1. Please take 30 seconds to register your free account to remove most ads, post topics, make friends, earn reward points at our store, and more!  
    TalkBass.com has been uniting the low end since 1998.  Join us! :)

Ear training

Discussion in 'Music Theory [DB]' started by Ant Illington, Aug 31, 2016.

  1. Ant Illington

    Ant Illington I'm Anthony but I'm only illin' Banned

    I am an electric bass player, not playing Jazz but I turn to you guys first since I presume that the ratio of learned musicians to guessers is better in this forum.

    I am aware of the debate of "scale tones vs chord tones" in crafting bass lines. Ever since I started thinking in terms of referencing the chord at hand rather than the key of the song, my playing has greatly benefited. (There is a point to my mentioning this...later).

    I am not yet a jazzer and my study of it keeps getting interupted by cover tunes, lots and lots of cover tunes.

    However, I am long tired of learning mechanically and with bass having to be in hand. I want to get to the point of transcribing totally by ear but I am uncertain as to how to think about intervals and I want to do it right because I have gone down wrong paths before in other aspects of playing bass. (Let me add here that I have worked w some ear training software, including singing along with the trainer notes but the tones are stand alone and not bass so I find the transference to learning actual bass lines to be minimal).

    So, on to my queation:

    I was learning "Let's Do It Again" by the Staple Singers.


    E, C#m, A, F#m, B in their arrangement. One chart I've seen calls my B, F#m7/B instead. Feel free to chime in on your opinion/fact of the theory behind that notation, too.

    So the prog is I vi7 IV ii7 V

    Almost done here. Forgive me for not scoring this, I'm away from Finale.

    The opening bass line relative to the E major scale is 1 3 5 6 6 5 3 4 3 2 2 5. Despite my fondness for crafting bass lines by thinking in terms of chord tones (and admittedly not knowing ahead of time exactly what each note will sound like but knowing that a major third will work with the I chord, for instance), I find that in ingraining this little part into my head while humming here at work I am referencing each note in terms of the E major interval. The 6th note of the line (B), for example, I am singing/thinking of it as the 5th scale degree of the E major scale rather than as its "actual function" as the min7 of the of the vi chord (C#m7) being played. It's "easier" for me this way. Is it best to do this- simplify and learn intervals relative to the major key first or should I be thinking "min7th of vi" from the get go. I wish Inhad a natural ear. Please let me know hiw to go about thinking of intervals these two ways.

  2. Steve Freides

    Steve Freides Former Mannes College Theory Faculty Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Ridgewood, NJ
    B serves both functions - it's scale degree 5, and scale degree 5 is the 7th of a vi7 chord, too. There is no "better" and a person could do far worse than being able say what scale degree they're hearing all the time in a piece of tonal music. If you hear it as scale degree 5, and you know that it's the 7th of the vi7 chord you're playing, you have the best of both worlds, in my opinion.

    Carry on, don't sweat the small stuff.

    Ant Illington likes this.
  3. Ant Illington

    Ant Illington I'm Anthony but I'm only illin' Banned

    Thank you for your input. The reason I'm considering the small stuff is because I can't figure out why I'm not anywhere near as good so many people who have played for many fewer years! It has to be ears! Haha. So frustrating. Not to mention that learning songs correctly takes me so long.

    So, a question following up to your answer: Assuming that one doesn't have perfect pitch where they can just hear the notes for their names, you will transcribe tunes and identify intervals relative to the scale and "tune out" the chord changes by holding the I in their/your mind?
  4. Steve Freides

    Steve Freides Former Mannes College Theory Faculty Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Ridgewood, NJ
    I am a former college ear-training and theory teacher at the Mannes College of Music in NYC, and I happen to have perfect pitch so I can't answer your questions from personal experience, but I learned how to teach people who didn't have perfect pitch, so I can tell you how we taught this.

    You do want to do what you're asking about, which is have the tonic in your mind all the time, so long as the piece stays in the same key. And you want your knowledge of theory to be good, too. Figuring out things in real time means you're using all of the tools at your disposal, e.g., sometime you'll hear something, while at other times you might not be sure what you heard but your knowledge can tell you what it probably was.

    So far, I'm not aware of anything you're doing wrong, but let me ask - do you sing? Have you tried singing back the lines you hear? Singing is the route to having better musical dictation abilities, and singing on the names of the notes or some other system will build your awareness of what you're singing and that, in turn, will help you identify what you're hearing. First thing is to be sure, if you're trying to transcribe something, that you can sing it - if not, work on that.

    Ant Illington likes this.
  5. Ant Illington

    Ant Illington I'm Anthony but I'm only illin' Banned

    Thank you for that.

    I have rarely sung along in the past but in this cycle of learning I am doing so since, believe it or not, I never knew it's importance. I grew up playing clarinet, simply following the dots and never really listening, analyzing or knowing chords or theory or how notes relate. Also, clarinet has dedicated fingerings so when I came to bass I was obsessed with trying to learn from a mechanical fingering perspective rather than the all-important ear. In the past year I have greatly increased my FB knowlegldge so that has allowed me to avoid thinking about fingerings and patterns but now I realize that even this isn't sufficient for efficient tune learning. Hence, my ear concerns. I will continue on as I am doing, keeping the tonic in mind and trying to sing much- unfortunately, time pressure to learn many, many songs in the next few months makes grinding EVERYTHING in by voice not feasible unless this ability comes faster than I expect! What a catch-22. Thank you again for the guidance! Oh, one thing that bugs me about singing bass lines is the range- do you freely adjust voice register to make it easier or so you stick tonthe actual register of the played notes? Last question on this I promise!
  6. Steve Freides

    Steve Freides Former Mannes College Theory Faculty Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Ridgewood, NJ
    Adjust register freely as needed when singing.

    When we had students with difficulty in taking dictation, singing on the names of the notes was almost always our first recommendation. You can't expect yourself to be able to play or write down something you can't sing back. It's a two-step process: first you own what you've heard by being able to sing it back, then you apply your musical brain to it to figure out the notes and rhythms.

  7. Harry Monkley

    Harry Monkley

    Jan 16, 2016
    Singing is super important, there is also a really useful app for functional ear training which plays a cadence and then asks you to identify a random note (which can be configured for any combination of the diatonic scale tones or other altered notes allowing you to build recognition of all 12 notes relative to key center).

    You can find PC and Mac versions here

    Free ear training tools for musicians

    along with a bunch of interesting info about ear training. The functional ear trainer app is also available free on iOS and android.
    It isn't the absolute last word in ear training, which is a pretty deep subject, but my personal experience with using it was very positive - I found that much of the difficulties I had experienced in the past with transcription were a result of confusing some notes with each other on a fairly consistent basis (I logged my mistakes to identify specific problem areas and discovered that I had issues that I wasn't aware of). When I first started using the app it felt exhausting, but after several months regular daily use my accuracy and speed improved enormously, and I could feel the benefits in practical musical situations.

    I used this version of the app as it allows you to configure the notes that it tests you on, so if you realize that you are consistently identifying certain notes correctly, you can uncheck them so that you get tested more on the notes you are less certain of - I discovered that I was confusing certain pairs of notes, so as part of my practice with the app I would spend some time with it set to test me only on one pair of notes that I was having difficulty with - this is very useful because if the program is randomly selecting from all 12 chromatic pitches or 7 diatonic then statistically the problem pitches can end up appearing quite infrequently.

    Functional Ear Trainer - Basic [DISCONTINUED]

    I kept a daily diary in a text file to track my accuracy and any patterns I was noticing, which was helpful and encouraging because I could see the improvement which helped motivate me to keep at it.

Share This Page