The Jazz Guitar Chord Dictionary

View Poll Results: Do you learn new songs by ear or by paper?

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32. You may not vote on this poll
  • By ear

    4 12.50%
  • By paper

    5 15.63%
  • Both

    23 71.88%
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  1. #1

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    Just curious, how, many players learn new tunes... I know learning the craft largely requires some learning from books, etc. But if you're looking to learn a new tune NOW, do you immediately check the internet to see if you can find/buy the sheet music/tabs, or do you learn it by ear?

    I do a mixture of both. I PREFER learning by ear, but that sometimes takes more time than I have to spend, so I will fall back on sheet music/tabs. I have found learning by ear commits the song to memory much better than learning from sheet music/tabs, as well as cementing the theory behind it in my mind. Learning from paper may get my fingers in the right places, but unless I then practice it alot and immediately, I don't remember it for long.

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  3. #2

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    I start by listening to the head/melody in a bunch of different recordings. One grabs me and I’ll learn the melody off it.

    I’ll get the chords off a lead sheet eventually, it’s too much for me to hear at this point. Going from a recording to a real book usually involves transposition which is good, only 10 keys left...

  4. #3

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    both

    i learn to relax with it - and sing it - and then I find the changes, either by ear or, if that leaves bits unsettled and I'm impatient, by using my collection of real books. but 'the' changes are just whatever my ear tells me harmonizes the melody best (with the most movement).

    it strikes me that if you aren't 'whistling' it first you shouldn't try to learn to play it

    i decide i want to play a tune because i've got it going round in my head after hearing it

    and the changes should not be divorced from the melody - you use the melody to nail all the nooks and crannies of the changes - you learn how to co-ordinate the melody and the changes precisely (very often repeated melody notes sit on top of important harmonic changes etc. etc.)

  5. #4

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    Boy, really depends on how well I want to know the tune and how much time I have to do it!

    The deeper I want to get into a song, the more I use my ear.

  6. #5

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    How do you learn new tunes? By ear or by paper?

    Well, according to your poll there's only one option :-)

    To get it off the paper requires, usually, a definite effort to play it without peeking a few times. But, as Mr. Beaumont has said, liking the tune does help a lot.

  7. #6

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    I suspect all these binary threads would have a similar result if there were a poll in top. Theory or ear, pick or fingers, coffee or tea…

  8. #7

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    I'd look for a RB chart first. I'm not saying that's the best way to do it -- it's probably not, but it's what I would do.

    Reasons:

    I can read pretty well, but I'm slow at transcribing.

    I want to learn the version that's likely to be played. The RB, for whatever faults it has, did result in some standardization.

    Most pros will say, I think, that you retain it better if you learn it by ear. I haven't found that to be true - for me, at least for harmony. Once I know the flow of the harmony, whether from a chart or by ear, I retain it about the same. If I know a melody, I can play it -- and that usually just comes from having heard a tune many times, casually. So, I'll remember those tunes better than an unfamiliar one from reading a chart. But, for an unfamiliar tune it doesn't seem to make that much difference.

    The settings I play regularly encompass hundreds of tunes, usually with complicated arrangements. So, it's not a situation where I know n standards and I decide, this week, to learn n+1.

    When I do start listening to different versions it's usually to hear the comping patterns/groove. Or sometimes to hear a tricky passage that is eluding my reading.
    Last edited by rpjazzguitar; 12-05-2022 at 05:31 PM.

  9. #8

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    These days for a standard I’d listen to a few vocal recordings and try and learn the melody so I can sing it. Straight or music theatre versions are incredibly useful actually, not it be sniffed at as well as the more ‘mainstream’ style singers like Mel Torme, Nat Cole and of course, Frank and Ella.

    this takes a depressingly long time for some
    reason haha. But I just have it on in the car. B sections are always sticky, maybe that is one reason why half the time jazzers don’t bother to play them.

    By the time I’ve learned the melody I’ve usually got a decent handle on the chords just by osmosis. In common with I suspect a lot of guitar players I probably find harmony easier to hear than melody.

    Then it’s a matter of getting into the woods with different jazz versions and hearing what people do. Look at a few charts as well, see what changes are in the real book, iReal and other common sources, as well as some more ‘correct’ sources like the Dick Hyman book. that sort of thing. Make decisions about how I want to play it and what changes I would give to a band.

    Should look at the piano sheet music too, but tbh I don’t very often

    jazz compositions are harder in terms of the harmony and maybe the complexity of the melodic line (sometimes) but usually easier in that there’s one definitive version to check out, and often a composers lead sheet to compare your work with as well.

    btw this represents more an idealised idea of learning a tune. Very often I lack the time of I’m just learning the tune for a gig, or come back and go a bit deeper at another time. I would like to get better at going a bit deeper with tunes.

  10. #9
    Both, mostly. My preferred way for the last few months has been to learn the melody by ear first. Once you can sing it, you can play it. I mostly go by recordings that grab me in some way.

    Once I have the melody down I check out a sheet/iReal to get the harmony and learn just the root for each chord, thus playing the melody and the bass at the same time.

    This way instead of learning a few "grips" for each tune, I can fill in the chords myself, finding new arrangements each time. I find that this really helps to connect the melody to the harmony, but figuring the harmony out by ear would be too hard now.

  11. #10

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    1. Listen to a few versions of the tune to get hang of the melody.

    2. Learn melody from tab.

    3. Learn chords from internet print out.

    4. Work out solo approach.

    5. Jam with you tube backing tracks

  12. #11

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    I am in the minority for sure I am a good reader, so I just go to the chart. I can sight read pretty well only tempo will challenge me getting it correct in a real live situation. Probably the reason my ears could stand improvement. But the Jeff says if I want to get to the bottom of the tune all over it my ear has to take over.

  13. #12

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    I prefer to do it by ear and I usually avoid thinking much in conventional terms like 'this is ii-v-i' or functional terms... or finding basic chord/functions... which may seem strange because I have quite good ear for harmony and usually can name things by ear...

    But when I learn tunes I like to deliberately abstract myself from any preconceptions and try just to fumble my way with it on the fretboard... just whta sounds like I would like to hear. I find some particular pleasure in it an dit often makes simple pieces more interesting.

    But you can do it also with the charts but you just have to learn to 'forget' what the charts said once you got through it)))

  14. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by Groyniad

    it strikes me that if you aren't 'whistling' it first you shouldn't try to learn to play it

    i decide i want to play a tune because i've got it going round in my head after hearing it
    .
    Totally agree. Altho that's for ME; I have had situations where I've had to learn songs from a list, and they weren't songs I had played before (I probably had heard them, but they certainly weren't "in memory" like my personal favorites would be)

  15. #14
    So, an add-on question:

    How many of you guys actually use the charts when you play live? I've seen players play off "paper" (usually an iPad these days; altho large folders still exist) all night. I love it when I see someone playing from memory, it tells me how committed they were to really learning the tune (and perhaps "getting inside" of it).

    It actually irritates me when I see someone reading all night. Unless they are in an orchestra, but even then, though the charts are in front of them, and they have no doubt learned to rely on those charts, I bet they could play the pieces without them fine.

  16. #15

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    ^ Yeah I don't see why one would want to read all the time. Should have at least basic standards memorized. I usually just learn the tune off the page unless there is no chart for it and I'm forced to learn it by ear. :P



    Quote Originally Posted by Jonah
    I prefer to do it by ear and I usually avoid thinking much in conventional terms like 'this is ii-v-i' or functional terms... or finding basic chord/functions... which may seem strange because I have quite good ear for harmony and usually can name things by ear...

    But when I learn tunes I like to deliberately abstract myself from any preconceptions and try just to fumble my way with it on the fretboard... just whta sounds like I would like to hear. I find some particular pleasure in it an dit often makes simple pieces more interesting.

    But you can do it also with the charts but you just have to learn to 'forget' what the charts said once you got through it)))
    Do you come up with some unique chord progressions? I've thought about doing this.

  17. #16

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    Every tune I've learned, composed, practiced, rehearsed, performed, and recorded in the studio has always been by ear. I've read music since I was eight years old, but with the guitar I have never used standard notation, lead sheets, chord charts, TAB, books, or any other written/graphic paper/screen media. I like KingKong's five step template, so I'll borrow that...

    Listen to a good representative version
    (or the particular versions if requested)

    Remember (by ear) how the tune goes
    melody, harmony, song form and style

    Integrate everything linking high points
    musical peaks across the tune's profile

    Explore variations that support soloing
    passing chords, quartal subs, re-harms


    Woodshed solos via ear's backing track

  18. #17

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    Do you come up with some unique chord progressions? I've thought about doing this.
    More or less... I do not think of it exactly this way... and I do not fix it. It is not a kind of arrangment.

    As I said in most cases I hear harmony too well to not recognize it. I cannot totally exclude it from perception.

    It is a mix of everything I know, I guess...

    I think the main focus of it is the nature of the instrument: guitar and fretboard ...

    For me playing jazz guitar feels much like a clay modelling.

    On piano I do not feel it.

  19. #18

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    Something that I should add-- early on in the process of learning a tune, I physically write out a chart for it-- usually just a box grid with chord names. It helps me internalize the form.

  20. #19
    Quote Originally Posted by mr. beaumont
    Something that I should add-- early on in the process of learning a tune, I physically write out a chart for it-- usually just a box grid with chord names. It helps me internalize the form.
    I do the same, when learning by ear. Being able to visualize it (on paper) after figuring it out seems to help memory retention for some reason.

    I'm sitting here figuring out Chelsea Bridge right now, transcribing as I go.

  21. #20

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    Quote Originally Posted by KingKong
    1. Listen to a few versions of the tune to get hang of the melody.

    2. Learn melody from tab.

    3. Learn chords from internet print out.

    4. Work out solo approach.

    5. Jam with you tube backing tracks
    I'm pretty bad, but that is how I learn them as well (substitute tab in point 2 with notation...but only because I'm really focused on learning to read better).

    The only real change I would add is I look at the chord changes and mark out what key each part of the song is in. Then, I listen until I can sing it, I play through the chords and sing/hum until I can play the chords without looking. Then I record a quick "backing track" with the memorized chords and work on the melody. Once I have chords and melody memorized I look at how they connect. By the end of this I have chords, melody, keys, and key notes figured out.

  22. #21

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    Thing about paper, obviously, is that the notes are there, clear, no excuses. Doing it by ear is certainly prone to error and mishearing. We all hear stuff we're sure is right but it's not, which we discover later.

    That would be a very good argument for paper only but not everyone can read paper. Personally, I like to do both ways because the good stuff isn't always on the paper :-)

  23. #22

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    Quote Originally Posted by AllanAllen
    I suspect all these binary threads would have a similar result if there were a poll in top. Theory or ear, pick or fingers, coffee or tea…
    Funny but this topic of binary threads, becomes somewhat "hot" over the holidays when I meet people I only see once a year or so. E.g. my wife's coworkers or some of her more distance relatives or friends.

    Most topics are overly generalized into a binary question (or "take"). People talk and talk; I tend to just listen because I find these discussions so boring. I.e. there really isn't any substances; the topic is just made up BS based on generalized binary mindsets.

    If I'm asked for my opinion I state that I don't have one that "fits" into their context.

  24. #23
    Quote Originally Posted by AllanAllen
    I suspect all these binary threads would have a similar result if there were a poll in top. Theory or ear, pick or fingers, coffee or tea…
    3 isn't binary, BTW

  25. #24

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    Quote Originally Posted by ruger9
    3 isn't binary, BTW
    Adding "both" as an option is the copout way of implying the binary question was bogus from the start.

    Note that all those that did not answer "both" likely rephrased the question and thus they are saying "both"; I.e. they learn new tunes using a combination of paper\ear. They didn't answer with "both" assuming that the question was really NOT as binary as it sounded; I.e. how do you learn new tunes: MOSTLY by ear or MOSTLY by paper.

  26. #25

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    Quote Originally Posted by AaronMColeman
    The only real change I would add is I look at the chord changes and mark out what key each part of the song is in. Then, I listen until I can sing it, I play through the chords and sing/hum until I can play the chords without looking. Then I record a quick "backing track" with the memorized chords and work on the melody. Once I have chords and melody memorized I look at how they connect. By the end of this I have chords, melody, keys, and key notes figured out.
    Yes exactly, that s what I mean by 'work out solo approach'.Like figure out the key, where any modulations, any 2 5 1s are etc.

    Its really what some people might cause a lazy approach, but it gets u very quickly to the point where u can perform a tune.

    Where I spend the time seems to be on composing licks and strategies that are particular for each tune, as if I didn't literally every tunes' solo would be pretty much the same old stuff.