a rest. I used to tell them that the last thing they should do in a rest is "rest". Another common counting error is not holding longer notes their full value and playing notes that follow too early. I agree that rests are a lot harder to play than notes.

And for “ear” players, the most difficult part seems to be knowing when to stop.
 

thomsax

Well-Known Member
Messages
4,488
Locality
Sweden
Keyboard pretty much is The Perfect Instrument visually. 88 notes laid out before you in chromatic geometry, with those black keys giving clear position of sharps/flats and marking repeating octave patterns.
The saxophone? Holy smoke! You can’t see the keys, and they were arranged by a committee of idiots. Not only that, they don’t all work the same and are eager to jump an octave or harmonic.
-You gotta love it!
I have said it before and I say it again: Why are saxophonists struggling with thier saxes when they can play sax without a saxophohone? You can buy a midi and get a good sax sound. No reed, mouthpiece, blowing technique, leaks, expensive saxes, expensive accessories .... . How many are playing saxophone in a way that is impossible to do on a midi? Easy to blow, perfect pitch ... are what lots of sax players are seaching for.
 

Targa

Among the pigeons
Café Supporter
Messages
9,494
Locality
KIC 8462852
I have said it before and I say it again: Why are saxophonists struggling with thier saxes when they can play sax without a saxophohone? You can buy a midi and get a good sax sound. No reed, mouthpiece, blowing technique, leaks, expensive saxes, expensive accessories .... . How many are playing saxophone in a way that is impossible to do on a midi? Easy to blow, perfect pitch ... are what lots of sax players are seaching for.
But you don't look as cool with the hat and shades.
 

thomsax

Well-Known Member
Messages
4,488
Locality
Sweden
Sometimes I had to play without my ears. I was so hard for me to play tones that I don't want to play or sounds weird to me. I one thing to do: Shut down your ears and just play as it was wriiten. That was not fun.
 

Dr G

Member
Messages
491
Locality
Northern California
Sometimes I had to play without my ears. I was so hard for me to play tones that I don't want to play or sounds weird to me. I one thing to do: Shut down your ears and just play as it was wriiten. That was not fun.

What do you mean “play without my ears”?
 

thomsax

Well-Known Member
Messages
4,488
Locality
Sweden
What do you mean “play without my ears”?
I didn't listen to what I/we played. One part of me said. Don't play that tone it don't sound good. Another part said play as it wriiten even if it sounds weird. I played in an sax octette back in the 80's. Clever music. Too clever for me.
 

Dr G

Member
Messages
491
Locality
Northern California
I didn't listen to what I/we played. One part of me said. Don't play that tone it don't sound good. Another part said play as it wriiten even if it sounds weird. I played in an sax octette back in the 80's. Clever music. Too clever for me.

Thanks. I get it. I thought you were playing without listening to your intonation - what you said makes sense.
 

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