Is it possible to train yourself to play by ear?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by Seth, Aug 24, 2004.

  1. Seth


    Aug 24, 2004
    Hey, Im new here and have been playing bass for a little over a year now to tell you a little about myself.

    But the reason I ask is because all the songs Ive learned Ive got from tablature. But Ive played with people who play by ear and its amazing. So is it possible to train yourself or is there any specific ways to practice to learn to play by ear? :help: If anyone has any pointers Id appreciate the help.

  2. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    The way to learn to play by ear is actually simple:

    1. Listen to song a few times to get familiar with it

    2. SING the bass line along with the recording until you have it perfect

    3. Sing the line with bass in hand and search out each note

    If you take the final step of writing down the part it's called transcription.
  3. cowsgomoo

    cowsgomoo gone to Longstanton Spice Museum

    Feb 8, 2003
    it just comes with time and lots of practicing and listening... and you never really stop developing your ear... there isn't point where, yesterday you couldn't pick up anything just by listening to it and today you don't even need your bass in your hands to work out a song... it don't work like that, it comes gradually...

    as you become more and more familar with 'standard bass playing things', you find that many chord progressions, rhythms, licks, figures, run-ups etc really do crop up again and again and again... and familarity just seeps into your playing where you go 'oh yeah, it does a I-V chord change, then a chromatic kinda run up'.. and eventually it all sorts itself out in your head

    this is one reason why it's important to listen to a wide variety of musical styles :) it's food for your ear

    the way to go... lots of listening to records with the bass in your hands.. trying to follow what's going on... no matter what your level of experience, your ear can usually tell you whether what you're doing is right or wrong... just pound away familarizing yourself with translating what you hear onto the bass...

    it's a long haul but there aren't really any shortcuts... some people have a naturally better aptitude than others for picking stuff up by ear, but most times you can compensate by working harder on it :)
  4. Seth


    Aug 24, 2004
    Thankyou to both of yall for you advice. Ill stick with the main ingrediant and keep practicing. I try to learn more and more method everyday, So that should give me some headstart.

    And also, I have a good critical ear for telling when Im off but Im trying to flip it so I can use it to tell when Im close to what Im looking for also. Anyways thanks again -Seth
  5. wulf


    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    There do some to be some people who have a real aptitude for playing by ear. On the other hand, it can be a limitation - you've still got to keep pushing yourself so that you hear new things!

    However, from your post, I take it that (like myself) you're not one of those people for whom it comes so naturally. Eighteen years in on the bassing front and I'm still not as sharp as I'd like at picking up things on the fly. However, I've definitely improved albeit slowly. I think my rate of progress has accelerated over the past couple of years as I've got back to playing in bands and have been doing a lot of transcriptions to help me along (both of other people's basslines and also recordings of what has come out of my fingers in rehearsals and gigs).

    Not only does the detailed listening involved in transcription improve your ear, it also picks up your reading skills and gives you a stack of music to fall back on when you can't remember how a song goes. For example, although I've probably got one of the weakest sets of ears in the 'jones, I'm often the one people turn to when an old tune is called at a rehearsal because I'm the one who has been taking and making notes for the past couple of years :D

    Therefore, I highly commend the discipline of transcription in your quest to improve your ear.

  6. Joe P

    Joe P

    Jul 15, 2004
    Milwaukee, WI
    Hi Seth -

    The biggest help for me that way has been from working on my keys and scales and chords (I don't mean playing chords, but being aware of what chord - or at least whether a major or minor third goes with a given note in a key) at all different positions on the neck. The more I practice at this, the more I'm continuously surprised at how fast I can pick up new songs. I cant read tabs or music of any kind - I should probably get around to that if I want to make something of myself, I know (..but I just DREAD the thought! I don't want to talk about it...).

  7. Ozzyman


    Jul 21, 2004
    Yes, it's called Relative pitch. It's the same way when you tune two strings you know when they are on the same note. If you practice enough and tab out your own songs you will train your ear topickup on notes.
    There are some lucky bastards who have perfect pitch. That is where they have an innate ability to do this. Usually, they'll see a shade of color when they hear a sound and can immediately know what note it is.
  8. Diowulf

    Diowulf Guest

    Aug 4, 2004
    San Rafael CA
    Yeah I've also been wanting to train my ear, and I found this nifty site that might help. I haven't used it much, but maybe you could see if it's any of use
  9. Wrong Robot

    Wrong Robot Guest

    Apr 8, 2002
    When I had just started, I used TABs a little bit, but maybe after 2 weeks, I thought "this is no challenge, I'm not actually learning anything except how to play these songs..."

    So from then on I didn't use TAB at all, Opting to use my ear to figure out songs. Any song I wanted to play, I would sit down and pound it out with my ear.

    My ear definitely improved over this time. Probably not as much as it could have since I'm by no means a perfectionist, and many times, I'd be more or less correct but I might have flubbed a couple notes here and there.

    But, Now, When I hear stuff, and try and play it on my bass, I either hit the right note(or a tonal note) immediately, or I'm only a half step or two off, and correct it by the next note.

    I think a *very* valuable thing to practice, is singing what you play, and playing what you sing. If you do this enough, you will really connect with your instrument on a whole other plane, you'll know where notes are from hearing them, and you'll feel better moving around the fretboard. If you really practice this, then anything you can sing, you'll be able to play. And that will greatly help your ears and your playing.

    That said, some other very good things to practice
    -Interval recognition
    -Chord recognition
    -Scale recognition
    -melodic dictation
    -chordal dictation
    -rhythmic dictation
    and of course, Transcription!
  10. wulf


    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    You're talking about two different things. Perfect pitch is the ability to name a note without reference to any external sound source. It can be a blessing but I think some people also find it a curse. Sure, it would be a great party trick to identify the pitch of any given sound, but I've also heard that it can be painful to listen to music that is slightly out of tune!

    Hearing a sound and associating it with a colour is called synaesthesia - in fact, it covers a whole range of unusual associations and could cover other senses like taste and smell as well as hearing. I guess that could also be a pain - imagine someone calls out a blues in Bb and you know that it's actually bright orange! :D

  11. Very possible. Practice practice.
    Learn your fretboard, and how to work it.
    Develop your ear by not using Tab. and working it out between your head and hands.

    I did that, and am only now, after 15+ years of playing, in want to learn how to read proper notation, so I can further myself.
  12. Like what Wrong Robot said, throw them tabs out the door. I used them for the first week on the bass, and came to the same conclusion: I'm learning NOTHING about music from this and doing nothing to train my ear. Trying to get songs by ear is still an excruciating process for me though.
  13. Seth


    Aug 24, 2004
    Well thankyall for all of your tips, advice and sharing some of your knowledge with me.

    Ive been playing for a little over a year now and was still using tabs until I made this post and read what all of you had to say. Anyways, Ive already started practicing, was it transcribing. And Im not to horrible. But I'll keep at it. So thanks again

  14. heres a good site for your ears do 10-15 mins a day on intervals up/down and another 10-15 mins on chords added to your transcription routine that youre doin that should get your ears in a tangent :hyper:
  15. stephanie


    Nov 14, 2000
    Scranton, PA
    Having synesthesia, I've used it to my advantage in developing my ear. Color is the strongest for me in this area (taste, smell, and seeing geometric shapes in music are other areas), and I can always pick the note A out the best out of all the notes. For some reason I always see a disinct yellow. So I can easily tell you if you play an A. Single note anyway. If you played a chord, such as Dm, the color changes.

    Now, that Bb blues is a reddish-purple color hehe. :D

    (I swear I'm not crazy :p)

    Learning theory and interval recognition has also aided my ear-training.
  16. Brat


    Jun 4, 2004
    NW Indiana.

    I learned piano by ear and I'm learning the bass by ear and I think I'm commming along nicely. Just my two cents!
  17. Jazzin'

    Jazzin' ...Bluesin' and Funkin'

    the best thing to do is to learn all the intervals(the distance between two notes). once you are familiar with every interval, it will be easy to just listen to something and play along with it.