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  1. #1

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    In my observation, there is a massive difference between ear training and playing by ear. I got acclimated with ear training in 2009 as a college student. From 2009 to 2017, I can say what I was mainly doing was ear training (using ear training softwares, apps, Ear Master, etc.) I can look back at those years doing only ear training - I may be flawless at identifying intervals or whatever, but when it comes to identifying at least something with real music, I basically suck at it.

    However during those years, I encountered a lot of play by ear musicians who are savant with relative pitch. I talked to these people, asked them questions, and they are my source of inspiration. Between 2013 to 2017, I already know that playing by ear is the way to go. During this time period, I began transcribing melodies, but did not really do it in earnest. Even though I was transcribing melodies, I would chicken out of the idea of transcribing chords, because I was basically stupid during that time.

    In the spring of 2018, the keyboardist and his son, who is the bass player, left our church. I won’t get into detail, why they left. But our pastor was forced to play piano and there was a vacancy spot for a new bass player. Fortunately, our pastor can play by ear already and has outstanding piano accompanying abilities. Other young people in the church can play guitar, but I was the only one who has a background with lead guitar. I was the only one who can navigate the fret-board of the bass and who is flexible at an event of a key change of a song. This is how I ended up as a bass player in the church.

    When I first played bass for the church. The pastor would email me the songs for Sunday. He didn’t provide me with any chord charts, only Youtube videos. I did not cheat myself checking on the internet (Ultimate-Guitar.com) the chords of the songs. The chords on the internet: the free ones are inaccurate and the good ones you have to pay. This is how I was forced to play by ear. Long story short: It was painstakingly slow at first, but a year later until today, I got faster at it. It came to a point where the songs for the church became easy, and I began exploring music with more complex and sophisticated chord progressions. Today - during weekdays, I learn a tune with difficult changes and the songs for Sunday, becomes chicken. It was a matter of time until I began transcribing melodies by earnest. Today I have transcribed at least a melody for 82 consecutive days. I watched a guy in Youtube, by the name of Julian Bradley, where he transcribed various melodies for 6 months on the key of C Minor without missing a day, and he was able to get a breakthrough with melody recognition. That’s what I am trying to achieve here.

    The point of bringing that story up: For 8 years, I did mainly ear training. My ears did not improve. I felt I was alien and distant from real music. Between May 2018 to the present day October 2019, I played by ear through transcribing and playing along with recordings, pertaining to relative pitch. What I accomplished within 18 months, and the vocabulary of melodic and harmonic patterns that I have amassed, there would be times where I listen to the radio on the car or idle music on TV, where I recognize the chord progressions of the song. On rare occasions, I am able to recognize melodic patterns. I am able to recognize more patterns in music with playing by ear, than doing ear training only.


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  3. #2
    Good post, Jason.

  4. #3

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jason Sioco
    In my observation, there is a massive difference between ear training and playing by ear. I got acclimated with ear training in 2009 as a college student. From 2009 to 2017, I can say what I was mainly doing was ear training (using ear training softwares, apps, Ear Master, etc.) I can look back at those years doing only ear training - I may be flawless at identifying intervals or whatever, but when it comes to identifying at least something with real music, I basically suck at it.

    However during those years, I encountered a lot of play by ear musicians who are savant with relative pitch. I talked to these people, asked them questions, and they are my source of inspiration. Between 2013 to 2017, I already know that playing by ear is the way to go. During this time period, I began transcribing melodies, but did not really do it in earnest. Even though I was transcribing melodies, I would chicken out of the idea of transcribing chords, because I was basically stupid during that time.

    In the spring of 2018, the keyboardist and his son, who is the bass player, left our church. I won’t get into detail, why they left. But our pastor was forced to play piano and there was a vacancy spot for a new bass player. Fortunately, our pastor can play by ear already and has outstanding piano accompanying abilities. Other young people in the church can play guitar, but I was the only one who has a background with lead guitar. I was the only one who can navigate the fret-board of the bass and who is flexible at an event of a key change of a song. This is how I ended up as a bass player in the church.

    When I first played bass for the church. The pastor would email me the songs for Sunday. He didn’t provide me with any chord charts, only Youtube videos. I did not cheat myself checking on the internet (Ultimate-Guitar.com) the chords of the songs. The chords on the internet: the free ones are inaccurate and the good ones you have to pay. This is how I was forced to play by ear. Long story short: It was painstakingly slow at first, but a year later until today, I got faster at it. It came to a point where the songs for the church became easy, and I began exploring music with more complex and sophisticated chord progressions. Today - during weekdays, I learn a tune with difficult changes and the songs for Sunday, becomes chicken. It was a matter of time until I began transcribing melodies by earnest. Today I have transcribed at least a melody for 82 consecutive days. I watched a guy in Youtube, by the name of Julian Bradley, where he transcribed various melodies for 6 months on the key of C Minor without missing a day, and he was able to get a breakthrough with melody recognition. That’s what I am trying to achieve here.

    The point of bringing that story up: For 8 years, I did mainly ear training. My ears did not improve. I felt I was alien and distant from real music. Between May 2018 to the present day October 2019, I played by ear through transcribing and playing along with recordings, pertaining to relative pitch. What I accomplished within 18 months, and the vocabulary of melodic and harmonic patterns that I have amassed, there would be times where I listen to the radio on the car or idle music on TV, where I recognize the chord progressions of the song. On rare occasions, I am able to recognize melodic patterns. I am able to recognize more patterns in music with playing by ear, than doing ear training only.

    Excellent topic, excellent post.

    I used Ear Master for quite a while. My impression is that it addressed the ability to put a name on a sound. And, it did help me with that.

    Consider, for example, a non-musician singing Happy Birthday. Just about everybody can hit the right pitches. But, only a few people could name the intervals. Ear Master, it seems to me, helps with the naming part, but maybe not with the ability to hear/sing the tune.

    Prior to using Ear Master, I could imitate, on the guitar, a line if someone played it. I could do so, even though I'd have no idea what the names of the notes were. It went from sound to fingers -- without the linguistic part of my brain being involved. After Ear Master, I could name the notes a bit easier, but, it's still more efficient if I imagine playing it and think about where my mental-fingers went.

    I'd say that Ear Master didn't do much of anything for my ability to play by ear. So now I'm working on it by forcing myself to play tunes I know in random keys. I'll report back in case this works.

  5. #4

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    Without knowledge ear training is almost useless. It has little context. With a lot of training, intensive drilling of scales, chords, arpeggios and a ton of memorizing tunes, ear training is golden. The two go hand in hand. Both are necessary. One can’t be the short cut for the other.

    My two cents.


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  6. #5

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    So you've given up on perfect pitch?

  7. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Lobomov
    So you've given up on perfect pitch?
    Why do you always say that?! My dad is currently fixing something on the laundry room. So the noise levels at our home is high right now. I have zero chances of DVR'ing my perfect pitch practices lately. But I have now amassed 175 chord voicings by absolute name, closing in on 200. My perfect pitch operations, still going strong.

    But If I don't get Perfect Pitch, having at least Relative Pitch is mighty enough.

  8. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Jason Sioco
    I watched a guy in Youtube, by the name of Julian Bradley, where he transcribed various melodies for 6 months on the key of C Minor without missing a day, and he was able to get a breakthrough with melody recognition. That’s what I am trying to achieve here.
    Spent some time watching some of his videos on this 4-HR car trip today after reading your post, and I've gotta say it's pretty compelling. I think he's onto something with the single key concept. Basically, it combines traditional ear training and traditional "play by ear without theory" approaches in a pretty simple way.

    Ear training approaches of solfegio, numbers, letter names, Roman numerals etc ....They're all about learning to hear "place" , about being able to put a name on something which you basically already "know" or are at least are learning. When you can abstract things to language , you can transpose it , write it down , communicate with others and basically use it in more robust ways.

    The "problem" inherent in these traditional methods - at least the way it's always argued about among musicians and here on the forum - is the "lost time" learning the basic language /abstraction of the numbers /letter names etc. etc. The single key approach basically does the same thing without learning a new language such as solfeggio. The notes of the single key become your solfeggio, and at a basic level, it doesn't even assume that you HAVE to be thinking letter names/syllables necessarily. You probably want to and probably WOULD as a result anyway, regardless of where you start.

    I'd have trouble arguing against a few really compelling ideas he lays out : the first is that MOST of your work in ear training/ learning to play by ear/transcribing should be done AWAY from the instrument , while you're going about your day, thinking about listening to music. You should be able to have basic ideas about what things are and then go to your instrument the end of the day and test them out.

    The second one, related to this , is the idea that it basically doesn't MATTER what key you're thinking in if you're away from your instrument anyway. Again, you'd get exactly the same result if you first learn solfeggio as an abstraction, wrote it down as solfeggio away from your instrument , and THEN "transposed" it to notation in whatever key. It's exactly the same as writing it down in C-major and transposing later when you find out the "right" key.

    The third one - which he only alluded to in the videos I watched but which may be the most compelling - is that, with this method, it basically doesn't MATTER how many things you have going on at once... bassline , chords, melody etc. At this level, I'd think the abstractions break down a little more.

    Anyway,I need to get out of this car I guess. Ha.
    Last edited by matt.guitarteacher; 10-26-2019 at 10:20 PM.

  9. #8

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    So when you say you transcribing melodies, you mean you write them down as a music dictation thing? Or you play them back on the instrument as you hear it?

    I always been decent with copying the melodies on the spot on the guitar at least, but if I have to do dictation it takes a while.

  10. #9

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    My ear training has always been to play all the melodies that were planted in my musical memory in my lifetime. If you can't pick up your guitar and whip out those melodies in any key, you ain't gonna do very well with jazz.

    If the melody is in your memory and you can't facilitate it on guitar, get to work.

  11. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by cosmic gumbo
    My ear training has always been to play all the melodies that were planted in my musical memory in my lifetime. If you can't pick up your guitar and whip out those melodies in any key, you ain't gonna do very well with jazz.

    If the melody is in your memory and you can't facilitate it on guitar, get to work.
    Yea, that's what I do, and most times no problem with dat.

    But that ear training class in college, the music dictation thing, that was nightmare for me. It got better with time, but honestly, I have to really force myself to practice it.

    Chord progressions though, that really got better since I started doing jazz in earnest.

  12. #11

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    Thx for bringing this up, for years it was not clear to me there is a difference.
    Then I started to recognize that difference is the instrument involved. Playing by ear mostly not involves knowing anything just feeling how to execute a melody (or chord progression) on the instrument. It is more like knowing how to bicycle, you can not explain and analyze it, especially in the case in melody.

    As opposite ear training focuses to explain how to know and analyze what you hear. Including intervals steps to to reach a particular note within a scale, etc.

    My conclusion was a few years ago, although ear training is inevitable, it will not automatically lead to the ability to play by ear. To improve ability by play by ear, it is most efficient to practice playing by ear (surprise) which is a distinct thing by its own.

  13. #12

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    You should read Edwin Gordon

  14. #13

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    Quote Originally Posted by matt.guitarteacher

    The second one, related to this , is the idea that it basically doesn't MATTER what key you're thinking in if you're away from your instrument anyway.
    I see a weak point in the whole concept, where the ear training and all ear training method became l’art pour l’art: omitting and ignoring the instrument. There is no need for a particular musician to have instrument independent ear. I mean you obviously should hear anything correctly played on other instruments, but there is no need to internalize, visualize, imagine, and use any other system than your instrument for understanding and the expressing. Imagining everything in C is not better than solfage, just using different words, not a big benefit, the instrument still missing from the picture. We should imagine it in our fretboard, in any strings including horizontal, vertical, and using the upper 4 strings and also the lower 4 strings, and know the anomaly of the tuning of the B string by instinct.

    If you are away from your instrument, still you can always imagine you are playing on your instrument, and visualize it in your mind and feel and internally see your hand on the fretboard and internally hear the sound. No need any artificial abstraction level which do not involves your instrument.

    We can not miss the ultimate goal, which is understanding a particular music language, and have internal thoughts on that language and capable to execute our thoughts on our instrument.

    Any method which ignores the instrument, at best is for theoretic purpose or musician communication purpose. If you develop such a skill, you still miss the half of the story, how to express a musical thought and yourself in your instrument.

    All of the above is about ear training and play by ear as the OP. Of course there is a need to communicate with other musicians, when you can not draw a fretboard diagram, instead you must use note names, standard notation, interval names, chord names.
    Last edited by Gabor; 10-27-2019 at 06:34 AM.

  15. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by Gabor
    I see a weak point in the whole concept, where the ear training and all ear training method became l’art pour l’art: omitting and ignoring the instrument. There is no need for a particular musician to have instrument independent ear. I mean you obviously should hear anything correctly played on other instruments, but there is no need to internalize, visualize, imagine, and use any other system than your instrument for understanding and the expressing. Imagining everything in C is not better than solfage, just using different words, not a big benefit, the instrument still missing from the picture. We should imagine it in our fretboard, in any strings including horizontal, vertical, and using the upper 4 strings and also the lower 4 strings, and know the anomaly of the tuning of the B string by instinct.

    If you are away from your instrument, still you can always imagine you are playing on your instrument, and visualize it in your mind and feel and internally see your hand on the fretboard and internally hear the sound. No need any artificial abstraction level which do not involves your instrument.

    We can not miss the ultimate goal, which is understanding a particular music language, and have internal thoughts on that language and capable to execute our thoughts on our instrument.

    Any method which ignores the instrument, at best is for theoretic purpose or musician communication purpose. If you develop such a skill, you still miss the half of the story, how to express a musical thought and yourself in your instrument.
    No. This assumes that you're doing a one-to-one REPLACEMENT of would-be "time on the instrument" with instrument-free, ear-training time... sitting in a chair at home, thinking, with the instrument in the corner. That's not what he was talking about in his videos.

    He was talking about listening to songs throughout the day....making basic assumptions about what the melodic and chord patterns might be in the songs....working them out by ear... and then, basically just checking his work on the instrument when he got home, learning from mistakes etc.

    This isn't a REPLACEMENT of instrument-time. It's a reclamation of less-used, INSTRUMENT-AWAY time. It's actually about being MORE connected to the instrument, in "playing it" while away.

  16. #15

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    My goal was to be able to improvise all by ear whatever the chords and modulations were there in the tune.
    I started writing some apps that throw random chords and I had to react and change on the fly. That took a year to get well enough...
    ..well enough to suck at playing improvised solos like that with backing tracks.
    I thought it would be so simple because the harmony repeats itself all the time. So get prepared, get comfy and I could just blast through effortlessly. But it was not like that at all.
    It's just so much different with real tunes that again I needed a lot of time to get them sounding alright. Sometimes it goes nicely now and I do appreciate the eons spent doing those ear training exercises. Btw that time I found no one doing the same thing and didn't even know what to expect or how much time it would take.

    Currently I'm doing some other ear training (intervals/chords by ear) as bonus and keep my expectations low. There I also see that the exercise is one thing but are so distant from actual playing. I can sense the positive effect but some damn exercise is never enough by itself. They don't give the mastery over music without actually really playing most of the time.

  17. #16

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    Oh, one observation that might not be obvious when trying to play by ear solo or melodies.
    When doing dry practice runs (technical scales, patterns and ear training) I noticed after a good while that those larger intervals get waaaaaay less attention. 2nds and 3rds get used in most routines and larger than 3rds get somewhat overlooked. I combined a lot of stuff, mostly are moving 2nd or 3rd intervals. So those just get more "heat" by default. Even if playing 4ths and 6ths in some way, they were always moving around in 2nds or 3rds. Hence playing tunes that tend to jump around a bit more - they are more difficult simply because those intervals are not so well known on the instrument.

    Imo, its not even an issue of lack of ear training of some sort. Its just that on the instrument 2nds and 3rds feel comfy and secure, but above that, they are just physically much less known for the fingers.

  18. #17

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    I think it’s good not to ear train intervallically exclusively, because intervallic ear training is not the most reliable route for tonal melodic dictation, and that’s a lot of what we are interested in, even in jazz.

    Interval leaps sound different depending on context.

    So by this I mean, you would hear the first two notes of Days of Wine and Roses not as an interval of a major 6th but as notes 3 and 5 of the key. So mi and sol.

    The app Jason uses, Meludia, does it this way.

  19. #18

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    But imo ear training and actually playing by ear are separated by the fact that ear training focuses on naming notes usually with reference to the keyboard, while when playing by ear what happens is the note lights up on the fretboard and I play it.

    The two are interlinked but I don’t have the piano keyboard reference many musicians do. The way I work/worked on this skill is to play lots of music by ear on the guitar.

    If you do the same on the piano or staff notation you develop those skills too.

    The other thing is the development of clear listening and audiation skills. Most guitarists are terrible noodlers and go off half cocked trying to play something before they know exactly what it is. Single biggest problem actually. Playing notes by ear on your instrument is just practice like everything else... what certainly helps though is knowing what key I’m in etc, so it’s definitely related on some level...

  20. #19
    Quote Originally Posted by Hep To The Jive
    So when you say you transcribing melodies, you mean you write them down as a music dictation thing? Or you play them back on the instrument as you hear it?

    I always been decent with copying the melodies on the spot on the guitar at least, but if I have to do dictation it takes a while.
    When I transcribe melodies, I don't do dictation or notation.

    What I do is listen to the melody on the recording, loop it, and by trial and error, match the pitches by playing it back on my instrument.

    When it comes to amassing a vocabulary of melodic patterns. I don't do notation. I do this by uploading sections of the melodic phrases of a song that I already learned to a flashcard software and quiz myself with the melodies by singing the solfege. The cool thing about my flashcard software is that it supports mp3 files and treats it like a written flashcard. The melodic phrases that I am good at are asked once in a while and the melodies that I suck at are drilled to a point until it is reinforced in my memory. The deck with the transcribed melodies in it have currently 14 songs in it. If this reaches 50 songs, 100, 500, 1k, or even 10k songs, I should have superb melody recognition skills by then. Gives me something to look forward currently in life.

  21. #20

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    Quote Originally Posted by christianm77
    So by this I mean, you would hear the first two notes of Days of Wine and Roses not as an interval of a major 6th but as notes 3 and 5 of the key. So mi and sol.
    Is this example correct?

  22. #21
    Quote Originally Posted by cosmic gumbo
    Is this example correct?
    Inverted

  23. #22

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    Quote Originally Posted by matt.guitarteacher

    This isn't a REPLACEMENT of instrument-time. It's a reclamation of less-used, INSTRUMENT-AWAY time. It's actually about being MORE connected to the instrument, in "playing it" while away.
    Matt, I completely understood that using and reclaiming instrument away time is a huge benefit,and I actually do it since years. My point was about exactly that, I reasoned about that you can develop inner ear in instrument dependent way when you are away and there is no need to have and instrument independent way. By internally imagine you instrument and your hands, and internally hear what you play your virtual instrument. I regularly do this on bus, or before sleep, both with chord progressions, both melodies practically improvising, or trying new things out. This is for playing by ear which is the OP about. And the very same true for ear training. When you listening, there is no need to translate it neither to solfage neither to C, it is also beneficial if you internalize know how would you play it in your instrument, and visualize it, then when you get home, you can check it. I emphasize the importance to not miss out the instrument from the process.

    My point was, that all in C is a very marginal benefit compared to solfage it is practically the same, and any abstraction layer which is instrument independent is an extra step to overcome when your goal is to learn play by ear on your instrument. Of course for inter musician communication we still need standard notation, solfage, etc. I do not want to explain and repeat all details of my original post, maybe it was not clear enough, or simply it’s my English, please decide.

  24. #23

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    Quote Originally Posted by cosmic gumbo
    Is this example correct?
    5 and 3 whoops

  25. #24

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    Quote Originally Posted by matt.guitarteacher
    Inverted
    Retrograde actually.

  26. #25

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    Quote Originally Posted by matt.guitarteacher
    No. This assumes that you're doing a one-to-one REPLACEMENT of would-be "time on the instrument" with instrument-free, ear-training time... sitting in a chair at home, thinking, with the instrument in the corner. That's not what he was talking about in his videos.
    I think a bit more of this would be no bad thing for many students who have been playing for a long time. Picking up the instrument with out a clearly defined goal is not the most effective use of time. Visualising practice on the other hand has been scientifically shown to be almost as good as the real thing.

    Audiate the music you are going to play and visualise how it looks on the fretboard and how it might look written down, for instance. Treat the physical instrument with the disinterest it deserves. It’s merely an empty vessel for music.

    (Although in practice we can’t be that purist.)

    Time on the instrument is only valuable if you aren’t noodling the same old stuff, otherwise it’s just reinforcing your existing habits. I mean it’s good to warm up, but practice is another thing. I don’t think you can do much actual practice per day, perhaps a couple of hours max. I think musicians learn this by spaffing away hundreds of hours until they find how to work in an effective way.