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I don't hear the music in my head

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Darkasmodeous, Apr 2, 2009.

  1. I've been very frustrated with my playing lately as I feel more and more that I'm learning music, rather than feeling it. A bit of background, then I'll clarify what I mean.

    I spent many years thinking I was tone deaf, mainly based on my inability to sing, but have always adored music, could be moved by melody, and grew up seeing my dad's jam band reinvent a song night after night. So, with the pushing of a good friend of mine, I decided to turn my appreciation for music into a way to express myself, and bass was a natural choice for me (just seemed right). Since then I've improved my ear a lot, can learn a tune by ear if I sit down and focus (which I don't do enough) and my rhythm, while not perfect, has been more than enough for me jam and gig around a little. I've even managed to start singing some, yet despite this progress, I'm feeling more and more frustrated and "unmusical".

    I can write an interesting bass line that fits the piece, and when I don't know what the guitarist is playing I can still pull together a (sometimes more) interesting line, but I always feel I'm working note-to-note, I've never had this experience of a developed line playing in my head that I then just transfer to bass, I feel I have to either "think" it out, or discover it by following my fingers. I really want to be able to express myself in real time on the bass with unexpected lines that really leave a stamp or change the sound of a piece, but I'm worried that I'm simply not one of those people.

    Does anyone have any advice on how to find this "music in your head"? :confused:
  2. on top of your normal practice just pick it up and play, dont try play songs, just make noises you like
  3. Jim Carr

    Jim Carr Dr. Jim Gold Supporting Member

    Jan 21, 2006
    Denton, TX or Kailua, HI
    fEARful Kool-Aid dispensing liberal academic card-carrying union member Musicians Local 72-147
    Listen to a lot of music that seems far away.

    Cross only those style boundaries that seem like stone. Find out what Jazz of the 1920's and 30's was like. Get an opinion on recordings of J.S. Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, find a Charlie Parker tune that is somehow always available in your head, listen to solo cello music by Benjamin Britten, Swiss Yodeling, and Middle period Beethoven String Quartets.

    Sing more. Get Victor Wooten's Groove Workshop DVD. Learn to play soprano recorder.
    Improvise melodies in Dorian and in Phrygian. Take a course in Music History. Become a Reggae aficionado and learn to sing and play all the tunes on the SITSOM dvd.

    Listen to Miles Davis (Spain) and Franz Joseph Haydn's symphonies. Find new paths through your ears and your voice. It will seep out through your bass.
  4. msxbass


    Mar 10, 2006
    awesome jim
  5. That's really good advice, and I'll do my best to follow it, listening to a broader range of music, and perhaps learning to sing some parts before I learn to play them (eep!).

    Anything more procedural that you think I should have in my practice routine?
  6. Stumbo

    Stumbo Wherever you go, there you are. Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 11, 2008
    Song Surgeon slow downer. https://tinyurl.com/y5dcuqjg
    I read up on "tone deafness" which means, literally, all the notes sound the same to you. Very few people are like that. So, if you can hear the notes, it may just be a matter of training.

    I suggest two things that helped me:

    1) Intense Ear training. Work with software/websites that have ear training exercises, especially http://www.miles.be/ which has beginning and advanced downloadable ear trainers. It uses chords and tests you on how well you can pick a note out a chord. Sing the notes as you hear them.

    Also check out: (each have their own methods)

    Check out this site to test your ear:

    2) Learn to play melodies/chords of simple tunes on the piano or guitar.
    Play the melody until you have it down.
    Then sing with the melody as you play it.
    After you have that down, sing the melody with the chords.
    Record yourself to see how you're doing.
    Later, sing the song in your head and attempt to play the melody by itself and then with the chords.

    Note: You could use a program like Band in the Box or something like that to play the chords for you.

    You can apply the above to bass lines as well.

    Spend as much time as you can doing this. Use the ear trainers for intervals, scales, chords etc. Learn as many songs as you can where you can sing the melody. You're trying to improve your musical memory and put all the tones in your brain and be able to separate them and translate them to the keyboard/fretboard.

    You can improve but it may take quite a bit of practicing over and extended period of time.

    Some people do it naturally. Others need training to improve.

    Good luck.

    It takes a lot of work but you can improve over time.
  7. afromoose

    afromoose Guest

    I'm quite good at remembering stuff in my head - for instance I can play back tunes in my head in real time and enjoy them as if I'm listening to it for real, even if I've only heard them a few times.

    The thing is, I haven't always been able to do this - I can remember when I first started trying to do it and it was quite an effort. In fact I was thinking the other day about when I was a young teenager and even picking apart the bass guitar from the other instruments was difficult or picking out the instruments in a classical recording etc. Aural skills are something that's grown steadily over the years for me, I can definitely remember getting to certain stages.

    So what I'm saying is, I think it's just a matter of practice. One thing that might help you is to imagine a 12 bar blues going round your head, and imagine a walking bass line. I've done this loads - and when I played guitar I used to imagine guitar lines. It would just go on and on, and 12 bar blues is relatively easy because the chords are so simple, and it's quite addictive especially if you swing! I like it too because I can imagine things in my head that I can't do for real!

    I think to start you should force yourself to remember music in your head - especially songs which you know very well. A good challenge is also to make the music happen at the correct tempo - not jumping forwards to the next note or section because it's the next thing on your mind. I think if you find this place for remembering sound, then it's a short distance from the part of your head that imagines and creates sound ideas. I think that the imagining part is something that's deficient in most of us! - But probably again, the only way to develop it is just to force yourself to do it. I'm not sure if there's any other way. Like John Frusciante said once, something like, that "tripping out" is one of the most useful skills you can develop. Better than logic or remembering facts. I think he's talking about creativity.

    This is a good topic I am going to remember to consciously focus on exactly what you're talking about more from now on..
  8. onlyclave


    Oct 28, 2005
    I would like to add that if you can't sing what you hear in your head how can you possibly play it?

    Yes, learning songs off of records and being able to play them back like a tape recorder is all part of ear training but it's just the very rudiments of the skill. I believe the pinnacle of real ear training is when you can fully form the music in your head and then be able to play exactly what you hear. There's two parts to that: Hearing it and then realizing it.

    An exercise to try is to find one of your favorite songs and listen to a 2 bar chunk. If you can put it on your computer and loop those two bars that would be great. Listen to that 2 bar chunk until you can completely internalize it and then sing it (the bassline if you like) back. Turn off the recording and now sing that loop over and over. Check yourself against the recording. See if you can sing the same thing slower and faster, push the extremes of tempos if you can. Now, without listening to the recording pick up your bass and pick out the notes. Play it until you think you are playing what you've been singing and then check yourself against the recording. After you do this for a while start looping and singing longer and longer phrases.

    With some practice, being able to realize the music in your head will become easier.
  9. ^^^^
    This should be part of your practice. Don't think just sit and play/feel for 10 minutes or so every time you play.
  10. Jim Carr

    Jim Carr Dr. Jim Gold Supporting Member

    Jan 21, 2006
    Denton, TX or Kailua, HI
    fEARful Kool-Aid dispensing liberal academic card-carrying union member Musicians Local 72-147
  11. groooooove

    groooooove Supporting Member

    Dec 17, 2008
    Long Island, NY
    the key to learning is listening. listen to as much music as you can, and try and be open minded.

    to an extend, youll have to study scales, but dont put too much emphasis on this.. but it is crucial to understand/know the modes if you dont already. this way youll know what shapes to see on your fretboard when looking for a certain sound.

    also make sure you dont just learn scales and run them. try and create music, not just "practice."
  12. tegnoto89


    Dec 24, 2008
    You also really have to know your scales to be able to just make up lines and have them come out the way you want them to. For example, if I'm playing in the pentatonic, I know exactly how each note I'm going to play is going to sound. And it's only because I've played the pentatonic so much (from guitar). Also, once you get to that level, you can actually solo in your head, which solidifies it even further.

    It just takes time for it to sink in.
  13. Wow, there's a wealth of good information in this thread, thank you guys! Particularly afromoose, thanks for articulating your transition for me, that helps put me a little at ease. I love playing, and I love music, so if its attainable I'm willing to put in the time and effort to make it happen. I was just worried I was barking up the wrong tree.

  14. I think the suggestions here are great.
    - Ear training is essential, you gotta get what you hear in to and out of your brain. And don't forget to work on training your ear for rhythm!
    Learning parts by playing along with your favorite recordings can be a fun way to do ear training (once you have the basics - i.e. can identify the intervals). Another aspect of this is learning from the "masters", if you want to come up with some great bass lines, why not research what goes in to a great bass line?

    I would like to add: learn some basic music theory, so you know what notes go into the chords, and how the chords work together.
    With this knowledge, not only will your "following your fingers" method be less trial and error, but instead of thinking note-to-note you will be thinking in terms of the whole chord progression.

    Having the ear training and theory down will leave more brain cycles to listen, adapt and experiment while you are playing. And you'll have a better idea of how those experiments may sound beforehand.

    And on a practical note, don't completely dismiss the "I feel I have to either "think" it out, or discover it by following my fingers." methods! I don't know anyone who can come up with an awesome inspired bassline every time.
  15. Ganky


    Nov 29, 2008
    Cambridge, England
    Just don't care what other people think. Be alone with the love you have for the people you are playing with. If you really care, and play every note as if it were your last, then you'll get somewhere. Oh, and practise 3 x 1 hour a day for 10 years. And don't think ; ).
  16. anon65884001

    anon65884001 Guest

    Feb 1, 2009
    It's good that you can tune by ear
    Do that, and don't try to rely on tuners
    And metronome should be every musician's best friend
    That goes to me as well :smug:
    And composing music doesn't come to many people
    A lot of people probably need to think to compose (or is it just me?)
    So you probably have musicial talent i think...
    Now to come up with interesting bass lines
    Try using some off beats
    It doesn't work all the time
    But it works some times
    And make sure to listen to different genres
    That definitely helps a lot of musicians
    And wow, you can sing?!?
    That's a gift too
    I honestly don't think that you should be frustrated
    Maybe theory can help (doesn't work for me though...)
    I'm not the best musician just like a lot of other musicians who aren't the best :D, but these are some advices i've heard,
    So good luck :)

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