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  1. #1

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    Good Morning!
    Maybe you have been through the same situation and can give some advice - Although I know about musical theory (harmonic structures, scales etc.) I tend to play rather by ear. That is, I am trying to compile a vocabulary of chords, licks, changes and sounds that I might apply in particular musical situations.
    My teacher has said, although the results were "amazing" I should try to concentrate on practising scales and theory rather than copying.
    Of cause he is right - if you want to make progress, you have to concentrate on things that are missing rather than on what you are more ore less able to do anyway.
    On the other hand, having to ponder each time whether I should play rather a Mixolydian or a Ionian over a Major7 while passing from a Minor11 to a diminished is simply not my train of thought (Here's one for the experts - I am expecting the full blow...).

    Please don't get me wrong - As I have said, I know about musical theory. However, my experience is that if you practise scales and licks sufficiently things fall into place after some time almost automatically.

    How do I get out of this deadlock?

    Thanks very much for your opinion.


    The Jazz Guitar Chord Dictionary
  3. #2

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    I just say "Congratulations". You are in an enviable musical position. For me, it is almost the contrary. What can be done?

  4. #3

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    I want to play completely by ear and not have any of these damned visualized fingering patterns, arpeggios, "start from the third ", "hit those altered notes now", Joe Pass line #4 here, Parker-like licks here or " what's the key areas" constantly popping into the damned head.

  5. #4
    The only thing you should learn theory for is to be able to share your ideas with other people comprehensively.

    There are a bunch of famous players who never learned to read music, and didn't have a comprehensive knowledge of theory.

  6. #5

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    Use theory to bring understanding to all the sounds that you are already playing by ear.
    The concepts will help you modify and expand your language.

    Use your ears to bring a sound to every theoretical concept that you know.
    The mathematics is just a bridge to possible sounds and are most usable when you can hear the results.

  7. #6

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    If I was a youngster and by some miracle had the knowledge I have today... (boy that would be fun)...

    I'd really emphasize learning by ear from the very first day of taking up an instrument. It is so much easier to develop a good ear when you are young.

    Learn the theory though, it will expand your vocabulary of new musical ideas. Think of it as a way to grow your ears but continue to use your ears when playing. Soon your ears will be so big... you'll have ears like Dumbo.

  8. #7

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    As already mentioned on this thread: you need both. You have to listen to jazz songs so much that the internal language becomes ingrained in your head. That means both melodically, as well as rhythmically. But I really think you need theory to help explain *why* a particular sound sounds the way it does (e.g. b13). At the very least, you need enough theory to be able to label "that sound".

    I personally think that the whole "play Mixolydian or altered scale over dom7s and play Dorian over minor 7s and play Ionioan over major 7s" method - sometimes called the "chord-scale" approach - is crap. It does not work while actually improvising. It's just too damned slow. Now, it might be a good tool to employ when *practicing* - it can give you the proper pitch collections from which to draw licks over a certain chord. But you then have to write down that lick you just invented, and practice it until you can just pull it out of thin air whenever you need it while actually improvising.

    I have found myself gradually moving to improvising strictly by ear. When I used to try to improv by ear, it sounded like shit. I *had* to play just arpeggios over top the chord changes. That was about a year ago. Now, it sounds less like shit, and a little more like an actual line that might be played by a jazz musician. I attribute this to a couple of things: listening to TONS of jazz recordings; transcribing; theory studies and analysis of solo transcriptions; practicing licks.

  9. #8

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    Well, thanks to all of you for your advice and encouragement.

    Maybe it's just a matter of patience, after all...

  10. #9

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    Patience, and consistent practice. Even if you feel like you're getting nowhere, someday you will wake up and all of a sudden realize, you're a much better musician! At least that's how it happens for me. My "cycles" seem to be about every 3-4 months.

  11. #10

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    i find the more i learn and practice--the better my ear playing gets. i do not think the two are mutually exclusive.

    i honestly find that a lot of folks who only "play by ear" aren't half as good as they think they are. throw the changes to a tune with a few unpredictable chords (like jim hall's "all across the city," for example), and watch them falter.

    any all or nothing approach seems to be a mistake. sounds like the OP is on the right track--i don't think of it as a deadlock--i think of it as forcing yourself out of your comfort zone.

  12. #11

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    I guess I should have qualified my post where I say I am now playing strictly by ear. That's more or less true, but only after I already know the changes to a given song by heart. Unless the tune is super simple harmonically (like Scrapple), it's tough to play by ear on a jazz song.

    What I tend to do is break down a song into broad broad key center areas, and make sure to target the new tonalities during the modulations. Within those key centers, though, I just play by ear.

  13. #12

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    see, i don't consider that playing by ear, though. to me, what you're doing is playing--you've done the work, you've internalized the changes, and now you're playing what you hear. that's the end goal--good on ya.

    i always took playing by ear to be the idea of purely reacting to the change based on sound and not necessarily knowing the reason what one plays works, only knowing that it does work. I think we all play by ear sometimes (pick up jams, the times when the piano player is the only cat who really knows the tune) but it certainly wouldn't be my preferred way of tackling a tune!

  14. #13

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    I agree mostly with Mr. B. AND I'd like to offer the notion that, to a lot of us, the study and practice of theory is FUN!

    I'm classically trained and wish I could "play by ear", as it were, but I have a need to know the "why" of everything....very limiting, but that's my experience.

    I still stink at playing Jazz but I can explain a lot about it!! LOL

  15. #14

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    I think there are two distinct sides to hearing and playing by ear.

    One is the ability to take in the harmonic, rhythmic and emotional content of of all that is being played.

    The other is to hear the sounds in the spaces not being played.

  16. #15

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    i think, you need both, theory and the ear. You need theory to communicate with other musicians, to get new ideas and to teach your ear. Making exercises like playing arpeggios from the root, the third, the fifth, seventh, nineth, etc. do not help without hearing the chord behind. Record the chords or take a playback you have and do that exercises to the playbacks and you will teach your ear that way.

    Those guys of the past, who didn't know theory, often learned their tools from records. Most of them studdied just all songs from a few records they had. But when you studdy their biograhies, you will find out, that in most cases they also learned theory along their way from other musicians.

    A good example is the solo-guitar DVD by Joe Pass. He describes what he is playing and a couple of times he says " I don't know, why I talk so much theory, cause I'm no theory guy, when I'm playing". Well, I think, he was no theory guy when playing, but he knew all the theory and had internalized all of that, so that he could hear what he played just before he played it.

    Or Jimmy Bruno, he says that you just need his 5 pitch collections (which is the major scale with it's 5 common patterns) and you don't need to learn the other scales, cause you can just see them as outside notes from the 5 pitch collections. When you go through the lessons on his online-institute you will discover very fast, that he knows all the theory, too. And while you should not learn all the fancy scales there, you also have to learn what to play over the chord progressions. But that's theory, too, isn't it?

    So imho it's best to learn theory and do this slowly always by applying it to songs or licks. You won't remember theory you don't use. Learn songs by heart using chord-progressions (not the chord names, so you can transpose them easily), learn licks of the masters you like playing over these songs, learn to play theese songs chord-melody and play with others as often as possible. Have lots of pacients, in jazz the jorney is the reward. It takes time to get a good jazz-musician.

    Cheers, Chris

  17. #16

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    Again, thanks very much. Of cause you're all right - there's no such thing as pure by ear-playing. Well, up for the next step then. Or, the next cycle, as FatJeff put it.