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Ear training for the beginner?

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

  1. I have read here that to transcribe you need to know the beginning note, key, etc. And that you need to be able to transcribe to really learn. Ok, that sounds reasonable.

    My question is what do I have to do to get to that point. I hear a bass line, and honestly it is just a bunch of notes to me, but I have no clue as to what notes.

    Is it playing scales til I drop? Thumping out E notes until I hear them in my sleep and then moving on to another note? Taking lessons (then we get into how to tell if the person is a good teacher)?

    This stopped me from wanting to play years ago, and I don't want to give up this time. And I don't want to go back to just using tab again either.

    I know for some this is so basic it is like asking how to breathe, but I am hoping some here know what it is like to not be able to do this.

  2. fearceol


    Nov 14, 2006
    The best thing is to find a teacher. Finding a "good" teacher however can sometimes be hard. Maybe you could get a recommendation from someone ? You could also consider lessons by skype. I am sure you will get lots of recommendations here for those.

    In the mean time, a good web site to check out is www.studybass.com

    It starts with the basics, and builds gradually, lesson by lesson. Go to the very beginning and work from there.

    A good start would be to learn where all the notes are on the fretboard.

    Here is a chart which shows this :

  3. funnyfingers


    Nov 27, 2005
    Some people have the ear some people don't. My daughter at 6 yo went up to a piano and played Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Since she did that I got her a small keyboard and now a guitar. I got her a half sized guitar for her birthday. I showed her the notes that are in twinkle twinkle but didn't give her order or anything and she played a few and said hey this sounds like twinkle.

    Anyway for me, after playing a long time, I decided to test out my ability to figure out stuff. So I'd think of nursery rhymes and play them. I think learning a lot of songs that others transscribed will help as well.

    Now as for needing to know the first note of a song, that isn't really the case. If you play the song that you want to figure out and play your bass to it, you should be able to know if you are playing the wrong note because it won't harmonize. And the closer you are to the right note without being the right note, the worse it will sound.

    Knowing how to sing also helps. If you can sing the bass line and then you try to play it you should hear a wah wah hum sort of vibration when you are off. Of course your vocals could be off there as well...
  4. While I agree that there are varying degrees of inherent ability with respect to possessing the ear for music, I believe it is something that most people can learn. I consider my ear to be decent, but it was nearly nonexistent when I first started bass.
  5. kalanb


    Dec 17, 2012
    Singing is key. If you can sing it you can play it.

    Pick a key that works for your vocal range and sing along while you play a major scale and chromatic scale. Then work on specific intervals. Go back and forth between a major and minor third, playing and singing sometimes at the same time, sometimes not. Do this for all the intervals.

    A good test is to play a note and sing it, then sing an interval above (or below) that note. While still singing the second note, play that note on your bass to see how close you are.

    There are also familiar songs to help: I've Been Working of the Railroad is a perfect 4th, Do You Hear What I Hear is a perfect 5th, the NBC song is a perfect 6th.


    Or pretty much exactly what Scott's talking about in this post:
  6. Thanks, all. I really do appreciate the effort.

    I might be hopeless. Sing? hahahahahahaha. More like croak. Even if I could sing I would have no clue how to pick a key that I could sing in. That's really my problem. I haven't learned how to crawl and it seems that I need to be able to walk to start. :(

    I don't think I am tone deaf, I used to be able to do intervals on a piano(college music theory course) well enough to pass the class. 28 years ago though.
    I may be tone deaf for bass though. I know I have some low frequency hearing loss.

    At least there are a lot more tabs than there used to be back in the '80's. :oops:

  7. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    Pick up your bass, and sing & play:
    "Mary Had a Little Lamb"
    "Three Blind Mice"
    "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star"
    "Happy Birthday"

    If that is too difficult for you, then play long tones on your bass and match the pitch of your voice to the pitch of the bass. Learning how to "match pitch" is the all-important first step. You'll get it eventually, I promise. :)
  8. Shep_Ramsey


    Sep 12, 2012
    Scott Devine from scottsbasslessons.com just posted a short video explaining a great way to do ear training even when you aren't at the bass. Check it out!
  9. Yeah, I am subscribed to Scott's email and watched that video over the weekend. I like the idea of playing really simple songs and trying to sing along with them. My wife may not like it though. Honestly, I can't sing.
    Will have to download some of that simple songs sheet music.
  10. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    ^ Don't use sheet music; that kind of defeats the purpose of the exercise! (Unless you are transcribing first, and then checking your work against the published sheet music, kind of like an answer key.)
  11. I think this is the key I have been looking for.
  12. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    You're welcome!

    To expand on the concept of "match pitch," what I mean is you should practice:

    Listen to 2 pitches
    Are they the same pitch or different pitches?
    If they are different, is Pitch A higher or lower than Pitch B?
    Is it a little bit higher (or lower), or a lot higher (or lower)?

    Once you can get that far, then the next step is to hear the specific interval (but don't worry if you're not there yet).

    For example: "Mary Had a Little Lamb," is the 1st note ("Ma-") higher or lower than the 2nd note ("-ry")? (Or are they the same? ;)) By a lot or a little? What about the 2nd note and the 3rd note? And so forth.

    Or another example: Play a note on the bass and then try to sing it. Did you nail it? Or are you too high or too low? Are you off by a lot, or a little? Can you bring your voice down (or up) in pitch until it matches?
  13. Ok, I am a little confused here. I know I am missing something important here. I can sing without the sheet music, but I can't play without it. Talking about the matching pitch to the simple songs you listed.

    Looking a lot like I need to find a music teacher.
    I know a great one but she is in Minnesota.

  14. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    Apologies if I was misleading; I am giving you advice from my own experience. I am not referencing the Scott Devine lessons, or any of the other excellent advice from other Talkbass members.

    You absolutely CAN play "Twinkle Twinkle" and "Mary Had a Little Lamb" without sheet music! That's what "ear training" means to me and what I encourage you to do, too, if you want to develop a good ear. If you can sing it, you can play it. If you can play it, you can sing it.

    Go watch "Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back" and pay attention to Yoda's instruction to Luke. If you say "I can't do it! It's impossible!!!" then you will fail. But if you say "Yes, I can!" then you CAN achieve it. :)

    What is stopping you? Turn off the computer, pick up your bass, and play "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" until it sounds right. Go! Right now! YOU CAN DO IT!!!
  15. 1958Bassman


    Oct 20, 2007
    You'll need to learn your scales, but the main thing that will make learning songs easier is through learning the sound of the interval between notes. It also helps for learning chords and progressions by ear. Learning the intervals makes it easier to learn scales and arpeggios, from my experience. The manual dexterity will come over time, but being able to hear where the music is going also allows someone to anticipate what's coming up.

    I took lessons within a few months of getting my first guitar (I was 9) and since I constantly listened to music on my own or when a radio was on, I was already able to learn a song to be able to sing along. I saw figuring out where the notes are on a guitar as a natural thing and was doing this that first summer. We had music class in early grade school, so that helped, too. I stopped playing about three years later because A) my friends didn't play anything, B) I didn't like the music my teacher had me working on and C) I didn't know the questions to ask to be able to advance. I started playing again about 3 years later, when I got an album for my birthday and found that my reading sucked, so I concentrated on learning by ear. I could read, but it wasn't fast and didn't qualify as 'sight-reading', like I could do before. I found that my ear advanced far faster than any other skill, and one of the things that helped me most was trying to play along with music that was really difficult to play. Being the stubborn type, I took it as a challenge to overcome, not "I can't do it, I'll just give up".
  16. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    How's "Twinkle Twinkle" coming along?

    Maybe try learning the Star Wars theme next to celebrate using the Force to overcome this obstacle? (The "B section" in the middle is kind of tricky, but the main part of theme is EASY and always gets a reaction from people---even my cat loves hearing me play the Star Wars theme!)

    Or if you're not into Sci Fi, try: Happy Birthday, nursery rhymes, holiday songs, national anthem, folk songs, pop tunes, etc.
  17. Well, it isn't. My bad, I have been overly tired from work the last couple of days. Haven't even touched the bass. Go home from work, eat, go to bed. Not good for the diet either.

    But that is going to change, I found an instructor and I am starting lessons tomorrow.

    And star wars, hmmm. at least that one I know how it is supposed to sound. I've had mary had a little lamb running in my head the last few days. Only I am not sure if it is right. Haven't even thought of that one in many years. :)

  18. agoya


    Aug 30, 2012

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