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Doing it by ear.

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Bushfire, Sep 11, 2005.

  1. I'm not sure if this is in the right forum, if it isn't, mods feel free to move it.

    Now I've seen a number of methods of learning to learn songs by ear on talkbass but they all start with one horrible,horrible assumption:

    They all assume you can pick out notes of the song by ear!

    Now correct me if I'm wrong, but that's what I'm trying to learn isn't it? I'm guessing you guys and girls are looking at it from the other side of the fence; that is, you're looking at it post-improving you're ear to the point where you could do that.

    I wan't to learn songs by ear, I don't want to be slave to tabs, I want to be able to listen to song and pick out the chords and what the bassist is doing underneath those chords!

    Don't get me wrong, I don't think this is gonna be easy, I know it will take lots of hard work and commitment and most of all practice, and I am fully prepared to do that. I know some people- like the guitarist in my band-have been around music and playing it their entire life, and whilst he might not know a lick of theory, he can pick anything out of a song and play it, without knowing how he knows. Some people just say "dont use tabs, just learn it by ear" well that's great, how?

    So that's really what I want to know, how can I set up a practice regime to improve my ear to the point where I can learn a song myself. (I've only ever done one little thing my self, I figured out the first chord of a song, and that was just from noodling on my guitar, not something I could reproduce!)

    I apologise for rambling,
  2. There is no substitute for putting in the hours. You just have to start learning songs off the record, err CD.
    The more you do it the easier it get's. When I started it took me a couple days to get thru a tune and it's arrangement. Now I can learn 6 or more tunes in a couple hours. Your ear only get's better with training and that means hours of learning tunes. You'll start to recognize the chord changes and note relations. Start off with simple tunes before you tackle "Close to the Edge" or "Giant Steps". ;)

    Learn the sections of a tune first, then worry about how it all fit's together. Take your time and don't get frustrated.

    There just isn't a short road to developing an ear.
  3. Correlli


    Apr 2, 2004
    New Zealand
    I hear what you're saying kiwi.

    What you could be wanting is to improve you Aural skills. The book in the link below, should be a good place to starting learning about the art of hearing.


    That perfect pitch course is a bit of a scam, IMO
  4. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Some people were born with a great ear, some people weren't. I'm lucky that I have perfect pitch and I can figure out chords just by listening.

    The main thing is to get used to hearing all the different chords in all the different keys. Playing a melody instrument like piano or guitar will help you immensely with this. You don't have to be good at it, but you should be able to plunk down some chords.

    Also, learning music theory is quite important for ear training. A lot of figuring out stuff by ear is because the people that can do it have studied theory and know what different chords sound like.

    Also, even with people who are good at picking out chords from songs, they will still probably need a reference point to figure out the key. So a lot of times they'll play the song with instrument in hand so they can figure out the key of the song.

    Anyway, just work on it hard, learn as much as you can about music, and it should come to you eventually.
  5. I can't even do that though I tried it, but I could listen to a song a million time and be no closer to what notes they are, you see my point? You assumed I could get the notes if I took my time, I can't and I have definately tried, it was simple enough to-"Rawkfist" by Thousand Foot Krutch, just simple powerchord stuff but I still couldn't do it, I mean I'll keep on trying but.... I want to know where to start....

    EDIT-And kiwi, 55 usd?!!? I'm buying an amp and a car before I spend 60 bucks on a book! (yes, yes I am broke :D )
  6. I play guitar, and you're right, I does help a lot, I can sometimes tell if a song is major/minor by ear just by the feel. And working hard and sticking at it is what I've been doing but after about a year I've barely improved at all, I'm learning theory, but what aspects would you think would help?

    Thanks everyone for all your help, you don't know how much it means to me, keep it coming!
  7. cowsgomoo

    cowsgomoo gone to Longstanton Spice Museum

    Feb 8, 2003
    there's nothing wrong with tabs just to start off getting your fingers in the right places - everyone, when they started playing bass, had to be shown 'well you put your finger here and then you pluck the string, then move your finger to this fret etc...'

    the only problem with tabs or any form of notation is if you use them solely as 'instructions for finger movement' rather than as an aid to developing your musical ear...

    the real learning happens when, through hours and hours of doing it, you begin to associate what the different intervals sound like when you put your fingers in different places... e.g. if you're playing a 'D' on the A string, you know the sound of the note you'll get by moving up 3 frets on the 'D' string... (Bb - a minor 6th)

    eventually when you've done this plenty of times you'll hear a song, pick up your bass, find the root, and when the bass note changes, you'll be able to match the sound of the changing notes to the appropriate fret...

    so to summarise... the main skill is being able to map what you hear to the correct string & fret on the bass.. a really good way of developing this is to sing your bassline along as you play... try and sing a little melody (it can be anything.. go wild!) and follow it on your bass a split second after... spend an hour doing this, and don't play anything you can't sing... it sounds silly but doing this regularly will train your musical mind on what the notes sound like, as often when we practice we can end up 'finger wiggling' without our ear getting fully involved
  8. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    I don't think it's possible to separate out certain aspects of theory and say those are what you should concentrate on. It's all important, and it all will help you.
  9. When I first started I was the same way. Some ears take longer than others but unless you are completly tone deaf, it will come with time.
    You have to TRAIN your ear to hear the relationships between the chord patterns.
    Don't get frustrated and put in the time and one day a light is just gonna go off.
  10. Thank you, that's the kinda thing I am getting at, I now have a starting point to practice at, and will endeavour to improve at that.
  11. Wrong Robot

    Wrong Robot Guest

    Apr 8, 2002

    I'd just like to point out that you do not need perfect pitch to be able to do this.
  12. Blackbird

    Blackbird Moderator Supporting Member

    Mar 18, 2000
    What I've heard is that people with perfect pitch usually don't enjoy music as much as other people because they can tell (and have to endure) when instruments and singers are not 100% in tune, which is most of the time.

    Can you shed some light into that?

    Picking out tunes by ear can be challenging for beginners. The trick is to start with easy melodies to train your ear. Vocal melodies you know well is a good start.
  13. Tom


    Sep 7, 2005
    Davis, CA
    I'll offer my humble advice. I hope that other, more experience players offer theirs, too.

    To give you a bit of background, I recently auditioned for an all-originals band. They provided me with recordings of their material and asked me to learn the songs. Being someone who had never learned a song by ear before, I had much to figure out about the process.

    One helpful step for me is to break the song down into its sections (i.e. verse, prechorus, chorus, bridge) and write down the order and number of repetitions. This does two things for me: (1) it organizes the song in my mind, making it easier to memorize and (2) the job becomes less intimdating, since I only actually have three or four short parts to figure out for the entire song.

    For most rock, it's easy to assume that the time signature is 4/4, but I try counting along with the tune (1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4...) to make sure. If 4 beats don't fit, it could be 3/4 or 12/8. Knowing the time signature helps me with organization and grooving with the drummer.

    Then I try to find the first few notes of the song on my bass - maybe a measure or two worth. My ear isn't perfect, so I can't always identify them right away. Most rock is in E or A, so I don't have to hunt for the notes too much (they also tend to be somewhere in first position in my case). If you just absolutely cannot find the first few notes - which sounds like your plight - there's no shame in checking a tab to get them as long as you only take the first bar or two. Hopefully, you won't have to do this after some practice. Try not to feel discouraged because everyone here had to start somewhere.

    Now, you could just listen to each and every note and try to find it on the fretboard one by one, but the more efficient method I've found is to use the first few notes to figure out the key of the song (i.e. D major, E minor). I still do this by checking what scale pattern the notes fit in, though another way would be to identify the scale by the note names alone; accidentals might give away the key if you know a little theory. Or you could try to find out the chord changes (rhythm guitarists sometimes play them pretty clearly) and just play the roots at first and then fill in the other notes. Use whichever method works best for you, even if you have to figure out the chords on guitar and then transfer to bass. You're still developing your ear.

    When you have the key (and thus the corresponding scale) of the song, everything gets easier, especially if you know the notes on your bass. If you only know the shape of the scale, that will help, too, but you have to take into account that the song will probably stretch beyond that single-octave pattern. I use this scale to figure out the rest of the song. Sometimes, I might still hunt around on the fretboard if I don't recognize the intervals, but at least I've narrowed down the note choices.

    Once I have one part (say, the verse) of the song, I try playing along with the recording with my bass set a little louder than my cd player. I listen for notes that sound wrong and try to correct them before moving on to the next section. Once I have the whole song, I do the same thing again: trial and error, my friend.

    Have I gotten it right every time? No. But I got the gig. And you know what? I'm getting better at it.

    So get motivated, grab your axe, and show that tune who's boss. :cool:
  14. Tom


    Sep 7, 2005
    Davis, CA
    I've found this software helpful on those hard-to-hear sections:


    You can EQ out everything but the bass (so you don't hear the other instruments), you can slow down the recording without changing the pitch, and you can analyze small sections of the song for the notes (displayed on the midi keyboard interface in the window). The site also has information about using the software effectively.
  15. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    I don't get driven insane by out-of-tuneness, but I do pick up on it a lot. It doesn't really make me enjoy music any more or less, though. I realized early on that tuning is an imperfect art, so I think I adjusted to it a lot easier than others with perfect pitch that do get driven nuts by it.

    Wrong Robot, I realize that you don't need PP to pick out chords, but people without it often need to hear a reference or establish the key of the song with an instrument in their hands before they can tell you the chords. They can't just hear a C chord out of nowhere and say "Oh, that's a C chord." Not that I'm bragging or anything though, because PP and 50c won't even get you a cup of coffee.
  16. Boplicity

    Boplicity Supporting Member

    BushFire, I understand your predicament. When I first started out trying to learn songs I likes, I really thought I WAS getting the correct notes and doing an ACCURATE job of finding the notes. However, when I played my hard work for musicians I knew, they were almost horrified at how wrong I was. I mean, obviously I HAD NO CLUE.

    What finally helped me (and that took many, many months of dedicated, diligent effort) was developing an understanding of INTERVALS. This helped develop RELATIVE PITCH, not perfect pitch. But you don't need perfect pitch if you have relative pitch, the skill of knowing how far apart sonically one note is from another.

    Gary Willis has written an excellent book/CD set that helps you develop and understanding of intervals and helps develop your capacity for note recognition. I have misplaced this book long ago, but I think the name is "Ear Training for Bass and Guitar" or something similar.
  17. Hey guys, I just recieved a reply from an email I sent off to a local band here, inquiring about music to one of their songs (mumsdollar-rescue me btw). To my amazement, I got the tabs for the verse and chorus, and I thought "what a perfect oppurtunity to try out and see what I can do" So I am making the song on guitar pro, with the aid of Transcribe! (great call, whoever that was) and I am actually (slowly) figuring out the bassline with a 50/50 mix of ear and theory! I figure if I just keep doing this, and working on my intervals, eventually (with any luck!) I should become much better at this! Thanks for your help everyone, I'll keep on working and keep you posted!

  18. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    Learning stuff by ear really is just down to putting in the hours.

    Using myself as an example, I've never been schooled as a musician, so I spent 15 years working out parts from records, so I'm better learning this way than from fly sh~t. Still, I know damned well there are peeps on here who would kick my Rs in the International Learn a Tune From A Record Finals :D

    Best advice I can give is listen to the tune loads of times through and learn to sing the part you want to learn BEFORE you pick up your bass. By doing this you learn the tune first, which is the single most important thing, and deal with the mechanics of playing it afterwards. I guarantee you'll learn a lot quicker and more thoroughly if you work this way.

    That's enough of my waffle for now!
  19. Joe Nerve

    Joe Nerve Supporting Member

    Oct 7, 2000
    New York City
    Endorsing artist: Musicman basses
    When I started playing (guitar) I had no choice but to learn by ear. To tell you I know how I did that would be a lie. I think it may have come naturally to me. I can tell you this though for sure, it was a lot harder for me to distinguish bass tones than guitar tones until I got really used to it. That at least tells me that it is a skill that can be learned.

    If I were to start learning to do it now I think I'd take the simplest songs I know, and play along with the records as much as possible. Practice tuning up to the records. Play along with Blitzkrieg Bop and make sure your A string is totally in tune with the song. Play along to as many songs as you can, then start listening to other simple songs. Some groups it's alot easier than others to pick out the bass. Humming the notes I think often helps, and going with 2 second pieces at a time I think is essential in the begiing. Play 2 seconds of music, stop it, hum and then find it on the bass neck.

    Also have to note that while I believe knowing theory would probably be helpful in training your ear, it is by NO MEANS essential. The ONLY way the majority of greats who don't know any theory learned to play the way do is by developing a good ear. How else could they learn? Until recently Flea didn't know any theory at all. David Bowie's bassist (why can't I think of her name?) doesn't know the notes on the neck past the 7th fret.