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How do you learn a song by ear?


HypnoBassMan

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I have never been good at picking out tunes by ear. But as I look back at my early efforts I realize that I usually gave up to soon. After a few minutes I would just tell myself that I would never get it and give up. But that was then...(30 years ago).

 

A few months ago I returned to playing the bass and decided that I was going to give learning by ear a second chance. And... I am having some success. I have quit the stinkin' thinkin'. I'm starting to get it. I'm hanging in there. :cool:

 

My question to those of you who are good at figuring out tunes, how do you do it?

 

:idea: I am finding out that if I really get the lick in my head first then I will be able to find the notes on my bass. I have become a better listener and that is making me a better learner.

 

Does that make sense?

 

I'm also glad that I don't have to pick up the needle and drop it back into the groove in that darn record any more. That was always hard on the vinyl. I suppose that there is software now where you could isolate at particular section of music and just play it over and over until you get it figured out.

 

Well, I am ready to learn from the ear learners. Fire away!

HypnoBassMan

 

The deeper you go the better you feel! (True for bass and hypnosis.)

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I've only learned by ear. Just don't accept anything less than that. It's o.k. to have a fellow musician who knows the line show it too you also. ( especially if your tight for time ), or learn it together, by ear! Pick songs with good lines that are in styles you don't do to well naturally.

 

One major factor in picking up some cool, rythmaticially solid bass lines for myself was learning the entire "Don't smoke in Bed" album from Holly Cole. That guy just lays it down!

 

But really, throw on the radio, or a directory full of MP3's and just play along. Put yourself under some pressure to do it, and you probably will.

Check out my work in progress.
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Chewstermaniac and Others,

 

So when you are jamming along with your stereo, do you just try to find each note as you are playing along with the tunes? Or, do you try to get the groove/lick in your head and then find it on the bass? Or, do you bother to figure out what key it is in and use that as a guide when you are trying to find the notes?

 

I guess I am looking for some even more basic advice.

 

Thanks again!

HypnoBassMan

 

The deeper you go the better you feel! (True for bass and hypnosis.)

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Hypno:

 

Some ear training tips.

 

Start easy. Sit back to back with a fellow musician. Have them play a note on another instrument. ( bass, guitar, piano, sax, whatever they play ). Play that note back. Untill you get it right EVERY time. When that is easy, have them play simple, musical phrases. ( arpeggios, root, fith, octave, ect ). play it back. Get it right EVERY time.

 

Get more complex, ad lib from here.

 

Do this untill you can play back all of what they throw at you. ( within reason of course, lets not do any "flight of bumble bee" stuff, mmkay? )

 

When you get through that ( and you should keep this up...its excellent practice..) start playing with the radio, or whatever you prefer.

 

Take a song apart peice at a time....intro....learn it as played.....verse...learn it as played...play em together.....learn chorus as played....play all 3 togeter....ect....

 

Hope that helps!

Check out my work in progress.
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Bass Brutha Hypno,

 

I get the groove/lick in my head first and then one of two things happens:

 

1) I either listen to the recording again and nail one of the notes (not always the first one!), then find the rest by building around that note based on the groove/lick/figure in my head.

 

2) I just figure out the line based on what's in my head, and don't worry about what key I'm in. If I want to match the recording I'll give it a listen and transpose what I've figured out into the "right" key.

 

In the end, I return to the recording to tweak places where I might have missed a note or been off a little -- but the more carefully I listen at the beginning, the closer I am when I re-check at the end.

 

If I were more ambitious, I would be an even more active listener and try to identify intervals (minor 3rd, tri-tone, octave, fifth, etc.) in my head before grinding it out with my fingers on the bass (maybe even take a stab at writing it out first to test myself!). That would take my listening skills up a notch and force me to think a little more theoretically also about what I'm learning, including chord progressions (minor to major, etc.).

 

Peace.

--sweets

spreadluv

 

Fanboy? Why, yes! Nordstrand Pickups and Guitars.

Messiaen knew how to parlay the funk.

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It's a progressive enterprise. The main thing is to KEEP DOING IT. I'm not sure every person who is good at it takes the same tack. In fact, I'm sure my strategy changes for different songs and evolves or jumps back and forth.

 

Some theory might be useful because it then suggests what some of the harder to hear notes might be. Usually I am not only learning the bass line when I play a cut, but also the context - I actually learn pretty much what other parts are all about as well.

 

Got to watch out not to let one's own tendencies and understanding of theory rule out what is actually on the tracks though. Because sometimes the persons on the recordings are operating from a different premise ; }

.
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Originally posted by chewstermaniac:

Hypno:

 

Some ear training tips.

 

Start easy. Sit back to back with a fellow musician. Have them play a note on another instrument. ( bass, guitar, piano, sax, whatever they play ). Play that note back. Untill you get it right EVERY time. When that is easy, have them play simple, musical phrases. ( arpeggios, root, fith, octave, ect ). play it back. Get it right EVERY time.

 

This is pretty good advice. Back when I was taking lessons in high school, my teacher would spend about 5-10 minutes during the lesson doing ear training exercises with me. He would call a key, and then play a short phrase on the piano. I would then have to play back that phrase (ears only, no peeking!). My bass teacher always said, "Wait until you're playing with your band and the guitarist blazes off a riff and then you rip the same one right after him. You'll drop his jaw!" Those were encouraging and inspirational words, and I managed to pull it off a couple of times. (I certainly blew it a couple of times too!)

 

When I jam with a couple of my boyz, we often don't call out keys or songs and whoever is feeling the groove starts laying it out. We come in and lock in. It's helped my listening immensely.

 

A couple of cool examples:

1) I saw Metallica touring for the black album back in 1991 or so. At one point during the show, the guitarist, James Hetfield, rises out of the stage behind a drum kit. Drummer Lars Ulrich lays down a kickin' beat and James mimics it. Then he does the same for Lars. They go back and forth a few times, until Lars finally smokes him and blows into a serious solo. Audience loved it.

 

2) Hip-hop group the Roots, both live and on studio albums, will often have the vocalist(s) sing a line which then one of the instrumentalists will have to play back (keys, bass, drums, occasionally horns). Again, it really lights up the audience.

 

3) I've certainly heard this done also when I've gone to catch live jazz in the clubs, when the players snatch pieces from each others' solos or fills.

 

Peace.

spreadluv

 

Fanboy? Why, yes! Nordstrand Pickups and Guitars.

Messiaen knew how to parlay the funk.

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I usually figure out the chords first, sitting at the piano.

 

Once you know the chords, the notes are a lot more obvious.

 

If you don't play piano, just use your bass, figure out the key first. Than figure out where the song changes chords.

 

Use trial and error to find the next chord.

 

Then start working on the bass line. I don't worry about getting it perfect the first time, just getting something that sounds close.

 

Now I know the song well enough to play it. Then I go back and compare my version to the original and fix the details.

 

Sometimes I never make it to my bass, I just sit at the piano and write down the bass line.

 

How did I learn how to do all this? Many hours of sitting with records. There was one year when I sat in my room and played along with the radio all day long, every day. A couple of hours after hearing a song it would come back on again and I'd get a second chance.

 

The two years of ear training classes (first two years of music school) didn't hurt either.

 

See if your local community college has a class called ear training or basic musicianship.

 

My cd player and cassette decks both have memory functions and I can play a section over and over. There also are tape recorders and software available that will slow the music down for you without changing the pitch.

 

The only way to get better it to stick to it, no matter how painful it is. You will get better.

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I bassically (yes, intended) do what everyone else has said, to some degree. Stuff like 311 is pretty easy for me, because I've been listening to them for years. Sting/Police is some pretty good stuff for the same reason.

 

But really, if I know what the song sounds like in my head, I'll sit there for a few minutes and try to play it back. I did this successfully with a Phish song I'm familiar with..you might know "Down with Disease", or maybe not. It's a pretty simple song, and I heard it before school, and when I got back home I sat there and played it back, to some degree.

 

I just play it and play it until I develop my own version of it, and one that usually sounds pretty good. I was at a party once, and this other guy picked up another bass and started playing this really phat groove on it, and I was on the other side of the room listening, and for a while I was playing it back. My back was turned to him, too! I saw exactly nothing of what he was doing, but I, sitting on my amp at this point, could hear and feel what I was playing, and it resembled what he was playing.

 

But basically, you just gotta follow all the advice of the old guys out here, with good experience. I'm just a mimicker of what should be solid bass playing, so don't mind me, really. But anywho, just try jamming to the radio (on songs you're familiar with and those with which you are unfamiliar), and you will develop a good keen sense of ear-playing.

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Hypno: the only way to be a good ear player is to hear intervals. A little theory can be very helpful. You should at least know the number system.It assigns numbers 1-8 to the notes of the major scale. In the C major scale C is 1, D 2, & so on up to octave C-8. You may know all this but I can't assume.

Yhis helps the ear by putting a number to a sound. Take a 12 bar blues; every blues goes to the 4 chord on the fifth measure.You know that sound.When you relate the sound of that interval to "up a fourth" it's easier to recognise.

That was about a chord change.(chords are usually written with roman numerals, I-IV. arabic for individual notes). Notes in a bassline refer the same way.The most simple, common and useful bass line is the 1-5 pattern(C-G inkey of C).YOU know that sound.If you think intervals you will hear it faster, in any key -a 1-5 always sounds like a 1-5.

Chord theory can really help. Most basslines use just the notes of the chord,so the chord is C7 the notes are likely C,E,G,(1 3 5) possibly Bb (flat 7).but you gotta know a major triad is 1 3 5.When you internalise this you can hear more and more complex intervals.

There are great players who don't know any theory,But they certainly do the same thing intuitively. Knowing is better, it facilitates communication too. hope this is helpful.

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My latest endeavor is to learn the sax solo from Goodbye Porkpie Hat from the Mingus CD. What works for me is learning it sections at a time. My brain gets fried if trying to spend to much time at one sitting. I find that I'm real fresh when I first sit down and am able to add a little more each time. As others have stated here, just keep at it and you should continue to get better.

 

Wally

I have basses to play, places to be and good music to make!
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I was going to say what Fred W said. If I didn't have scales or chords/arpeggios down and a good working knowledge of intervals my ear would be in far worse shape. I have to have something to judge/hear/relate it to. Through practicing scales and arpeggios I can hear what a whole step or half step sounds like; or a 3rd. 6th, etc.. If I'm trying to find a chord I'll try out what I think may be the root/5th. Then I know it's got to be either a major or minor 3rd defining the chord quality. I test to see which fits - major or minor 3rd. Then I test for the 7th to see whether it's flatted or not telling me whether it's dominant. Of course I don't have to do this any more because I can now just hear it, but I used to.

 

I can quickly kind of determine what the key is, or at least a round about, related key. Then I can tell, by deductive reasoning, what is inside or outside for that scale/chord, and I can quickly predict what the notes are. Any relative pitch has a system whether the musician is conscious of it or not. After a while you can hear whether someone is playing a chord, 1-3-5-7-9 type thing. It all comes with practice and experience. But a little knowledge goes an awful long way in helping the ear along.

All the best,

 

Henry Robinett

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When I was in music school, learning by ear was a standard part of the cirriculum. We added one facet.... we wrote what we heard on staff paper. It's called transcribing, and it develops ear skills AND writing skills faster than doing either by itself. Try it - you'll be very pleasantly surprised :)

I used to think I was Libertarian. Until I saw their platform; now I know I'm no more Libertarian than I am RepubliCrat or neoCON or Liberal or Socialist.

 

This ain't no track meet; this is football.

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You've got lots of good tips here already so I'll only comment on those a bit.

The best idea I'd offer is like chewstermaniac's: start with simple things & try to recognize those; it will be boring music but that's how you'll catch onto recognizing the simpler intervals.

 

With all respect, the advice about theory & learning "the number system" of identifying intervals is good but you can't learn to recognize pitches that way. It's a way of knowing how the notes relate after you know what they are ["cart before the horse"]

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The pause button is your friend, my friend. :D

 

The best advice I can give is sing it. Sing it often...whether you hate the sound of your own voice or not...singing helps you understand the melodic contour of the phrase you're trying to learn.

 

The beauty of it is...music often uses the same sets of conventions (scalar lines, famliar progressions, often-used pentatonic patterns), so the more music you learn, the easier time you'll have learning other records. Just don't give up!

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re George C: Au contraire! Without perfect pitch you can't identify the pitch of a solitary tone. Most musicians, myself included, don't have perfect pitch. What we do have, in varying levels is relative pitch. Relative to what? One pitch's relationship to another, their interval. At it's simplest, two notes in sequence- higher, lower or the same?

What key is a song in? This should be basic to anyone who wants to be an ear player. Not everyone can.You need some degree of relative pitch to play anything by ear.

As far as the number system, if you can sing do re mi you can start learning theory. The major scale is pretty basic, I think everyone born with musical ability is innately familiar with it.

I truly believe the earlier one learns to hear and think in intervals, the better. Just my humble flagrant opinion.

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Many good suggestions. Allow me to add one item that I've needed. Don't be afraid to write something down. Not notation, but structural notes.

 

I had to learn a friends orginal recently, and wrote out what I perceived as the root for each change. The structure wasn't simple (verse/refrain/bridge), but had patterns. I also wrote in the cuts when we'd stop. I didn't write out the riff or part I was playing. What I wrote was just enough to keep me from getting lost. sort of similar to a chord chart, only I didn't have time to figure it out.

 

Tom

www.stoneflyrocks.com

Acoustic Color

 

Be practical as well as generous in your ideals. Keep your eyes on the stars and keep your feet on the ground. - Theodore Roosevelt

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Originally posted by george costanza:

With all respect, the advice about theory & learning "the number system" of identifying intervals is good but you can't learn to recognize pitches that way. It's a way of knowing how the notes relate after you know what they are ["cart before the horse"]

Absolutely you can learn to identify pitches that way. Pitch is related to something, like another pitch. The distance between those pitches gives us an interval which can be recognized relatively. With training, if given a pitch you can get all the other pitches accurately, as long as you know what to relate it against. It is against the major/minor scale.

All the best,

 

Henry Robinett

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Man! I have to print all of this out. You guys are great! :eek:

 

I think I can.

I think I can.

I know I can.

I know I can!

 

Seriously. This forum is better than any magazine or book on bass.

 

I just went downstairs and got on my bass. I found the simplest song I could find, U2's With or Without You. I was thinking that this might be a good song to learn because it is all eigth notes, and root notes to boot. At least that is what I thought.

 

Well, I just went down and figured it out and WITHOUT TAB!!! Just in case you are wondering it goes D/// A/// B/// G/// over and over again through the whole song. I don't know if the the chords are major, minor or 7ths. I'm just glad that I did it. Did I mention that I didn't use TAB? I didn't even peek. :D

 

With that success under my belt, I started working on one of my favorite songs and I'm making some headway! In case you are wondering, it was Popa Chubby's, Sweet Goddess of Love and Beer. Popa is good at taking the blues and making it rock, which is my favorite recipe for a good song. :idea: How about some recommendations of some simple songs to learn from the classic rock era?

HypnoBassMan

 

The deeper you go the better you feel! (True for bass and hypnosis.)

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Within Without You is a great first bassline to figure out because it deals with two very common intervals: the perfect 5th and the major 3rd.

 

Work on other stuff that's in a similar vein (like the Cranberries' "Zombie" for example). Work your way up from there.

 

Start simple...and gradually increase the difficulty of material you choose to learn.

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Congrats !! Progress is good !!

 

I agree you found a good place to start, but don't stop yet !! Now that you know the roots, plunk around until you figure out the chords (this is sometimes more difficult because of voicings and other noise) - at least you should be able to know whether it's major or minor. In that song, you won't use the knowledge much to build a bass part, but it's a clear enough song to expand your ear training. That way when you get to something more difficult, you'll be ready (try some Beatles like "I'm Only Sleeping").

 

Tom

www.stoneflyrocks.com

Acoustic Color

 

Be practical as well as generous in your ideals. Keep your eyes on the stars and keep your feet on the ground. - Theodore Roosevelt

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Well, I've had times when I've needed to learn forty or fifty songs in a few weeks. Here's my method: first, get the very best quality copy of the song you can find. (Moral issues aside, Napster was a godsend when you need copies of 40 songs) Listen to it a time or two, then start at the beginning by just writing down "intro riff, 4 times" for example. Then write the words to the first verse out, then the chorus, then the next verse, etc, until you have all of them, in order. Con't cheat and write "repeat chorus". Now in between verses or choruses there might be another riff, or maybe a bridge thrown in--write that down too. What I'm getting at, by the time you're done you'll have the whole song structure written out for you--and the words, which believe it or not, can be a big help because it gives you a cue, are you on the first verse, or the third??? is the bridge coming up??

 

Then I dig out an acoustic six string guitar. Tune the guitar standard first and try strumming a few chords as the song plays, to see if the song has been recorded in standard pitch. If not, try tuning down a little, hopefully the open E string will soon match the recording. Now I'm in tune with the recording. I then figure out the rhythym part, just basic guitar chords, major or minor mostly, maybe a 7th but nothing elaborate. I'm after root notes here.

 

This is where having the song structure laid out in front of me helps. A lot of times there will be only two or three basic patterns that are repeated throughout the song at various points. Maybe even the same pattern will be played up a string. So once you get a rough idea of the whole song, then start trying to fill in the missing gaps. A good stereo really helps!! Don't crank it too loud though, but paly so you can pick the notes on the acoustic guitar. (It's easier for my ear to match notes with the guitar before dropping back to the bass)

 

Anyhow that's my way. Hope that helps. Good luck.

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Although there are exceptions, most songs follow patterns. These patterns help you to eliminate some note choices.

 

THE KEY

 

The first thing to consider is the key of the song. NOTE: This method is not applicable to Korn and other atonal music, because that music is not based around a key center.

 

The key consists of two things, a root note and a scale. The root note is usually the note that the bass player plays at the end of the song. Again, there are exceptions. They key could change in the middle of the song, for instance, but MOST of the time if you can determine what the LAST note is, that's your root note for the whole song.

 

Now that you have the root note, determine what main scale is used. Let's say, for example that your root note is A. Some common keys would be A major, with sounds happy, optimistic, and fun. Think "Walk Of Life" by Dire Straights.

 

A B C# D E F# G# A etc.

 

Play these notes while the song is playing. If they blend in well, especially the C#, it's probably a song in the key of A major.

 

Another possibility is the natural minor:

 

A B C D E F G A etc.

 

This has a sad, pensive sound.

 

Another common one is A dorian:

 

A B C D E F# G A etc.

 

The dorian has kind of a sly, sexy sound. Again, play along with the notes, especially the C and the F# and see if they fit the mood of the song.

 

Now that you know the key, you'll find that most of the notes in the song agree with the scale. This narrows down the notes that you have to consider most of the time from twelve to seven. However, there WILL be exceptions. Even though A natural minor has a G natural in it, the dominant E chord will be played often, and that chord has a G# as its third.

 

ROCK CHORDS

 

Another exception typical in rock music is the use of several chords from outside of the scale. A song in the key of A may have C, F, and G chords in it, and these chords all contain notes that are not found in the A major scale. The chords that most likely show up under these circumstances are the bIII, bVI, and bVII chords - I'm using the letter "b" in place of the "flat" symbol.

 

Consider the A scale:

 

A B C# D E F# G# A

 

Which scale tone does a C chord start on? C doesn't exist in the A major scale, but it's one half-step lower than the C#, the third scale degree, so we refer to the C chord as a bIII chord because it's build on the note that's a half-step flat from the third (C#). Similarly, F is the bVI chord and G is the bVII chord in the key of A. Note that these chords will be different in every key, but the bIII, bVI, and bVII are common in many rock songs.

 

As others have stated, playing by ear is a skill that you develop over time. You'll learn to recognize these extra-scalar situations as you gain ear-training experience.

 

A CASE OF MISTAKEN IDENTITY

 

Let's look at that A major scale one more time:

 

A B C# D E F# G# A

 

What if we used all of the same notes but moved the starting point to F# instead of A:

 

F# G# A B C# D E F#

 

What scale is this? If you guessed F# natural minor, you're correct. A minor scale that has all of the same notes as a major scale is called the "relative minor" of that major scale. So, F#m is the relative minor of A major.

 

How does this help us? Well, just because the notes of A major fit the song, it COULD be in F# minor. You'll need to consider the overall attitude of the song in order to make a judgement. To complicate matters, some songs move back and forth between their major and relative minor keys.

 

COMMON CHORD PATTERNS

 

The next patten is that most songs use chords based on the first, the fourth, and the fifth notes of the scale. In the key of A, these chords are

 

A major: A C# E

D major D F# G

E major: E G# B

 

Figure out what the I, IV, an V chords are in the key that you've matched to your song and look for the notes of those chords to show up in the bass line as indicators of what's happening harmonically at any moment in the song.

 

NOTE: The "one" chord is called the "tonic." the "four" chord is called the "subdominant," and the "five" chord is called the "dominant."

 

THE CIRCLE OF FIFTHS

 

Finally, some songs follow a rule called the circle of fifths for at least part of their chord progressions. This rule says that a chord is followed naturally by a chord that starts on a root note that's five notes lower on the scale. Here's an example to clarify this.

 

If you're in the key of A major and the current chord is F#m, the root note of that chord is F#. The next chord in a circle of fifths progression would start on the note a fifth lower than F#. What is that note? Look at the A major scale.

 

A B C# D E F# G# A

 

Counting down five notes (inclusive) from F#, we have

 

F# E D C# B

 

The next chord would start on B. Probably it would use scale tones of B D and F# to make a B minor chord. Or it could raise the D to a D# and make a B major chord.

 

Songs that make extensive use of the circle of fifths progressions:

 

- Fly Me To The Moon

- Autumn Leaves

- All My Lovin' (Beatles)

 

Keep in mind that MOST songs use a SECTION of the circle of fifths, as when you go from the one (I) chord to the four (IV) chord as mentioned above, or from the five (V) chord back down to the one (I) chord.

 

SUMMARY

 

Hopefully, one or more of these tricks will help you narrow down the note selections the next time you try to learn a song by ear, or even if you have to play a song live that you don't know well (or at all - the worst onstage experience I can think of). Instead of hunting and pecking all over the neck, narrow the song down to a key, think about the primary scale, keep common chords like the tonic, the subdominant, and the dominant in mind, consider extra-tonal rock chord possibilities, and consider whether the circle of fifths might be employed. Good luck!!

The Black Knight always triumphs!

 

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Thanks for distilling the brunt of it down, Dan. I work all this stuff internally and take it for granted, but I'm not so disciplined as to present such an overview. Though I've been giving a fair number of examples here and there.

 

I would differ on your passing analysis of Korn though - that's not atonal - that's badtonal - you might be giving true atonal music a big crimp there ; }

.
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I'm like Greenboy in that I take it all for granted, and can't really break it down as to how I do it, or learned to do it in the first place. Looking at these posts reminds me I did a little of this here, a little of that there, and all are great suggestions for you.

 

So all I can offer is encouragement in that as you keep learning by ear, using whatever methods suit you best, one day you'll be able to just listen to a song and have about 95 percent of it figured out in your head on the first or second listen. Then sit with it and fine tune it.

 

Keep on keepin' on!

Bassplayers aren't paid to play fast, they're paid to listen fast.
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Wow, Dan South, that's quite a post. Really brought me back in time to my "Intro to Music Theory" class! How long did it take you to type all that out, and so succinctly too (and with boldfaced headers to boot!)? Drop some science, brother! :thu::D

 

Really, though, those are some great tips and you reminded me why my high school bass teacher used "Autumn Leaves" as one of the first tunes for me to learn!

spreadluv

 

Fanboy? Why, yes! Nordstrand Pickups and Guitars.

Messiaen knew how to parlay the funk.

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Originally posted by Sweet Willie:

Wow, Dan South, that's quite a post. Really brought me back in time to my "Intro to Music Theory" class! How long did it take you to type all that out, and so succinctly too (and with boldfaced headers to boot!)? Drop some science, brother! :thu::D

Thanks! :)

 

How long? About 25 minutes. I just started typing and one idea led to another. I wish I could have included notation, though. Describing scales and chords verbally takes up way too much space.

 

Really, though, those are some great tips and you reminded me why my high school bass teacher used "Autumn Leaves" as one of the first tunes for me to learn!
Really?? That was the first jazz tune that MY teacher introduced me to. Must be a tradition or something. :D

The Black Knight always triumphs!

 

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