Having a "good ear" during auditions?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by btrag, Mar 15, 2005.

  1. btrag


    Mar 7, 2005
    I've been to a few auditions now, where, after telling the band that I'm unfamiliar with a song, they will say "just try to follow along." Then, they start playing and I start frantically searching for notes that sound right. Usually, I will stare at the guitarist's left hand and hope he's playing barre chords, so I can figure out the root note.

    There's got to be a better way. Sometimes, I'll ask what key it's in, and they won't know. I keep telling them, all I need is the chord progression and a few measures of the song. I say this because I feel totally incompetant. Should I be expected to do this, and just work on ear training? Or, is this an unreasonable expectation for the band members to have? I read somewhere about "cheating" through a song, what is the idea behind this?
  2. Superdave


    Apr 20, 2003
    St. Louis, MO
    "Cheating" through a song is using what these guys lack - theory. Just ask them to show you the progressions - this is where knowledge of chords helps out - and figure out which is minor/major, and use this to find the key.


    Jan 25, 2005
    Phoenix, AZ

    I'm just the opposite.

    I'm not well-versed in chords or theory and my guitar player plays waaaaaay too fast for me to pick out the root, but I've been told that I have a very good ear and can pick up songs relatively easy. I think that in this particular group you're in (not knowing keys, etc), developing your ear is essential, other groups might be less so.

    I've always felt that ear training allows you to "feel" the music more and be better connected than putting all your focus on keys, chords, and the like.......HOWEVER, there is definitely something to be said about knowing what you're playing and why it goes together from a theory standpoint (which is why I'm taking lessons).

    Hope this helps!
  4. If the band cannot tell you the chords they are playing, there's a very good chance you don't actually want to be in the band.
    GlennRH likes this.
  5. The Clap

    The Clap

    Jan 5, 2004
    Scottsdale, AZ
    Heh, that's what I was thinking. Try to play with people that can communicate musically with more than hand gestures or shrugs of the shoulders. A band that can't tell you the basic form of a song before auditioning doesn't seem to care a whole lot about your bass playing.
    GlennRH likes this.
  6. munificent


    Mar 15, 2005
    It might help you to know what chords guitar players most commonly play. If my band is any indication, I'd say these are the most common chords (because they are easily played open chords), in order:

    1. C
    2. G
    3. A
    4. E
    5. D
    6. F

    After that, anything is fair game. Worry about getting the roots first. Once you're sure of those, you can then safely try basslines that use the root, octave, and 5th, and usually the 7th. This is probably all you really need to be passable.

    Then, you can try to figure out which chords are major and minor by trying either the major (up one string and down one fret) or minor third (up one string and down two frets) from the root. Playing the thirds in your basslines will help the bass reinforce the chord colors of the song, which will make your bass sound more musical (and make them think you know what you are doing).

    Also, once you have figured it out, watch the guitarist. You'll learn to identify chords by sight pretty quick, and then by ear after that.

    If you still find it hard to guess at, try playing an octave higher. Higher frequencies are usually easier for your ear to pick out.
  7. Sorry I should have read you post properly dude - I'd just second all that info with a short version of what you just said :) - good work

    Learn yoyur major and minor scales - listen to the intervals that make them either 'major' or 'minor' - i.e. the third and the seventh notes of the scale - then learn them all over the neck, up to the 12th fret, then beyond that once you're feeling confident.

    Next time you audition and the guy says "OK, the song goes Fmajor, Gmajor, Dminor then Cmajor" that should be enough information for you to start working out a bassline - nothing busy, but groove with a touch of melody is good - and you should be having fun. Sorry I don't know if that's really helped - let me know.

  8. btrag


    Mar 7, 2005
    Good advice, guys. Some issues, though:
    1. I have a great knowledge of theory, I think. Once I know the chord progression of a song, if I have a little bit of time with it, I can create a creative bassline using chordal tones, scales, approach notes, etc. I am self-taught on theory and I feel very confident in my understanding of it as it applies to bass.

    2. My ears suck. It's not that I'm tone deaf, it's that it takes me a long time to figure out the notes. If I am working out a song at home with a pair of headphones, it takes me a while to search for the notes. Even then, I have a lingering doubt that I'm not playing it quite right.

    3. I'm there to impress, and I know that I'm a damn good bassist. It kills me when the band gives me crazy looks during a song, because I'm playing wrong notes.

    4. How about taking the guitarist to the side and asking him to play through the song for me once while telling me the chord changes? That's not such a weird request, right?
  9. Cool - but you should never feel like asking what the song's chords are etc is a bad thing to do - I do this with everyone I play with - sometimes a chord has extensions etc or has a particular note in that is key to the tune etc - if you already have a good grasp on theory then if the band are serious - and want you to interact with them fully, then they should respect you and your musical abilities. The way to impress them most, IMO, is to create a total musical empathy with their sound - if you find the right group then you should be able to completely blend your sound with theirs. Personally I'd be amazed if anyone walked into an audition and just said "Let's play, I'll pick it all upo as I go along", even if they were capable of hearing everything that is going on in the tune - riffs and chords etc - if it were me holding the audition I would at least brief the person trying out - give them a few clues to each section of the tune, the kind of feel that would suit each part best - etc etc. One of the major things to watch out for when you join a band is how well the other band members communicate with you and each other - a called a 'band' becuae you all play - together - to create an over-all sound. If they have a problem telling you what they are doing; a. it might be because they dont know themselves, b. arrogance on their part or c. because you haven't asked them - which is a perfectly normal and cool thing to do - telepathy is not something most humans are blessed with.

    Hope that helps

  10. RiddimKing


    Dec 29, 2004
    I think it's totally arrogant and lazy for a band that is seriously auditioning a bassist (or drummer, or guitarist, etc.) to expect that person to be able to "pick up" a new song or "figure it out" on the fly. I know that there are professional session guys who can do that, but that's their job--most of us are doing this as a sideline or purely for fun. Besides, auditioning "cold" is a waste of time, and unnecessary: there's no reason why the band can't send you, a few days before the audition, an MP3 of a couple of their songs (even a bare-bones rehearsal tape, with only the guitars would work). If you have a chance to learn two or three songs in advance, the audition can immediately progress beyond 'what chords are you playing?' to "hey, are we a fit musically, personality-wise, etc?"

    My two centavos.
  11. lowphatbass

    lowphatbass ****

    Feb 25, 2005
    west coast
    I understand what you are going through, I also find myself in challenging musical situations where everything is learned by ear, and although the music is beautiful, the other musicians cannot describe it to me verbally, they just know that it's "this chord man", as they plunk down 7 notes on a Hammond.
    The only way you are going to get more confortable at playing by ear is doing it, alot of it!! Practice playing along with CD's or whatever music you can get your hands on. Those Tascam guitar trainer things are great, you can plug in bass and earphones and adjust all the levels and jam all night without disturbing anyone! Go one song over and over again until you can play it cold, then move to another song. By the time you have learned 5 songs your ears will be twice as good!
    As far as help for the emmediate future, try to record the audition so you have something to practice on incase you get a second chance. You can also suggest "jamming" on something, a popular song that everyone knows or something like that, that will give you a chance to show off on something you aren't trying to learn on the spot..
    GlennRH likes this.
  12. Squidfinger

    Squidfinger I wish I could sing like Rick Danko.

    Jan 7, 2004
    Shreveport LA
    I am greatly encouraged by this thread. I'm getting to the point in my playing where I'm looking to break out of my bedroom musician shell and join a band. I am completely self-taught and know basic theory including modes fairly well. I swore off tab long ago and spend everyday now learning songs by ear. I can learn most any song by ear except for jazz and jaco-esque songs of course.

    I've been scared crapless of auditioning because any guitarist I've ever played with has been a tab junkie and had the "theory is for posers" attitude. I end up having to watch their hands and getting alot of weird looks and evil eyes because I can't immediately get the song. My ego took a severe beating and I ass-umed that being able to pick up a song the first time you heard it without the chord info was the norm expected of bassists. All I need is the chords to have a fighting chance :( .
  13. great advice - listen hard, try and immitate what you hear, do it again and again - it really will work - eventually:)
  14. leanne


    May 29, 2002
    Rochester, NY
    I think you're both at fault--they should have some sort of a clue, and your ears have to be better if you really want to "impress."
    But since you can't make them learn theory, all you can really do is work on your ears (especially if you are teaching, as it says in your profile!), and hope that the next time, the people you audition for can communicate the most basic musical concepts. Maybe it is because my ears are not that great, but I think knowing at least something (other than: "it sounds like this") should be expected of pretty much anyone who is playing with other people.
  15. wulf


    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    Sometimes, it's hard to pin down what key a song is in - for example, perhaps it modulates through several keys or is just a bunch of chords that do sound good together but which would take an advanced understanding of theory to explain.

    One approach is to listen to what everyone else is playing, imagine what kind of bass line might work and then try playing that, rather than just trying random notes until you find some that fit. This becomes easier if you've got a good "vocabulary", built up from other playing experiences, including playing along with your music collection and learning other people's basslines.

    Actually, that might be a good place to start - jam along with some CDs. The other day I pulled out a Pentangle album (A Maid That's Deep in Love) and pretty much just played it from one end to the other. It gave me a new perspective on the album - most of the basslines and song structures were very simple, although tasty licks and impeccable timing make the end result sound wonderful! I was hoping to pick up some ideas to inform my work with the 'Teeth, and the lesson turned out to be 'keep it simple'!

    Also, look out for albums without a bass part - for example, a singer/songwriter just doing their thing with guitar or piano. Put it on and support the song with your bass playing (don't just noodle over the top - that's not the point of the exercise). You're bound to make mistakes and take wrong turnings but you'll gradually get used to responding on the fly rather than needing everything scripted out for you (with the advantage that your CD player is unlikely to give you ugly looks when you trample all over a quiet section or go up when it goes down!).

  16. MichaelScott


    Jul 27, 2004
    Moorpark CA
    My thoughts exactly. I wouldn't bother wasting time with a new band if they couldn't send me an mp3. It is pretty easy now a days to do it. There are plenty of bands looking for bass players that will make you an mp3.
  17. Roberto


    Dec 24, 2004

    Most gp's have chord progressions on print stashed away somewhere, and if they say they don't they're lying.
  18. I'm in agreement with everything wulf says. I'd also add that requiring someone to (literally) spell things out for you is a limitation many musicians have overcome. Sometimes all you have to rely on is the right side of your brain to do the job.

    If someone expects you to pick things out by ear at an audition, and you can't or won't, then the band is not right for you. Conversely, if you expect the other musicians to tell you the chords, and they can't or won't, then you are not right for them. It's time to look for something else.
  19. ColdYinTiger


    Jul 15, 2000
    Columbus, OH
    The only reason why I survive auditions very long is because I can wing it. My theory is severly lacking, but If I know the basic chords they play I can usually scrounge something up. I tend to play by ear a lot. Mainly because a long time ago, I swore off tabs. They are wrong 95% on the time so whats the point?

    They couldn't tell you the chord, eh?
    I could see how that could be mildly iritating.
  20. Tash


    Feb 13, 2005
    Bel Air Maryland
    I have excellent theory knowledge, horrible ear. Horrible enough that after 2 years of college I can still barely pass Ear Training, so I know what your going through.

    A couple things that will help you make the connection between your ears and your head are singing scales and intervals and identifying chords and and progressions by ear. Try listenting to you basic major and minor chords in each inversion and really latch onto what they sound like. Then expand it to the V7. If you can identify all 3 inversions of Major and Minor, and all 4 of the V7 you'll be in good shape, you should only have to get 2-3 chords to get the basics of the song down, then you can fill the blanks in.

    Another trick is to learn what certain progressions sound like. I-IV-V-I sounds very different from I-ii-V-I. Most guitarists stick with a couple they either know well or are comfortable playing, so if you can recognize the pattern quickly you can probably lock down 90% of their repitoire.

    Of course all bets are off if its a prog/fusion or deathmetal band. You're on your own there :)