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Frustrated, can anyone relate?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by WallyN, Aug 7, 2013.

  1. WallyN


    Jan 11, 2013
    Hey there,

    Ok, so here is where I am at. I attempted to play bass back in high school. Had a band with some friends, we never really played anywhere just made a bunch of noise jamming and pretending to be rock stars. Sold everything went to college and that was that.

    In my late twenties I missed having a bass around to tinker with so I bought a cheap one and through my thirties I would learn a couple songs (using internet tab and headphones) here and there. Just having fun playing along to my ipod. I would play for a few weeks then get busy and leave it for weeks at a time and then come back sort of cycle.

    For my fourty-third birthday my wife enrolled me in the League of Rock which is like a pick up hockey league for musicians. A ten week program that fits you into a band and has you rehearsing, recording and playing in a band live. It was an incredible experience. So much fun that my band and I are continuing on and are back for another session in the league.

    My frustration is my ear, I have never been able to hear a song and be able to pick out the notes or key or that. If I see a decent tab, I can often pick up the bass part. So far that is where I am. I have often wondered if I am tone deaf although I dont think so, because I can hear it when I play a bad note. I would love to be able to listen to a song and have some idea where to start to learn it.

    Am I alone with this problem? I love playing but when the band says "lets try this" I am totally lost until I can sit down and look up some tabs or have them call out the root notes.
  2. MalcolmAmos

    MalcolmAmos Supporting Member

    Ear training did not stick with me. Well, some of it did. I can normally tell if I'm in the right key and can usually pick up the chord changes, but, specific notes, no way. I do not rely upon tabs, rather call up a chord progression and fake chord sheet music. In fact Google and I are old friends. If I need to work out a melody I go to the keyboard and hunt and peck till I get it. But, you know, I don't play melody I play chord tones. So it all works out.

    I assume a lot. That is where theory comes into play. Give me the key and I can pretty well predict what will happen. If I start getting fish eyes from the guys I then know I assumed wrong.... LOL.

    Before this string dies I'll bet there will be several of us that flunked ear training..... be interesting to hear how others function with a tin ear.
  3. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    You can ear trian in recognizing many things. intervals, chord qualities etc.
    If the goal is to quickly pick up a song you hear and come up with a bass line,
    I feel the most useful ear training is in recognizing common chord progressions.
    Combined with an understanding of functional (ii-V7-I etc) harmony, this can get you quite far.

    wikipedia has a page of common chord progressions with midi files

  4. Pacman

    Pacman Layin' Down Time Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Omaha, Nebraska
    Endorsing Artist: Roscoe Guitars, DR Strings, Aguilar Amplification
    Your ear is like a muscle, you have to work it to improve, and you have to work it to maintain. Start dead simple, figure out melodies you know, and progress from there. Also, a teacher is invaluable.
  5. MrLenny1


    Jan 17, 2009
    Yup, ear training. Start with a melody, sing along.
    It is not automatic.
  6. Thank you for starting this thread. I am planning to start singing lessons because I really want to sing and I thought it would help develop my ears.
  7. zphreaky1

    zphreaky1 Far from good

    Apr 25, 2013
    Tucson, AZ
    Knowing notes, keys, intervals, and chords is not an innate ability. This is something that most definitely needs to be practiced.
  8. Russell L

    Russell L

    Mar 5, 2011
    Cayce, SC
    Learn basic theory. It will help you understand the relationships. And keep trying to pick things out by ear. Back in the day we had no Internet, so we HAD to listen and pick it out. Eventually, your ear learns to recognize things.
  9. LordDog


    Jun 25, 2013
    Norwich UK
    I play guitar as well as bass, and find that I can work out many of the easier songs by working out the first note or chord (usually also the key of the song) and using chord progressions for that note/key to work out the rest. This has really helped me to hear and distinguish the notes. Obviously, many songs divert from straight chord progression (by adding other notes or chords), but it's surprising how many don't.
    You could even start by using the 1 - IV - V progression in each key, just playing each note and say the note name as you play it; this will help you to differentiate the note sounds. If you spend some time doing this every time you practice, you will start to recognize the distinct sounds.
  10. taphappy

    taphappy doot de doo

    Sep 28, 2007
    Tempe, Arizona
    For a lot of us the word "theory" makes us think of crazy-haired physicists surrounded by dots and squiggles on a chalkboard, and a blank look wondering what genetic mishap caused you to not instantly understand his mathemagical ramblings. Or German Ex-pats with cattle prods going "NEIN!!" *zap* "Dumbkopf! Zer ist no minor 3rd unt der mixolydian!" *zap*. Though that last one could just be me.

    But it's not! It's actually cool! Really!

    Everything is trainable. But we don't all learn the same, and practice can be frustrating and confusing, or seem like a grind. There are fantastic (free!) resources on the net these days that can help you with every aspect of your playing. You simply have to find practices that (1) work and (2) that you'll stick to. Break what you want to work on into blocks (I do 15m each), and do it eeeeevery day. I have to force myself not to do the on/off thing, too. This stuff has to be burned into your brain 'til it's reflex. Dedicate however much practice time you can, and focus focus focus.

    Progress will begin slowly. It's not a bad idea to record a little playing every week to hear how your playing is maturing. It'll become obvious.

    Great resource for online bass lessons (including ear training):


    If you like clicking stuff: Exercises (ear/theory/rhythm)


    Daily Goal Setting Checklist (heheh, it helps!):


    ps: You will feel stupider before you feel smarter. But you will get smarter!

    pps: Beware of Youtube. It has enticing little links on the side that slowly suck your practice time away, like this

    ppps: Oh, and beware of Talkbass. It'll cause you to post on other people's threads when you should be practicing.


    Oops. pppps: It's a veryvery good idea to learn basic guitar chords so you can see your guitarist's fingers and know what they're playing. Okbye!
  11. JaminDyer


    Jul 25, 2013
    I started off with VERY basic bass lines, ones which just followed the chord progression, only using the root note. Pause the song on a chord and keep that note in your head. Slowly slide around different strings unlit you find that note. In the beginning this sometimes took me 4-5 attempts for one note. Do this for all the chords and you should be able to see which scale/key it is.

    Once you get better you will be able to hold a short melody in your head and it gets a lot easier.
  12. lyla1953


    Jul 18, 2012
    something like a bass trainer (Tascam CD/BT2) which slows the tempo without changing keys to get a head start?
  13. Lynne Davis

    Lynne Davis Musician, Educator, Author

    Jan 15, 2013
    Austin, TX
    One of the very first steps, which most of us skip, is simple pitch-matching with SINGLE tones. Listen to a single tone, and first try to match it with your voice, then find the note on your instrument. As simple and slow a process as this may seem, it forges a direct connection between what you hear and what you play. Then moving on to two notes, train hard on the 12 chromatic intervals EVERY DAY for a few months. There are many cool, customizable APPS or free sites to help.
    Here is one of my favorites, it's nothing fancy but gets the job done!
  14. hsech

    hsech I'm not old, I'm just seasoned. Gold Supporting Member

    Jun 27, 2012
    Central Iowa
    I was fortunate to learn by ear. Then came chord charts. I never have gotten into tabs. Now I play 99% by ear unless it's out of a jazz fake book. Then it is chord names only, no chord diagrams. One thing I had going for me early on is the fact my Mother was a piano teacher and I use to play along with her by ear and she would tell me what key we were playing in. Not everyone is that fortunate. A lot boils down to having a natural ability, possibility inherited.