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  1. #1

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    I don’t see much discussion in this forum about the necessity to play by ear when improvising. All the discussions about which scales go with which chord type etc are valuable but fall away when performing a tune. This is because thinking about such matters takes time and gets you out of the flow of the tune. You must, as Hal Galper says in his book Forward Motion, “fake it” in other words, play by ear.

    Do you agree that one improvises by ear? And if so, what do you do to practise this? I do solfege and transcriptions.

    At performance time I play better by ear when I hum my lines as I play them. I feel that this connects my mind to my hands. A problem with this is that when I record, my humming gets picked up, and its out of tune. I also noticed that my ears work better when I play finger style rather than with a pick.

    I’m interested in this forum’s thoughts on the importance of playing by ear, as difficult as that can be.

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  3. #2
    There's a section on the forum for ear training. In all honesty, it's one of the harder things to talk about in text form, which is what this forum is. That's the primary reason it may seem neglected compared to other topics.

    Rhythm and phrasing are almost certainly more important than which notes to play etc., but in the same way, it's just more difficult to talk about verbally in a lot of ways.

    There's always an idea that people are "obsessing " over modes and note choice, to the detriment of everything else. Maybe some are, but I believe a lot of this is just a misunderstanding of the kind of things people talk about - or are ABLE to talk about - on Internet forums easily.

    To be fair, being able to play melodically over a given chord without clams is a decent skill to have. That's all the mode thing is. In everything I look at online from horn players and pianists, I get the very distinct impression that they AREN'T hung up on modes being such a BAD thing, the way guitarists are. They neither talk about it as being a fatal crutch that will stifle your creativity .... nor as some magic pill that will make you be able to magically improvise. It's talked about as more like a STARTING POINT for not playing clams in a basic way.

    Traditional ear training in jazz is mostly about transcribing licks, lines or entire solos by ear, from recordings. Again, to be fair, pianists and horn players already KNOW basic scales and arpeggios thoroughly BEFORE even beginning this step. So, I don't think you can fairly say that basic melodic rudiments are of no value.

    Everything you play is ear training in a way .

  4. #3

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    I enjoy interesting questions. Much more interesting than questions about equipment! I like to learn about music. Gear I don't really care about. I don't care about what pickup or model Gibson Charlie Christian or George Benson used.

    Whatever. ..

    Makes total sense to improvise by ear. Gary Burton mentioned how we talk. It's all by ear. We learned to talk by ear. Why can't we improvise by ear? How long to learn to talk? Years right? If we practice improvising by ear for years will we be able to do it? Do we have the patience to do this for years?

    Now, a good question is: "how would you teach someone to improvise by ear?"

    Would you do as previously stated? Just do it until you learn to talk with your guitar?

    Blues guitarists, rock and pop guitarists improvise by ear all the time.

    Take a tune a try it. One with only a couple key changes to start with.

    You still have to sound jazzy when you do this.

    Next question: "What makes an improvisor sound jazzy?"

    Matt has mentioned rhythm and phrasing as one thing.
    Last edited by Drumbler; 02-25-2019 at 06:39 PM.
    "As for me, all I know is that I know nothing." - Socrates
    “Man suffers only because he takes seriously what the gods made for fun.” - Alan Wilson Watts

  5. #4

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    Theory and knowledge is there to help those ears out. Give them ideas. Broaden the language. Guide them through difficult times. But the language should obviously be spoken through those ears...People don't go around saying random words just because they know lots of words. At least, I don't see much point in that!

    Yeah, play by ear, but let knowledge help you out. And don't speak new words in public until you can use them in sensible sentences

  6. #5

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rsilver View Post
    I’m interested in this forum’s thoughts on the importance of playing by ear, as difficult as that can be.
    I think it is super fundamental. I really don't understand how anyone can play jazz and *not* play "by ear" in some way. I think there's some confusion around the term, because historically, people have used it to mean that someone plays "by ear" to the exclusion of other things like knowing names for things, etc. I'm thinking of hearing someone say "oh, he/she plays by ear" where they actually mean, the person either doesn't know any music theory or can't read or something.

    I like Pat Metheny's take on the topic, which is that you should use all the information available to you when you play.

    For me, if I want to practice playing by ear, I either play along with records that have tunes that I don't know or maybe tunes I do know but in different keys or modulations (any Sinatra/Ella record is amazing for this), or, I play tunes I barely know in different keys.

  7. #6

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    Yikes, this is my first post in at least 3 years. I've been lurking in the shadows, and reading all the posts.

    I am obsessed with working on my ear so I can play what I hear.

    You can definitely discuss how to play by ear. I had an ear training thread on here years back where I was tracking my own journey. I might start it up again once things settle over here.

    In my opinion, theory is great. What's even better is if you can really hear the theory.

    Rhythm is part of ear training, so is harmony, so is phrasing, so is time feel, and so is song form. It all connects to the ear.

    I'll stop there before I start rambling. In short, ear training is my favorite topic to discuss.

  8. #7

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    One thing mentioned by Gary Burton (see video in this thread How much theory do I need before getting into jazz?) was the ability to outline the chords without having any backing.

    Think Joe Pass playing by himself.

    Can you do this by ear?

    Without knowledge of scales, chord tones or anything like that?

    How could you do it if you can't hear what to solo over?
    "As for me, all I know is that I know nothing." - Socrates
    “Man suffers only because he takes seriously what the gods made for fun.” - Alan Wilson Watts

  9. #8
    I’m glad you find this topic stimulating. Not to drop names, but many years ago I asked Jim Hall, at a jazz clinic he gave, if he’s thinking concepts when he’s performing. I can’t remember his exact wording, but he said no, no thinking allowed during performance except the flow of musical ideas.

  10. #9

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    Well ultimately the goal in Jazz is to play what you hear in your head, but to achieve that at a high level it obviously takes years of preparing the mind/ear/fingers..

    Theory trains the mind, the mind trains the ear, the ear trains the fingers. That's how I like to see it.

  11. #10

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    forget playing the changes by ear, how about singing the changes?

    I find that if I can sing the guide tones and guide tone lines of a tune, I'm better equipped to solo over it when I pick up my guitar.

    Singing the arpeggios helps as well. Internalizing the melody and being able to sing it, well that's the first step, ain't it?

    I still approach my studies through the lens of Charlie Banacos. Sing everything in one key. Use sharps or flats to the original key to express momentary shifts "out of the key".

    I use chromatic movable do when I sing.

    You'd be surprised how difficult it is to actually "hold on" to a key center, but the work is worth it in my mind.

  12. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by Irez87 View Post
    forget playing the changes by ear, how about singing the changes?

    I find that if I can sing the guide tones and guide tone lines of a tune, I'm better equipped to solo over it when I pick up my guitar.

    Singing the arpeggios helps as well. Internalizing the melody and being able to sing it, well that's the first step, ain't it?
    this is huge. Seriously. And so overlooked.
    Jeff Matz, Jazz Guitar:
    http://www.youtube.com/user/jeffreymatz

    "Jazz is like life...it goes on longer than you think, and as soon as you're like 'oh, I get it,' it ends."

    --The Ghost of Duke Ellington

  13. #12

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    I’ve gotten so tired of exercises and theory. Lately I’ve just been doing a little bit of warm-up and then diving into Body and Soul, playing it entirely by ear, over and over again. Sometimes with backing track, sometimes with just a drum loop or metronome, sometimes just guitar. Sometimes just the melody, sometimes comping, sometimes pure improvisation. I’m noticing that if you do this long enough, the bumps start to smooth out.

    Instead of trying to think my way into the song, I’m hearing my way into it. For example: pretty basic stuff, but tonight I sort of stumbled onto using the maj 3rd of the Bb7. Now I get it how this chord fits into the distinctive sound of the bars leading up to the resolution to Db. Earlier I would just throw whatever altered notes I could and/or whatever ornamentation I could and hope for the best. Now I am really hearing that maj 3rd as integral to making that chord fit into the ptogression.

  14. #13

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    If I don’t know a tune very well I will work over the changes a lot, using chord tones and gradually building up connecting lines. This is a bit easier when you’ve been doing it for years and already know some standards, because the same small building blocks of progressions crop up in different tunes and you start to recognise them. But when I do the actual ‘playing’, I am largely doing it by ear, not thinking much. Maybe just aware of the most important chords or key centres or something. But if I really get into the flow, I’m no longer aware of even that minimal information.

    It seems to me that when I have done enough work to internalise the tune, so that I can hear the harmonies (chord tones) as a sort of stream of sound in my head (without any names or numbers attached), then I can solo ok on that tune.

  15. #14

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rsilver View Post
    I don’t see much discussion in this forum about the necessity to play by ear when improvising. All the discussions about which scales go with which chord type etc are valuable but fall away when performing a tune. This is because thinking about such matters takes time and gets you out of the flow of the tune. You must, as Hal Galper says in his book Forward Motion, “fake it” in other words, play by ear.

    Do you agree that one improvises by ear? And if so, what do you do to practise this? I do solfege and transcriptions.

    At performance time I play better by ear when I hum my lines as I play them. I feel that this connects my mind to my hands. A problem with this is that when I record, my humming gets picked up, and its out of tune. I also noticed that my ears work better when I play finger style rather than with a pick.

    I’m interested in this forum’s thoughts on the importance of playing by ear, as difficult as that can be.
    Yes

    I think an important thing is learning to play lots of melodies al over the neck by ear.

    Also I like that exercise when you sing your lines and finger them on the guitar without playing the notes (it’s good if you mute the strings completely.)

  16. #15

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    Quote Originally Posted by Irez87 View Post
    forget playing the changes by ear, how about singing the changes?

    I find that if I can sing the guide tones and guide tone lines of a tune, I'm better equipped to solo over it when I pick up my guitar.

    Singing the arpeggios helps as well. Internalizing the melody and being able to sing it, well that's the first step, ain't it?

    I still approach my studies through the lens of Charlie Banacos. Sing everything in one key. Use sharps or flats to the original key to express momentary shifts "out of the key".

    I use chromatic movable do when I sing.

    You'd be surprised how difficult it is to actually "hold on" to a key center, but the work is worth it in my mind.
    An interesting thing I’ve found is that my formal sense of functional pitch - 1 2 b3 etc - is more or less completely unconnected to my ability to play notes and chords on my instrument by ear.

    Holding on to the key centre is a real challenge.

    Singing Barry Harris style scale outlines is a good entry point for singing changes because scales are easier to sing accurately than arpeggios.

    But I’ve come across students who can’t pitch a note in their voice but will play a phrase back to you on guitar.

    It’s a complex area!

  17. #16
    I picked up the guitar because had the idea for playing by ear. After writing some apps and doing some exercises, I think in 4 years.. don't even remember anymore.. I could freely play on key changes just by ear(diatonic). And no, it's not magic - from that point it took a few years more to make it sound nice enough. Obviously a lot of people can do it faster and get it sound jazzy with way less effort. I'm old too, that doesn't help But yeah, it's completely possible.

  18. #17

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    Quote Originally Posted by matt.guitarteacher View Post
    There's a section on the forum for ear training. In all honesty, it's one of the harder things to talk about in text form, which is what this forum is. That's the primary reason it may seem neglected compared to other topics.

    Rhythm and phrasing are almost certainly more important than which notes to play etc., but in the same way, it's just more difficult to talk about verbally in a lot of ways.

    There's always an idea that people are "obsessing " over modes and note choice, to the detriment of everything else. Maybe some are, but I believe a lot of this is just a misunderstanding of the kind of things people talk about - or are ABLE to talk about - on Internet forums easily.

    To be fair, being able to play melodically over a given chord without clams is a decent skill to have. That's all the mode thing is. In everything I look at online from horn players and pianists, I get the very distinct impression that they AREN'T hung up on modes being such a BAD thing, the way guitarists are. They neither talk about it as being a fatal crutch that will stifle your creativity .... nor as some magic pill that will make you be able to magically improvise. It's talked about as more like a STARTING POINT for not playing clams in a basic way.

    Traditional ear training in jazz is mostly about transcribing licks, lines or entire solos by ear, from recordings. Again, to be fair, pianists and horn players already KNOW basic scales and arpeggios thoroughly BEFORE even beginning this step. So, I don't think you can fairly say that basic melodic rudiments are of no value.

    Everything you play is ear training in a way .
    There's a fairly obvious reason why this is so.

  19. #18

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    There's really no such thing as literally playing by ear. Everything you play, and I mean everything, has been played before.

    The player is basically repeating what he already knows in one way or another. In a very experienced player it's either applied knowledge or sheer muscle memory. When a player appears to pull something out of the bag, it's unlikely that's what he's actually done. It could be luck but it's more likely to be experience speaking or the subconscious calculating it unconsciously and the fingers doing it.

    I've done this myself, taken an unfamiliar chord sequence and gone over it 'by ear'. That's not what's happening, it's knowledge, experience and memory 'computerised' by the subconscious. When your fingers suddenly 'do it' that's the subconscious experience at work.

    Conversely, when a person tries to play over a sequence they don't know and stumble it's because they don't have the resources to cope with it. But they're 'playing by ear' as much as anyone in that sense.

    If you think of it, the term 'ear' is actually meaningless. It's what you hear, what you know, what you think, what you can do, all put together. Plus some luck too, probably :-)

  20. #19

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    Quote Originally Posted by ragman1 View Post
    There's no such thing as playing by ear. Everything you play, and I mean everything, has been played before.
    -)
    i don't agree , sorry
    yes we do play licks , of course ....
    maybe even most of the time , but not all of the time
    there are moments of newness in there too
    have you never surprised yourself with something new ?

  21. #20

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    Quote Originally Posted by pingu View Post
    have you never surprised yourself with something new ?
    I may appear to have but, if it was analysed, I doubt it. Or it was just chance. We're not talking about a sudden phrase or note but about playing a whole tune, or a section of one. You don't play a chance note, or a few notes, 'by ear'. Playing by ear is longer than that.

  22. #21

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    I played by ear just last night.

    I was playing Donald Byrd's "Tanya" last night (from Dexter Gordon's "One Flight Up")

    If you're not familiar with it, it's a longer form--a modal A section that's almost a blues 8 bars of Ebm to 4 of Abm back to 4 Ebm, played though twice...

    And then...a series of knotty wtf changes to turn it back around. Now I didn't have a lead sheet, and I was unsure of a lot of those changes (the bass walks through 'em, very hard to pin down) but the head has a very clear, riff like melody over that part.

    So I just heard that part in my head and tried to craft a counter melody, something I could sing. Totally winged it. That's playing by ear. It's nothing magical, like people make it out to be.
    Jeff Matz, Jazz Guitar:
    http://www.youtube.com/user/jeffreymatz

    "Jazz is like life...it goes on longer than you think, and as soon as you're like 'oh, I get it,' it ends."

    --The Ghost of Duke Ellington

  23. #22

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    Quote Originally Posted by ragman1 View Post
    There's really no such thing as literally playing by ear. Everything you play, and I mean everything, has been played before.

    The player is basically repeating what he already knows in one way or another. In a very experienced player it's either applied knowledge or sheer muscle memory. When a player appears to pull something out of the bag, it's unlikely that's what he's actually done. It could be luck but it's more likely to be experience speaking or the subconscious calculating it unconsciously and the fingers doing it.

    I've done this myself, taken an unfamiliar chord sequence and gone over it 'by ear'. That's not what's happening, it's knowledge, experience and memory 'computerised' by the subconscious. When your fingers suddenly 'do it' that's the subconscious experience at work.

    Conversely, when a person tries to play over a sequence they don't know and stumble it's because they don't have the resources to cope with it. But they're 'playing by ear' as much as anyone in that sense.

    If you think of it, the term 'ear' is actually meaningless. It's what you hear, what you know, what you think, what you can do, all put together. Plus some luck too, probably :-)
    Kind of think there's a nugget of truth in here somewhere...

    There's a sort of dichotomy implied here between 'experience' and 'playing by ear' and actually we all tend to hear much better things we have heard, or played in the past. So a lick I play all the time, I will pick out right away on a record.

    So if rag means 'playing by ear' in the sense of playing a solo just one note at a time, by ear, I would agree I don't think it's that common.

    But that's not to say it's not done. I actually know a (small) number people who play music this way, melodies, solos, everything, no concept of theory.

    This is obviously much easier with a key centric approach - make up a good melody in Bb (based intuitively on your listening to your favourite players) and it will work on the A of rhythm changes. It just will. Soloing on Giant Steps this way is harder, obviously.

    (That said, you might hear Em7b5 A7b9 in a tune, and play lines based on your knowledge of that progression. You are still using your ears, but in a very different way.)

    OTOH if you play a solo based on the correct scales but it isn't audiated on some level - the soloist wouldn't be able to sing it - it will always sound a bit disconnected and noodly.

    That's not to say you can't audiated patterns and licks as a whole. When music gets fast, the hearing of it becomes more 'chunked' so to speak.... You hear more notes at a time...

    So this idea of audiation - the aural imagination - you know I don't know about others, but I've always found accurately audiating phrases to be the hardest step in working our melodies or solo lines. Once I can audiate it clearly, the next step is not a problem, just put it on the guitar, usually first time unless it's very weird. That said, I'm a lot better at hearing certain musical ideas than others. I'm best, of course, at hearing things I'm familiar with.

    I tend to write music by ear once the creative process is engaged and I don't fundamentally see why improvisation is any different to composition. Pretty much the same thing.

  24. #23

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    I think of "playing by ear" as learning new material by listening/transcribing rather than reading. My ability to do this has always been better than my sight reading, so that's mainly how I've learned tunes (filling in bits I can't quite catch from a chart), especially melodies. I think it's helpful, especially since having a new tune thrown at me at a jam (or even a gig) is something that happens quite often, and I would not be able to survive situations like that without being able to learn by ear. But if you're never in situations like that, it might not be essential,

    But the OP seems to be using "playing by ear" to mean "improvising without thinking explicitly about the theory and rules ." That's not only "essential" to jazz, it IS jazz. On the bandstand, music flies by too fast and with other players throwing in sub, re-harms and alterations of one kind or another; I don't know anybody who thinks about the theory of what they're doing in the midst of that, except in occasional moments where the conscious mind wakes up a little, or when one has to actively think about the changes to a tune one hasn't really learned yet.

    One doesn't see much discussion of this mode of playing because it's extremely difficult to describe -- it's a flow state, a mode of being, not a mode of conscious, structured action. One sees a lot of discussion of how to prepare and practice for this, and that can be very useful. But a lot of the time, we're on line talking about this stuff for the sake of being online and talking about this stuff, and we can only do that by talking about the stuff we can actually talking about. I can't tell you what I'm thinking when another player reaches the end of his solo and it's my turn to play, because I don't know what I'm thinking; I'm just hearing and playing.

    John

  25. #24

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    A lot of ear training should be aural mindfulness during practice time. Paying attention to and being engaged with what you play aurally rather then just passively listening to what comes out of the instrument. One can get a lot more ear training out of practice habits by asking questions like:
    - I'm playing a sixth, how does that sound against the chord.
    - Can I pick out the third and sign it when the next chord plays.
    - Can I hear the 9th of the following chord in my head without it being played, then play it and see if what I heard in my head was right.
    - Can I sing this part of the melody a major second higher. Can I even sing it in the current key.
    - Can I sing the roots of the tune against the metronome and nail it.
    ...
    There are endless ideas. Solfege, intervals etc. should be learned but they are often out of context and useless until you do stuff like above. Ear training is a mental attitude towards how you practice. It's not a separate activity.

  26. #25

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    There are a few people here who advocate for playing by ear. When you play by ear with the record, you learn to emulate the player on the record, which means you pick up on his/her rhythm.

  27. #26
    Quote Originally Posted by ragman1 View Post
    I may appear to have but, if it was analysed, I doubt it. Or it was just chance. We're not talking about a sudden phrase or note but about playing a whole tune, or a section of one. You don't play a chance note, or a few notes, 'by ear'. Playing by ear is longer than that.
    When doing all of the impro by ear, the ideal would be with good sound, total focus, nothing external bugging at that moment. And also - most strange - the harmony itself may not even be completely internalized. This doesn't happen too often sadly. Anyway, when this happens to be the case, it's possible to create something really new and beautiful. New in a sense that the whole thing is a complete thing that would easily compare to a hit-like tune. I'm sure many people pursue improvisation just because of this kind of jackpot. But also, it may sound "old".. if analyzed carefully, there might be nothing hip or even having any passage worth transcribing for later usage.

  28. #27

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    A link to a Musician's Institute Throwback Thursday YouTube clip. Joe Diorio discussing this topic. Begins at ~39 minute mark. Ends at ~43 minute mark. I think he gets it exactly right.


  29. #28

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    He gets to the heart of it at 40:45.

    Quote Originally Posted by gnatola View Post
    A link to a Musician's Institute Throwback Thursday YouTube clip. Joe Diorio discussing this topic. Begins at ~39 minute mark. Ends at ~43 minute mark. I think he gets it exactly right.


  30. #29
    I bet you can whistle a tune that you just heard for the first time. If so, you are doing that by ear. That’s all I mean by “playing by ear.” Speech is also done “by ear” connected to your vocalising mechanisms...

  31. #30

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    Quote Originally Posted by gnatola View Post
    He gets to the heart of it at 40:45.
    Well, at the risk of blowing the trumpet, I think that's what I just said. Intuition/subconscious works quicker than the intellect/conscious. But it's still memory, experience, knowledge, sensitive thought sensing a pattern, etc etc.

    And, as Beaumont said, while it may appear to be spontaneously created out of nowhere actually that's unlikely to be the case. But there is definitely luck or chance too; one might just strike a lovely lucky moment. Seldom happens when you want it to and can't be made to happen either :-)

    I've got a horrible feeling we're perilously close to that discussion about free will, etc. No, please, anything but that.

  32. #31

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    Quote Originally Posted by eh6794-2.0 View Post
    There are a few people here who advocate for playing by ear. When you play by ear with the record, you learn to emulate the player on the record, which means you pick up on his/her rhythm.
    Anyone who can actually play advocates this....

    Actually I was looking at a research paper yesterday about this very subject. Aural inputs appear to be better than written for developing improvisation.

  33. #32
    My ideal situation is when you improvise on a tune and completely don't think of the scales or the chords involved, but just play by ear, following what you hear on the fretboard.

    Some ways i practice this are, first obviously playing over tunes i don't know, and trying to outline the changes. Another thing, when i know or learn the melody of a tune, to try to figure out the chords relative to the melody. So not only learning the melody, but hearing what degree of the current chord each note lands on, so being able to follow the root motion as well, and hearing the quality of the chords also. After a while, you improve not only on following melodic intervals, but on following chord movements as well. Then i just transpose everything in random keys, so any reference to known chords is lost, and again you deal with melodies, intervals and chord motions and resolutions.

    After a long time of doing this, i 'm at a point where if i can sing a tune or its melody, i can pretty much play it and figure out some viable ways to harmonize it on the fly. Also learning as many tunes as you can helps immensely.

  34. #33

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    Quote Originally Posted by Alter View Post
    My ideal situation is when you improvise on a tune and completely don't think of the scales or the chords involved, but just play by ear, following what you hear on the fretboard.

    Some ways i practice this are, first obviously playing over tunes i don't know, and trying to outline the changes. Another thing, when i know or learn the melody of a tune, to try to figure out the chords relative to the melody. So not only learning the melody, but hearing what degree of the current chord each note lands on, so being able to follow the root motion as well, and hearing the quality of the chords also. After a while, you improve not only on following melodic intervals, but on following chord movements as well. Then i just transpose everything in random keys, so any reference to known chords is lost, and again you deal with melodies, intervals and chord motions and resolutions.

    After a long time of doing this, i 'm at a point where if i can sing a tune or its melody, i can pretty much play it and figure out some viable ways to harmonize it on the fly. Also learning as many tunes as you can helps immensely.
    Yeah, I think that type of melodic improvisation is something to bear in mind. The concept of key centric, harmonically quite general, playing is natural to horns. In fact melodic improvisation within a key centre is so obvious, horn players are often hazy about changes and are advised to study piano to fill in the gaps in their harmonic knowledge. Obviously if it's your job to learn lots of melodies, you tend to improvise from a more melodic sensibility.

    But saxes and trumpet played well have a lot of sonic authority. I think for guitar this can be more difficult.

    In reply to Matt:

    Firstly, the some of most brutal criticisms I have heard of CST have come from pianists.

    Secondly, CST is easy to 'see' graphically at a keyboard. Or a vibraphone.

    Thirdly, guitar is at its heart a shapes based instrument, different to any others, even other stringed instruments. It's striking what an under utilised concept just playing out of the chord shapes is and how fresh players like Julian Lage and Peter Bernstein make that sound, but guitarists obviously spend 1,000s of hours fretboard mapping.

  35. #34

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    I can play any tune by ear!

    The problem is that what I play is likely to have some notes I don't like, especially as the harmony gets less familiar and more complex. Also, what I sing to myself tends to be fairly simple harmonically.

    So, knowing some theory is helpful. At a minimum, chord tones and tonal center. Just to help avoid clams.

    Beyond that, there are many options and I won't bother to list any in this post.

    I've posted before: jazz improv is simply thinking of a good line to play and then executing it. If you can do that without having learned any theory, like Andres Varady, that's great. If you get there partly by virtue of a standard musical education, like Jim Hall, also great. What those two have in common is that they aren't thinking theory when they play. They're creating lines intuitively, which means, by ear.

    I have a suggestion for how to practice it. IRealPro. Pick a tune. 13 choruses. Change key by a 4th each chorus. Slow enough tempo so that you can hear each change clearly. Put the phone face down. And then solo. After that gets boring, see if you can spice it up by juxtaposing the sound of a different chord against the backing track chord. I'd suggest adding that sort of thing one sound at a time, until you own it, before you try another.

  36. #35
    Quote Originally Posted by christianm77 View Post
    In reply to Matt:

    Firstly, the some of most brutal criticisms I have heard of CST have come from pianists.

    Secondly, CST is easy to 'see' graphically at a keyboard. Or a vibraphone.

    Thirdly, guitar is at its heart a shapes based instrument, different to any others, even other stringed instruments. It's striking what an under utilised concept just playing out of the chord shapes is and how fresh players like Julian Lage and Peter Bernstein make that sound, but guitarists obviously spend 1,000s of hours fretboard mapping.
    Yeah. It's interesting. After all of the "shapes" discussion of the last year or so, I've heard a few other non guitarists lately talk about "shapes" in mostly a different context. They were talking about the shape of lines relative to scale degree of the moment and the ability to transpose it to different scale degrees etc.

    They talked about visualizing shapes on the instrument, or for a lot of horn players, visualizing the piano keyboard. Ruslan talked about it in one of his YouTube videos, and I know Gary Burton talked about it that way pretty specifically. Anyway, I thought it was just kind of interesting after all of the mention of other instruments "not thinking in shapes".

    As regards the "easier to see" part, Reg has simplified that part a lot for me. The William Leavitt approach and others are way harder IMO.

  37. #36

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    Yes I have heard that... No what I specifically mean is that you have to learn actual graphical 2D chord grips. Within these chord grips the notes are not necessarily organised consecutively. For instance a basic 7th chord barre shape

    x 3 5 3 5 3

    You obviously have 1 5 7 3 (10) 5 (12). The notes are not the 1 3 5 1 3 5 pattern you find in piano arpeggios, and have a distinctive sound when arpeggiated. Not saying that piano chords & arps don't sometimes have similar voicings - but critically, the pianist is aware right away that the notes aren't laid out in this way.

    Of course many non-jazz guitarists would think 'C7' and bear it no more mind.... The task of bring the C7 into the orbit of a C7 scale and the full arpeggio is a step or two away from this basic guitaristic understanding.

    On a piano you will have shapes too, but you will know what those notes are - and critically the notes are laid out in 1D, left to right, musical objects are much more accessible conceptually.

  38. #37
    Change key by a 4th each chorus
    Didn't even know ireal could do that! Have to check it out as it seems like a great tool!

  39. #38

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    Over-complicating things here.

    1. First and foremost, "playing by ear" or learning by ear simply means not playing or learning by referencing written music, or not playing something memorized. Beyond "not reading" it can mean not utilizing other forms of communication of the music either - like someone telling you the chord changes, etc. If you see a classical soloist play a 90-minute recital without sheet music they are neither playing by ear or improvising. They have learned the music so well that they don't need the sheet music anymore. But they read it at first, and read it 500 more times.

    2. Secondly, playing by ear does not imply improvisation, per se. Playing by ear can be playing back something that you hear like a melody and/or chord changes to a song. No more, no less. How many times have you plucked out a song without reading the music? How many times have you witnessed other musicians doing the same thing? Plenty, right? Well, that's playing by ear.

    3. That said, improvisation is played by ear (which means by the mind's ear, actually). When you improvise you are playing something new, even if it comes from patterns of hearing and performance behavior practiced over and over. When improvising you don't know what you are going to play 10 seconds from the present. But if you memorize and play your best solo to a given song, you are not improvising, and you are also not playing by ear. You are doing the same thing that the above mentioned classical player is doing. You are playing something fully formed/contained in memory.

    So, playing by ear does not imply improvisation, but improvisation does imply playing by ear.

  40. #39

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    Did you guys listen on to the Round Midnight ?

    Joe's reharms are sumptuous ain't they ?

    they sounded totally new to me


  41. #40

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    and there you have it Improviseing and playing by Ear. For me I do bouth chords and leads the same way to work up to Iproviseation I will start a common Chord Rhythm lets say Blues in E start off with a standard chord Rhythm E,A,A#,B Then move it around but using all the chords In the E Blues E,G,A,A#,B,D. Mix them up . If I want to do lead work I go thru the scale Then Mix it up it dosent sound great all the time but I learn something about my feel for what I am trying too express.

  42. #41

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    Quote Originally Posted by pingu View Post
    so the idea that 'everything's already been played'
    is just not true .... to me
    Even a minute long song has more melodic possibilities than the number of sub atomic particles in the known universe. It would take gazillions of big bangs of time to complete playing them. But even if they somehow managed to listen to all of them, they will have to have a brain size much larger than the universe to have enough neural connectivity to store and remember them.
    Yeah right it's not true.
    Last edited by Tal_175; 02-26-2019 at 09:40 PM.

  43. #42

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tal_175 View Post
    Even a minute long song has more melodic possibilities than the number of sub atomic particles in the known universe.
    So even if one has heard all 1 minute long songs. It would take gazillions of big bangs of time to complete playing them. But even if they somehow managed to listen to all of them, they will have to have a brain size much larger than the universe to have enough neural connectivity to store and remember them.
    Yeah right it's not true.
    Yeah ain't it great !

  44. #43

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    Quote Originally Posted by Alter View Post
    Didn't even know ireal could do that! Have to check it out as it seems like a great tool!
    If you click the teacher button, you'll see the options.

    There's also a mix option which allows you to raise or lower the volume of each instrument. So, you can practice with just bass, for example.

    There are lots of rhythm styles available too -- and you can have a click or not.

    It's a well thought out tool. Seems like a bargain at 10 bucks. I'm recommending it, but I have no financial involvement with it. I paid full price.

  45. #44

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    Quote Originally Posted by Alter View Post
    My ideal situation is when you improvise on a tune and completely don't think of the scales or the chords involved, but just play by ear, following what you hear on the fretboard.
    I'd say playing by ear is the ONLY way to really improvise. Any cognitive effort when improvising simply indicates that you don't know the tune or the tune is still too hard for you. The chord/scale relationship is for studying only. When you go out there you just play the changes without thinking. If you can't, you're in the wrong tune.

    I don't even think the whole theory thing is necessary for studying. It works for some and does not for others. I have always had little interest in it. Only in my first years it helped me some.

    DB

  46. #45
    Oh, one more comment about "by ear" vs "old & learned".
    When learning to improvise for a tune by ear, it may take days or weeks but the first that happens is this: the fingers start to follow a known path. If lazy, they don't really wanna do anything else for a while.. until it gets very annoying and got to take chances. Have to push outside from the comfort zone.

    This case - "by ear" is completely happening because I literally have no clue what key I'm in, it's just right. "old & learned" is there with the lazy pathways.

  47. #46

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    Actually, the phrase 'play by ear' doesn't mean anything supernatural, it just means to play something without needing the music. After all that.

    There's also the savants' trick of being able to reproduce a whole piece after only hearing it once or twice. I believe Mozart could do that, but that is slightly supernatural :-)

    Play by ear - Idioms by The Free Dictionary

  48. #47

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    There are professional musicians who are extremely good at audiation. You know, look at a score, hear it in their head.

    It’s not that unusual for those who grew up reading music and have developed their inner ear.

    Practically anyone can improve their skills in this area. We can all hear music internally to some extent. The thing is develop and extend that skill.

    Can you imagine for instance the sound and fingerings of playing the guitar away from the guitar?

  49. #48

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    Something I find useful is this.

    Pick a tune and play the chords while you scat sing a solo. After one or two bars, play the melody you just sang. Then, play the next few chords and sing some more. Maybe go back to the beginning and play the whole thing up to the point you're at.

    When I do this I generally end up playing something I wouldn't play if I didn't sing first. The sung lines tend to be more melodic. I also find out what I can really hear -- vs. intervals that I'm finding mechanically. That give me a better idea what to work on for ear training.
    Last edited by rpjazzguitar; 02-27-2019 at 04:24 PM.

  50. #49

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    Also, Glenn Campbell. Couldn't read a note but his ears were SO good he was still able to be a top session guitarist.

  51. #50

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    When a pianist plays a pitch, he probably knows it's name - if he know their names he can't help but know their names when he plays them; he feels the keys and knows which are black and white, and within those which ones. When a trumpeter plays a pitch he probably knows it's name, but even if not he knows that pitch distinctly based on his lip level and depression pattern of the valves that produces that pitch. Violins and cellos use set positions from which they know the names of the pitches fingered. Even if any of these musicians did not learn to read music or did not learn the names of the pitches on their instrument, they still know "that pitch" distinctly from others based on the specific mechanics of how it is produced. Same with woodwind fingering of holes and key pads.

    Guitar is about the only instrument upon which one may play a chord or note and truly not know it's name or its distinctness from other notes as described above, because except for open strings and harmonics, once you are playing up the neck each pitch is produced in the same way with string and fret.

    Playing by ear for other instruments still includes the distinct identification of individual pitches based in the intrinsic mechanics of those instruments. Guitar has the potential of being played more truly by ear because in spite of knowing the pitch names; if you don't look, you can not know.

    Similarly, a pianist feels and distinguishes the black and white keys, and notices "three flats" and so knows the song's key. Trumpet and sax will also discern their mechanical fingering of flats and sharps, and so recognize the key (even if they don't know about key signatures they will recognize "that pattern").

    The guitarist can play a whole tune perfectly and never think about which pitches are really accidentals (the key of the song).

    My point is that in a discussion of playing by ear, as guitarists we need to know about this fundamental difference and implications of this mechanical difference between the guitar and the other instruments.
    "Bent my ear to hear the tune and closed my eyes to see."