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Learning Jazz bass is it okay to rely on ears

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by afromoose, Mar 31, 2009.

  1. afromoose

    afromoose Guest


    I've been learning to play walking bass recently and for a while I was looking a lot at scales and things and also this method where you learn lots of modules etc.

    Anyway, the **** has hit the fan and I've got to audition for an amateur jazz band next week, so I've started to just play along with the backing tracks without thinking about anything, and I've found that my playing has got much much better when I don't think at all about theory or anything.

    I've found that that for some tunes (where I know the actual tune especially - quite difficult on some recordings because they never play the actual tune a lot of the time), it's best if I just listen a lot to the song; and then hum the bass as I walk along, even if I'm not listening to it say if I'm just walking down the street.

    The thing is I can play along great and do all the stuff I want like chromatic turns to the next chord and hitting the fifth or third instead of root and all that, but I'm not aware of what chord I'm playing I just know the interval.

    My question is - is this good enough or do I have to know how to know what I'm playing and think of theory while I play? I don't know if I've got time in my head to imagine the note AND think of the theory. Do other people do both these things?
  2. Dogbertday

    Dogbertday Commercial User

    Jul 10, 2007
    SE Wisconsin
    Blaine Music LLC
    I think that your ear is a great thing to fall back on. But you should also work on the theory side of it. The reasons for this would be so you can explain what you're doing and even imagine more stuff to do. Maybe your ear doesn't gravitate towards certain lines or substititions (not that you couldn't play them but you may not tend to) and the theory background and analyzing the tune while you play could open that up more for you.

    You are working backwards from a lot of players though (myself included) in that mostly I know guys who need the theory to open their ears in the first place and we just go from there.

    Also record yourself and see if it actually sounds good with what other people are doing while you're playing and maybe transcribe your own lines from those recordings and see what you're doing so you can do it again or teach it.
  3. afromoose

    afromoose Guest

    Yeah good points. I think weirdly that when I think of the theory, that's when I tend to fall into doing the same thing over and over, but usually it's when I'm thinking of notes in my head I break out of ruts and discover more interesting harmonies. Also I find if I think too much of the theory then the bass line seems to come too far forward and a lot of the time I want it to hang in the background more so it's more subtle and the other elements have space.

    I guess it's different for everyone - you're right though it's important to know what you're doing or you can't replicate or communicate it. I just find that for me the theory doesn't lead to any artistic direction it's all just numbers (like with that module system) so if I concentrate on it too hard it's like I lose the plot and it just sounds robotic.

    I think maybe I'll start transcribing some Ray Brown stuff tomorrow. Probably a good medium.
  4. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    Two ways to look at it:

    The guys who invented jazz were mainly playing by ear. I mean, even Louis Armstrong had some training (school band) but since he was the first major figure in the music he didn't have any jazz lessons to fall back on!

    85 years later, it helps to study but on the bandstand you're playing by ear anyway...that's what improvising is. Studying just tries to speed up the process by not requiring every player to reinvent the wheel on his own.
  5. guizzy


    Nov 17, 2008
    I am by no means an expert in jazz, but I see something weird in your message; you seem to see "relying on your ears" and "working with the theory" to be two distinct things.

    Indeed, you shouldn't be actively thinking about the theory while playing; but what use is studying theory if you still have to figure it out while playing? Aren't you studying the theory so that you DON'T have to think about it? Isn't playing by ear the same as playing using the theory you studied so much it's become instinctive?
  6. I don't know if this will help, but maybe you can think of it this way: You don't learn so that you can think of it all the time. You learn it so that you DON'T have to think of it all the time.
  7. afromoose

    afromoose Guest

    Yeah you're right. I think I'm finding it a bit weird like maybe I should be more aware of what I'm doing. What I mean is I'm not even thinking of what chord it is, what scale/mode I'm playing, what part of each chord I'm heading towards etc. This is all in the instructions of how to do the walking bass and I wasn't making any progress when thinking of it like this. It just feels weird that just using ears is enough. I get your point though maybe like subconsciously I actually do know what I'm doing it's just I'm not thinking of it in that way.
  8. afromoose

    afromoose Guest

    Day 1 of transcribing Ray Brown and I have two main findings.

    1. I am ****

    2. Transcribing is a good way to learn

    I am transcribing the 1959 recording of porgy and bess with oscar peterson. It's pretty good!

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