Learning By Ear - Where to Begin

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by rydin4lifebass, Mar 31, 2011.

  1. My instructor has a fantastic ear and can pick things up quickly, where I have trouble sometimes even hearing when a note is played when I have the tabs in front of me. What is a good way to start understanding things by ear and learning how to decipher them myself?
  2. seanm

    seanm I'd kill for a Nobel Peace Prize! Supporting Member

    Feb 19, 2004
    Ottawa, Canada
    Play along to CDs. To start with don't try to play the notes. Just play roots and try to get the right chord changes. It can help to listen to the rhythm guitar rather than the bass.
  3. +1 I do this with Pandora.
  4. tangentmusic

    tangentmusic A figment of our exaggeration

    Aug 17, 2007
    This. Start by finding the key. Jam along with the drumming. Dont worry about nailing bass riffs,scales ect.
  5. dpbass613


    Feb 21, 2009
    Here is the worst advice ever!!!
    learn to play guitar or piano, once you start listening to chords you will hear nuances of certain chords and can easily pick out root notes.
    I had the same problem, however when i started to familiarize myself with guitar I know have little to know problem banging through songs. You will also start to notice certain chord progression trends in mainstream songs. An understanding of those progressions with help you big time as well.
  6. you don't say how far along you are.....start trying to pick out simple melodies,then simple easy to hear bass parts etc....you will notice that some notes appear more often than others.....simple melodies like the star spangled banner or dixie will get you going....
  7. chuck norriss

    chuck norriss Banned

    Jan 20, 2011
    Tune your bass. listen on headphones; find the root note. major or minor has a lot to do w/ it of course, so if you can find the root first then know what mode to play in you should be ok. e.g. the song's in A major then thats that.
    If you're starting w songs you know or are familiar with that helps because you already know where the song is headed. if the songs not in the same key as the tab youll have to make the adjustment a half step or whole but this isnt common
  8. Intenzity


    Oct 15, 2006
    Seattle, WA
    Christmas carols are an easy way to start, we have all heard them so much, even if you don't celebrate christmas yourself, you can't escape hearing them for three months every year.

    So, sit with your bass and try and play "Oh Christmas Tree" or "The First Noel", or whichever one you know the best. You will be surprised how engrained they are, so just pick one.

    See how close you can get, sing/hum the melody (it doesn't have to be perfect) and just match the notes on your bass.

    Thats pretty much the process, no matter what you are trying to figure out.

    1) Hear it
    2) hum/sing it so you can internalize it
    3) reproduce it on your bass
  9. Russell L

    Russell L

    Mar 5, 2011
    Cayce, SC
    Begin at age three.

    Oh well, too late, huh? The reason I say that is because the more music a child hears early on, and the younger they are when beginning to play an instrument, the better their ears get trained. It has to do with some part in the brain and how it develops as we grow up (I forget the specifics). Well, it went that way with me from sitting on my mother's lap and messing around on the piano. Later, when I could do it by myself, I was hooked on it and taught myself to play piano by ear. Then, came guitar and bass a few years later at age 13. However, I began studying theory in high school and majored in it in college.

    Anyway, to train your ear as an adult, what everyone has already said will help. In addition, let me say, from my own experience, "play with" your instrument. Not just playing, as in playing a song, but I mean play with it like a toy. Listen to every sound and take note of the visual things you see. You will get familiar with putting the two together eventually. The other thing is (think about it, how did I pick out Exodus by Ferrante and Teischer at age 10?), sit and TRY to pick something out. TRY to find the notes. It doesn't matter what it is, a melody, a famous bass lick (Smoke On the Water? Badge?), anything will do. Play along with the radio, too, no matter if you know a root from a twig, just play something that goes along somehow. The main thing is, DON'T GET DISCOURAGED, not ever! Let your music be the one place you can go where everything is alright and good. Never mind how long it takes or what your level of proficiency is. See, when I was growing up it was a hunger, something I HAD to do. I was completely addicted to it. I would even put on my coat and hat to sit in the freezing garage to play my guitar so I wouldn't wake mom and dad up late at night.

    Here's the thing, it takes time, but don't be in a hurry either. AND, that amount of time will be directly proportional to the amout of time you spend on the instrument. But, the good thing about doing it as an adult as opposed to being a kid is that you are smarter, and so, you can take notice of things better, and even perhaps have a better approach.

    You've already begun. Enjoy.
  10. Octavian

    Octavian Supporting Member

    Sep 25, 2009
  11. chadhargis

    chadhargis Jack of all grooves, master of none Supporting Member

    Jan 5, 2010
    Nashville, TN
    I'm primarily an ear player. I can read music, but I struggle with it because I rely on my ears so much.

    What I tend to do when I learn a song is what has already been mentioned.

    1) Listen to the beginning of the some (loop it if you have that capability) and try to find the key center.
    2) Once you know they key, then it's all about scale intervals from there unless the song has a key change in it.
    3) Learn where the changes are, and play along using just the root notes or root/fifth or if you're really frisky, root/3/5 or root/4/5 whichever applies.
    4) Once you know all the changes and when they are coming (sometimes I cheat and note the time in the song when a bridge or transition occurs), then you can begin throwing in slides, fills and such.

    I like to loop the various parts of the song (chorus, verse, bridge, coda, etc) and learn them individually. It's like adding arrows to your quiver. Then when the song changes to that part, you know how to play it and aren't caught trying to figure out what just happened, you simply play that part.

    The part I struggle with the most is playing technique. I can play the same notes as the player on the recording, but it doesn't sound the same. Many times it's the touch of the player, how cleanly he plays, how he bends strings, etc that makes a bass part sound great. It can be a simple bass line, but when played well it sounds fantastic.

    Often times it's the notes that AREN'T played that make the difference. Ghost notes and such. I have the hardest time hearing and reproducing those.
  12. swelltrain


    Mar 3, 2010
    I have been working with Functional Ear Trainer Basic from:

    It has been a few months, but I can tell a difference in how I hear music and how well I learn songs now. -s
  13. Funkmaster87


    Mar 15, 2011
    If you have a Mac or iPhone/ iPod touch there is this great software called "the amazing slow downer" ( odd name I know). But it allows u to import songs from your iPod And u can slow them down up to 30% of the original speed. You can change the pitch of the songs as well. It maintains fairly good quality. Its great for learning songs by ear. Check it out
  14. BrandonBass


    May 29, 2006
    just do it and stop thinking so much. keep trying.
  15. MalcolmAmos

    MalcolmAmos Supporting Member

    Here is a cut and paste on how to play Mary Had a Little Lamb from ear.

    That's it in a nut shell. Each lyric word will take a melody note. Ma-ry and lit-tle take two notes each.

    Have fun.
  16. bolophonic


    Dec 10, 2009
    Durham, NC
    I would definitely start by throwing out the tabs.
  17. i learned from ramones songs
  18. Darth Handsome

    Darth Handsome Banned

    Oct 1, 2010
    My ear improved instantly once I started to develop my Relative Pitch. It's the single most important musical skill to have.
  19. bolophonic


    Dec 10, 2009
    Durham, NC
    And this.
  20. T40Chump


    Jul 12, 2008
    Plano, TX
    Start simple and keep in mind that your instructor has likely been doing this for a long time. It has already been said; start out by getting the basic chord structure down and play the roots without worrying about the details (runs, fills, etc).

    With time and practice you'll begin to feel out the details. You'll then find yourself on the way to discovering the intimate parts of the song.

    The simplest way I can put it; learn the skeleton, add flesh later.