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Playing By Ear


DocPate

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I don't know if this has been discussed before on MPF, but I get a lot of people saying they play strictly by ear. Now, I play by ear for the most part. Even though I can (if absolutely forced to) read music, most of my guitar playing was by ear. Having said that, I must admit that my first note of a riff, or chord in the backup rhythm depended on my knowledge of music scales. What I mean is that if I was creating a lead, intro, outro, etc - I always mentally thought of the beginning note (e.g. a A note) and mentally began the melody in the fret that provided that note.

 

From that position, most times I would finger a chord for that note - for example an A Minor, knowing that each finger position would be a note on the desired scale. Now I didn't actually think about the scale, my mind just seemed to automatically make me go through this exercise.

 

How many here play by ear? And if so, do you think about a musical note or scale while doing so? Or do you just creep up on the correct note by sound only?

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I think playing by ear just means you can't read sheet music LOL! I know that if you stuck a sheet in front of me and said and a one and two and...I would just sit there with a blank stare on my face and have no idea on how or where to begin...so I play by ear. On the other hand my cousin is a Harvard grad music major that can't play the piano without the sheet music in front of him LOL! :cool:

 

I can read tab and take the time to go the note for note route, but I prefer to play by ear. I'm aware that I'm using the scales, chords, intervals, etc. while playing. Many players claim they do not use scales while playing by ear, but I think they just don't know they are finding the exact same notes and intervals while playing their chords and leads LOL! :cool:

Take care, Larryz
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Right on Larry!

 

I didn't really relate to reading music until a friend said to play in the key of E. First time I heard music scale terminology while playing guitar.

 

Now, I had taken band in school (trumpet) and I learned how to read music, identify scales, etc. but that went by the wayside when I picked up the guitar. Strangely enough, when I first started on keyboard/piano it was by ear as well. Just learned the black thingys were sharps and flats, and the white ivories were the major notes...and middle c was the second key with no black key between. Easy to play keyboard from there if you know the do re mi sol fa ti do :)

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I can read music and tab, but can't sight read worth a damn. I believe that a rudmentary understanding of how to read music is an important component of musicianship. It enables a player to "speak the language" in order to communicate with other musicians.
If you play cool, you are cool.
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I can read music and tab, but can't sight read worth a damn.

 

I know what you mean Fred. The only time I recall trying to sight-read was when a friend challenged me to play this piece "Tocata and Fugue in D Minor". Damn hard piece to play on a Hammond with both feet and hands but almost impossible on guitar. Now this was several years ago and I just broke it down into small bits, played very, very slowly until I got the feel of the fingering, then sped it up (fingerstyle). Never did get it right, but it was fun back then just trying.

 

I found this clip: http://www.soundclick.com/player/single_player.cfm?songid=12009610&q=hi

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Doc,

 

My first Jazz teacher used to tell me to learn two measures at a time then put four measures together. I had a guitar student whose piano teachet taught the same learning strategy.

If you play cool, you are cool.
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Doc we followed the same paths LOL! I played clarinet in the school bands (and drums in the drum corps). I learned to read the treble clef and it is still useful right above the tabs as the tabs really don't show the note timing (i.e. 1/8 1/4 1/16 half, whole, etc.). We also had an old upright piano in the living room that I learned to play by ear. And like every beginner my favorite key was C. It still is today and I just use the transpose button on my keyboard LOL! I can play any song major/minor in C and hit that transpose button and play the fastest Bb Boogie you ever heard LOL! I like the key of A on the Keys and have taught myself not to cheat and play a few songs without the transpose feature...Like Brother Fred, I'm not to fast at sight reading with tab, until I've been through a song a few times and I'm just recalling what I've memorized with the cheat sheets LOL! :cool:
Take care, Larryz
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I play by ear I guess. Actually I play by the alphabet (proper scale against the changes) I try and stay in key. My whole approach was to learn the alphabets (scales and how to apply them against the chords) and then wing it. I have always been an improvisational player. I never play the tunes the same way twice. If I am in the moment paying attention to the sound that is coming out of my guitar and amp, I play by ear. If I am in practice mode and day dreaming (because practice is boring for me) I play by alphabet. I mostly play major or minor pentatonic scales, or the relative full major or full minor scale, and I switch them out winging it. Of course I have been doing this stuff a very long time, so I also play by experience. I can not sight read nor do I ever pay attention to charts as they all look Greek to me....
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I'm reminded of the old idiom - "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach". I can now restate this from a personal perspective as it relates to guitar picking:

 

"Those who can - do; Those who are too damn old just talk about it". :)

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I tried playing by ear. My ears got sore so i started to use my fingers instead.

Seriously, I was nearsighted for most of the first 50 years of my life. Reading music was out of the question. Most of the music I play isn't in written form to play anyway. Until tab came along. By then I pretty much knew how to play anyways.

FunMachine.

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To address yer OP question, Dr P, when developing a piece of music, as opposed to simply learning/recreating another's performance, I tend to work from an idea of what I want to hear rather than what theory suggests or what my hands wanna do, though sometimes I use those approaches.

 

On the subject of reading or playing by ear however

I think there's a bit of false dichotomy in contrasting the two.

They really both support the other.

 

While I still fall into the category of deciphering rather than sight reading, my understand from scientific studies is that good readers operate in a sort of "most likely nest" manner.

That is, they've played & read so much that they know where the music is going & that helps guide their performance.

 

In a distant way it's perhaps akin to how absolute pitch skills are better on instruments & timbres with which players are more familiar.

 

FWIW, I just sojourned through a period of not playing or listening to music, relying on my own singing to both entertain myself & develop song arrangements.

My pitch recognition & singing accuracy seem to have benefitted from that.

I've long thought that singing along with what one plays is the best way to ingrain pitch recognition but I suppose I forgot how important the practice of singing is.

 

Practice is what takes us anywhere & that goes for reading, too.

The more ya do it the better ya gets.

As when learning to play, start with simpler, familiar material & build from there.

 

 

d=halfnote
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Ok. Starting a solo and choosing the first note based on the key. I know by the sound of the chord progression if it's a major sound or a minor sound. I know by what chords I'm playing which chord is the tonic or key center. I have a few licks I play in any given situation and I have enough experience to make the licks sound different enough each time so I'm not sounding like I'm playing the same licks all night. I'm not really thinking about notes or scales but I'm thinking about phrases and playing the solo with some rhythmic feel and some melodic relevance to the backing. The notes are only for reference. So it's not by ear per se but by experience. Like giving a lecture on a familiar topic. After enough times you can give a 20 minute speech on a familiar topic without reading from a script.

FunMachine.

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I think when people use the phrase "play by ear" they usually mean self-taught, without having learned to read music or "formal instruction in theory, etc.," and just picking it up by hearing things and working them out. Sometimes they do mean the ability to improvise, but I think that needs a different term, since I know plenty of self-taught "by ear" players who can't improvise or play anything they haven't labored to figure out, already, or follow or play with other people on the fly.

 

My parents and stepdad all have Master's Degrees in music and were music teachers... mom is a classical pianist who tears through sheet music like nothing but can't play without it. Dad and stepdad are jazz players who could solo and improvise. I played trumpet in the school band but taught myself guitar by becoming obsessed with rock and pop music (and somehow just knew how to play bass when I got my hands on one). Reading music went by the wayside just because my ear outpaced it and I was having so much fun, but I learned a lot about theory just from learning every song I came across that was cool. My stepdad was critical of my "wasting my time with 'that crap'" when I was a punk and new wave loving teen, but now gives me credit for instinctively being more on top of theory stuff than trained guys he plays with, and being a good improviser (I've also made him appreciate the compositional skills of Elvis Costello, Squeeze, The Police and Joe Jackson, though he still thinks they all need to hire better singers, save for Paul Carrack's turn on "Tempted" by Squeeze).

 

I learned scales and modes when I started, mixed them all up and forgot them, consciously, but they come out when I need them to. Songs have melodies written in a mode, that gives you a starting point, subconsciously... of course, a lot of songs these days don't have much of a melody, so do whatever you want that sounds cool.

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