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again - how to "hear" chords, scales?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by thehangingmist, Mar 28, 2013.

  1. ive been struggling with this for so long that i probably should just give up playing music and look for a job or something but for some reason i keep banging my head against this wall hoping ill make a break through, anywho here goes nothing..

    so i dont know how most musicians "just hear" chord qualities, underlying modes/scales, can transcribe/play back melodies they hear and somehow i can't. Am sure not tone deaf! Maybe i used to be i've worked a long up way from there. Took some proper ear training classes and that helped A LOT but after a while it was not going in the direction i wanted it to, ie be able hear chords and melodies off hand so i can hear and play better.

    i figure out all the music by ear but i have to really sit down and load up a song in audaicty and somehow break it down slow it down and get the bass lines down, even then i dont intuitively know the proper chords and the main melody and until i sit down and find those somehow. most people can just do that its so frustrating really!

    but i cant sit down to figure out things when playing with others, especially in improv situations am just thrown out of the water.

    now i have spent years practicing, scales and arpeggios and what not but somehow i have not "internalized" their in a way that i can recognize them when i hear them on a record in an unfamiliar way. i can even sing most of the scales/modes, arpeggios etc thanks to the ear training classes.

    Also learned a huge load of harmony and theory etc so that helps me "guess" some stuff but i dont know how to "systematically" iron out this whole issue from the very basics of it? sorry about the long post but maybe you get me, so any ideas? how do i work on this?

    how do i hear music in my head? how can my friends pickup an instrument and just figure out and play a song they heard on the radio once last week but i have to sit down with a computer and find every note one by one? this has been going on for far too long, ive gotten somewhat better at it but its either a hit or miss.

    i think this is probably the tenth time am posting a similar thread or post, i try to explain myself better every time hoping to get some advice i can work on and get results.
  2. Good luck. This seems to be something that you either can do or you can't. I am firmly in the can't crowd. Although I seem to have some skill at it with piano. I can hear piano notes and chords and can usually find them on the keyboard eventually. ???
    It's kind of like being color blind and asking someone to describe red vs orange. At least in my experience.
  3. thats just depressing now!:crying:
  4. I think what the OP is talking about is not developing perfect pitch (which IS generally a case of "you either can do or you can't"), but general ear-training as in learning to recognize melodies, interval & chord qualities, scales, etc... which anyone can learn.

    To the OP - sounds like you're doing many of the right things. Ear training takes time, and it's a very gradual process. You ask "how can I hear music in my head?" I'm guessing that the problem isn't so much that, but that you're unable to take what you're hearing in your head and play it on your instrument. Do you sing what you're trying to play? Do you take a melody that you can play in your head and figure it out on your bass, even if it's something simple like "Mary Had a Little Lamb?"

    Singing, and working stuff out on a piano or keyboard can work wonders.
  5. gavinspoon


    Feb 11, 2008
    Cardiff UK
    What sort of music are you trying to play?

    Do you play any chording instruments? (Piano, guitar)

    How many songs do you know how to play?
  6. ive been trying to figure it out long enough to know what pieces need to be put together but somehow its not "happening" as they say it

    i mean i know first i need to get my intervals down. get them really sorted in both melodic and harmonic ways.
    then work on triads then seventh chords so on.
    but the problem is lets say i learned the sound of the perfect 4th interval, melodically harmonically and even its inversion! i can sing and recognize it when someone plays it on a piano. but thats a very "isolated" situation
    what i mean is i will not recognize the interval in the middle of a melody! because maybe the first note was not the root of the "key center" for example 2nd going to [DEL]6th[/DEL] 5th is a p4 interval but it sounds kinda different in context to a key center. get what i mean?
    or most of the times the melodies are just way too fast. for example i have to play "spain" the famous jazz tune and every time i try to get its intervals down its just flies over my head way too fast for me to break it down and not get a headache out of it:atoz:
  7. i am not playing any specific kind of music, the usual stuff .. rock - pop, some jazz and fusion etc

    i can play basic triads and some seventh chords on guitar mostly bar chords etc thats allright, piano a teeny weeny bit
    i can play all the chords etc on the bass better though or so i think

    i have been playing music for a long time like over 5 years, i play in a couple of bands and everytime i somehow just manage my way out by finding out the chords one way or another either by looking at the guitar player or asking other people, once i know the chords i can put basslines together because i know which notes "work" but its not a musical/aural process and its slowly starting to just kill me!

    coming back around to answer your question, how many songs i can play? quite a lot i'd say, but mostly i just know the bass lines and that tells me the chord qualities etc if it doesnt then i dont know what others are doing really

    its like a took a jazz ensemble workshop where we learned to play a few standards, now i learned the tune from the chart the chords and the melody to say autumn leaves, billies bounce, straight no chaser etc
    learned about chord-scales which work over those chords so i could solo over the changes etc but again am not doing any of it by ear besides keeping time and staying in form with the others you know. if the piano player throws in some chord substitutions i wont know what he did, ill probably just be like oh damn what just happened:confused::eek: help me!?
  8. 1 play the usual pop rock funk and some jazz and fusion like i said above

    2 every since i picked up the instrument around 2007 i guess

    3. sorry my bad there! oops!
  9. klokker


    Jan 7, 2009
    Steele City, NE
    I think you're "over-thinking it".

    If you're really serious, I'd get a keyboard and learn basic chords and scales, maybe take some lessons in that regard.

    I've been doing it for years, have my intervals down to instinct, and I still get mixed up once in a while. Sometimes breaking down a difficult bassline by ear will take me a week or so and I"ve been doing it for a while. One second of music can take a while to get into your head. You'll hear it one way, play it, and the next day you'll realize that you heard it wrong.

    It takes a lot of patience and persistance. If you're forcing it, you'll drive yourself nuts.
  10. the deal was to keep working out songs till i just start to hear stuff without picking up an instrument, but its getting a little messy in the middle where for example i can pick up the bass and slowly learn all the bass lines in a yellow jacket or weather report song but really have no idea about what harmony is really going on besides the root notes!
    and when am in a real playing situation where I AM the bass player and i have to play in response to what other guys are doing, its just mechanical there! see what chords are going on, play chord tone bass lines and connect them with outside notes for some interest and thats it. there is no creativity to it, or innovation you know!

    am probably digressing here, these are two separate but probably related issues or so i think
  11. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    Start with songs you've known your whole life: nursery rhymes, mary had a little lamb, twinkle twinkle little star, Christmas carols, your national anthem, etc.

    Then gradually work your way up until you are transcribing solos from classic recordings of autumn leaves, billies bounce, straight no chaser, etc.

    Personally when I do ear traning/transcription, I do it sitting at the piano (but bass works too if you don't have a piano) and *without* a recording of the song. In other words, from memory. If I'm having trouble remembering how the song goes, I listen to it over and over again in the car.
  12. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    ps This site has some quizzes that will help you recongize intervals, chord types, etc:


    quiz yourself a few minutes each day and watch your skills magically improve!
  13. thanks for writing in! i have done those exact things sometime back!

    infact i did somehow get this sonny rollins solo down! but the suckiest bit is i could not "hear" the chords going on in there to save my life so i just left it there and was not able to make it a part of my vocabulary you know

    anyway so it took me forever but i learned that solo, its not the hardest one out there but its the hardest thing i ever figured out (and then forgot) but even with the simpler stuff i have to break it down to the simplest bits and figure out each interval note by note. now i can really only do that in my bed room not in a real playing situation..
    sometimes i can get a simple phrase or a part of it in one go, like a couple of notes, but mostly not!
    and the keyboard player in my band can just play back every note the singer hits, harmonize it and put it all together while its happening! ouch!
  14. Well, 5 years is not that long really. It sounds like you might just be in a bit of a hurry to improve, which is understandable.

    It takes time to learn to hear music especially for someone who plays bass. We focus on the low end and often don't learn the melodies to songs after playing them for years. Whereas for horn players and singers and lead instruments the melodies define the tune and are usually learned first.

    Keep studying your triads and seventh chords. You can learn to build very effective baselines from roots, thirds, fifths, sevenths and the occasional chromatic passing notes.

    If you can't figure out the chord from listening to and watching the guitarist, then ask. Whatever it takes to get it going.

    Even rock and pop songs have charts (sometimes). Find chord charts on line from Chordie and other sites so you don't have to guess. The more you play the right lines the more you'll hear what works and what doesn't.

    And not being able to identify piano chord substitutions on the fly while playing - just play your supportive arpeggio - influenced bass line right on through and practice just hearing what is going on around you.
  15. bearfoot


    Jan 27, 2005
    schenectady, ny
    All I can tell you is how I learned in my own ear training. Perhaps there is a difference in methodology from what your teacher did.

    We learned our intervals via existing melodies. I think this will help you pick out melodies. So the perfect fourth was "here comes the bride", the fifth was the bassline of "ricky don't lose that number", and soforth and so on. For every interval, you must have a melody hook to match.

    For chords, just work on recognizing major, minor, augmented, and diminished triads. Then add sevenths and etc.

    For all of this, someone else has to play them. Don't move on to anything else until you can hear the intervals cold. Hear them in nature. Those cardinals calling right now? Descending major second.

    I believe you can have this breakthrough. But you'd better go ahead and get a job : ) but never stop. A musician is always a musician, whether rocking the house or digging holes.
    rattleheadcrusher likes this.
  16. gavinspoon


    Feb 11, 2008
    Cardiff UK
    Ok. Its very difficult to try and understand rock, pop, fusion and jazz all at once, any one of those can be a lifetime of study.

    I suggest that you pick a thin niche of music and focus on it until you have internalised the musical forms of that niche (it should be the simplest type of music that you like). That means building repertoire through transcribing songs. Once you've done that, then that understanding acts as a foundation for learning the other styles.
  17. bander68


    Jan 29, 2013
    Perhaps figuring out how to solfege (do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-ti-do) intervals will help, but honestly I think you just need to keep plugging away at it. In college theory, we had to sing this little song every day as part of our basic sight-singing. "Do-Re, major 2nd, Do-Mi, major 3rd, Do-Fa, perfect 4th, Do-Sol, perfect 5th, Do-La, major 6th, Do-Ti, major 7th, Do-Do, perfect octave". Then we'd do it in reverse from the high Do going down. It was silly, but it stuck with me. And I think that was the point. 20 years later, and I still sometimes recall it to verify that I'm hearing an interval correctly. There are also chromatic solfege syllables, and later on we learned the same song using all of those as well. As "Sound of Music" as it is, all of that time doing solfege solidified intervals for me.

    Beyond that, you may need to just give yourself time. Eventually certain intervals become "automatic", and over time other ones should follow.
  18. elgecko


    Apr 30, 2007
    Anasleim, CA
    I don't know how often you use chord charts/sheets but seeing that you're playing Dmin to G7 for example, and hearing it is a good way to learn how to hear chords. The ability to hear scales in my opinion is a far less useful tool.
  19. Versatek6

    Versatek6 Fretless is like Trombone Supporting Member

    Oct 7, 2008
    Twin Cities, MN
    I hadn't heard your, "Interval Song." before this. That's good. We started learning solfege in 1st grade, so it has stuck with me since '68, and been a great help ever since.

    To the OP, based on the styles you posted, it seems like you are jumping into the deep end of the song pool.

    You mentioned following the bass line of a Yellowjackets song. You probably know this: the bass isn't playing all roots. They may be playing the root of a chord, but that is different from the tonic (first scale note) of the key signature/scale. If we're in C major, a I chord is CEG and a V chord is GBD. The chord roots are the C and G, the interval is P5 (tonic-5th (sol)). If the next chord is a IV (FAC), my brain doesn't necessarily hear "down a major 2nd from the last chord," it is hearing "P4 above the tonic." I keep the tonic in my head, and relate everything to that.

    The bass can also be playing what are called "passing tones," or "leading tones." These are notes that create a flow from one chord to another. The bass could also be playing a 3rd or 5th of the chord (1st & 2nd inversion), or a note not in the chord ("Turn It On Again")!

    Work on always hearing the tonic in your head, and go from there. Good Luck!
  20. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.

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