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Thread: Learning to Play by Ear Tutorial

  1. #1
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    Default Learning to Play by Ear Tutorial

    I sometimes receive a pm requesting tab or notation for a song/tune I recorded. Unfortunately, those resources are rarely freely available. Learning to play what you hear opens up a world of music for the players and frees them from the endless lessons to learn some new material or searching in vain for tab and notation.

    I put together a 12 minute tutorial of how I learn to play a tune or song by ear. I am using a fiddle, but I think it might still be helpful.

    I break the melody down into phrases and capitalize on having an understanding of the scale for the key I am playing it.

    I find that using a clip on tuner when playing this tutorial helps reference the notes.

    http://www.hangoutstorage.com/fiddle...2143132009.mp3

    If you find this tutorial helpful, please let me know as I would like to develop it further.

    Thank you in advance for both positive and negative comments.

    chuck

  2. #2

    Default Re: Learning to Play by Ear Tutorial

    Thanks for the tutorial.

    I noticed that you provided the note names and where to play them - to me, ear training means hearing a note or phrase and then trying to figure out what the notes are - and where to play them.

    I think your tutorial is more about how to play the tune - cuz' you provide the notes.

    When I try to learn a melody by ear - the hardest part is often just trying to find that first note.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Learning to Play by Ear Tutorial

    Thanks for the tutorial.

    I noticed that you provided the note names and where to play them - to me, ear training means hearing a note or phrase and then trying to figure out what the notes are - and where to play them.

    I think your tutorial is more about how to play the tune - cuz' you provide the notes.

    When I try to learn a melody by ear - the hardest part is often just trying to find that first note.
    Larry,

    I had a debate with myself on whether to call out the notes. The reason I did was so that the person who does not play by ear might be able to relate better to what I was wanting them to consider as they listened to the phrase. Calling out the notes also tells them where the note oringinated as in playing a G note on the D string, etc.

    Also, I thought it might be a bit frustrating for those try to learn to have no idea where I started the song.

    chuck

  4. #4

    Default Re: Learning to Play by Ear Tutorial

    Chuck I understand the dilemma, because a tutorial could really get primal and not even provide the key. There are at least the following situations:
    1) learn a tune from a recording where the key is not known
    2) learn a tune (like in a jam setting) where the key is announced, and the tune is brand new
    3) learn a tune where the key is announced, and the tune is fairly well known (like Amazing Grace) - where the learner can 'hear' the tune in his/her head.

    Like you suggest, #3 is the logical situation to start with.

    Learning a song by ear is something I still struggle with - usually I start by trying to find the first note, and then the up/down interval to the second note, and etc. To find the first note I continuously strum the first chord and hum the first note . . . then try to find it. Trying to do this in a jam is difficult - especially when one can't hear oneself. It helped me immensely when I realized that most songs start on the 1,3 or 5 note of a scale.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Learning to Play by Ear Tutorial

    Learning a song by ear is something I still struggle with - usually I start by trying to find the first note, and then the up/down interval to the second note, and etc. To find the first note I continuously strum the first chord and hum the first note . . . then try to find it. Trying to do this in a jam is difficult - especially when one can't hear oneself. It helped me immensely when I realized that most songs start on the 1,3 or 5 note of a scale.
    Larry,

    Thank you for your reply and feedback.

    I have been playing by ear since I was 6, that was a long time ago as I am 53.

    When I was young I just kinda hunted like you are doing, but later I got better at it to where if I knew the key, I could usually find the melody pretty fast since I had gotten used to those phrases from playing other songs/tunes.

    I had a guitar teacher once suggest that as a goal I try to learn to play what I hear. That suggestion stuck and I have been doing it ever since. However, I realize that for one reason or another this is not what a lot of players do and depend on tab or notation. My goal is to help those who are interested gain some type of foot hold on the process that I use.

    One of the most useful products I ever had was a Marantz cassette recorder, the type that you can slow down the recording while maintaining the pitch. I learned so many tunes this way that I was able to stop taking lessons. This recorder has been replaced by the Amazing Slower Downer software and even Quick Time allows this slowing down feature. These tools will help you develop your ear.

    chuck

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    Default Re: Learning to Play by Ear Tutorial

    Chuck,
    I'm also someone who has struggled with playing by ear. Maybe as a halfway point between the "primal" mode of not giving the studen anything, and giving them all the notes, you could give them the first starting note and the ending note of each phrase. It's up to them to make it sound like you do. That being said, I haven't had a chance to go through the whole tutorial yet. I'm looking forward to it though.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Learning to Play by Ear Tutorial

    I'm also someone who has struggled with playing by ear. Maybe as a halfway point between the "primal" mode of not giving the studen anything, and giving them all the notes, you could give them the first starting note and the ending note of each phrase.
    Hattio,

    Thank you for the suggestion. So you are saying that if you had the first and last notes, you could figure out the rest?

    chuck

  8. #8

    Default Re: Learning to Play by Ear Tutorial

    Quote Originally Posted by Chuck Naill View Post
    Larry,

    Thank you for your reply and feedback.

    I have been playing by ear since I was 6, that was a long time ago as I am 53.

    When I was young I just kinda hunted like you are doing, but later I got better at it to where if I knew the key, I could usually find the melody pretty fast since I had gotten used to those phrases from playing other songs/tunes.

    I had a guitar teacher once suggest that as a goal I try to learn to play what I hear. That suggestion stuck and I have been doing it ever since. However, I realize that for one reason or another this is not what a lot of players do and depend on tab or notation. My goal is to help those who are interested gain some type of foot hold on the process that I use.

    One of the most useful products I ever had was a Marantz cassette recorder, the type that you can slow down the recording while maintaining the pitch. I learned so many tunes this way that I was able to stop taking lessons. This recorder has been replaced by the Amazing Slower Downer software and even Quick Time allows this slowing down feature. These tools will help you develop your ear.

    chuck

    This has been my method of learning since I first picked up a guitar at age 9 (33 years ago). I had the same experience that you describe. I could hunt and peck and find a song by ear at first, but when I began to absorb enough theory (even though I didn't know that's what I was doing), it got to be easier and easier to pick up a song. After learning what chords fit with a key - and not just the I, IV & V, but the relative minors (didn't know what they were called at first) and the 7ths and other chords that fit in certain progressions - it gets to the point where you can just about play along the chords with any song you hear for the first time.

    Then I noticed that the melody lines and fill runs and leads were all based around the underlying chord shapes. Knowing enough theory to know the chords in a key, the scale patterns, and the like can make your ear learning MUCH easier.

    I think you did right in combining theory and notes with playing by ear. IMO, the best route isn't either/or - it's both. (if that makes any sense)

    When I first picked up a mandolin a few years ago, the rudimentary theory knowledge that I had really made learning to play mandolin go much easier and faster than my experience in learning to play guitar. I never had an instructor or took lessons for either one, so there was a LOT of trial and error. There was much less trial and error learning mandolin, but that is a function of knowing something about music first as opposed to just blindly trying to make the same sounds that I heard.

    Of course, by the time I picked up the mandolin, Al Gore had invented the internet. I found the Cafe, and all of that was a huge help as well. As a kid, all I had was a Nick Manaloff chord wheel and a John Denver cassette and accompanying song book.

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Learning to Play by Ear Tutorial

    I think you did right in combining theory and notes with playing by ear. IMO, the best route isn't either/or - it's both. (if that makes any sense)
    Thank you for saying this, Shane. I wanted to produce something rudimentry that could be used in another setting where the player might not have the notes, but would be able to take their ability to read music and get started on learning the melody.

    When I first picked up a mandolin a few years ago, the rudimentary theory knowledge that I had really made learning to play mandolin go much easier and faster than my experience in learning to play guitar.
    Me to. I just got this old Brazos A style mandolin and figured out enough to play some Norman Blake songs. I learned to play and banjo and fiddle the same way.

    Of course, by the time I picked up the mandolin, Al Gore had invented the internet. I found the Cafe, and all of that was a huge help as well. As a kid, all I had was a Nick Manaloff chord wheel and a John Denver cassette and accompanying song book
    I would have really enjoyed having had the easy access to MP3 recordings 25 years ago. Then I bought the LP's from Elderly of locally if I could find them. I have all of Blake's recordings from '93 on back.

    Once you get to the point where you can learn your own material and or play what you want to play, it opens up a world of enjoyment. Learning and training yourself to hear phrases pays big dividends.

    Thank you for your comments, Shane.

    chuck

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