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Learning to hear

Discussion in 'Music [DB]' started by bassbloke, Apr 10, 2002.

  1. bassbloke


    Feb 26, 2002
    I'm an electric player but am posting this to the DB board because I think the depth of knowledge is generally much deeper.

    I've been playing guitar and bass off and on for many years. I'm a self-taught player, mainly by ear, and over the years have transcribed quite a lot of guitar and bass music. Nevertheless I've never regarded myself as having good ears.

    I have an ambition to play jazz and last year I embarked on an attempt to get my ears into shape, starting off with computer generated interval recognition. I keep reading that anyone can "learn" to have good ears. After almost a year of doing this for a few hours a week I am disappointed with the results. I have made some progress: I can usually work out the interval between any two notes played simultaneously. But the key to that phrase is "work out": I don't recognise most invervals straight away, I have to pick out the two notes being played and sing them first. I haven't even got as far as working on chords and scales because I think I should be able to recognise intervals immediately before I move to a higher level.

    I really thought the amount of work I've put in - probably hundreds of hours in total - would have taken me further along the road than this. I think I can now hear harmonies on a piece of music a bit more distinctly but the improvement is marginal and I'm not sure it's had any effect on my actual playing.

    This is a real concern because my feeling is that no matter how good my technique is or how well I understand theory I won't be able to play jazz until I can hear what other players are doing and respond to it.

    Am I being too unrealistic in my expectations or do I just have to accept that I'll never be the calibre of musician I wan't to be because I lack basic talent?

    (Incidentally please don't recommend a teacher - there just aren't any in my part of the world, god knows I've looked hard enough!).
  2. Marcus Johnson

    Marcus Johnson

    Nov 28, 2001
    Try to get your hands on a keyboard of some kind. It provides a graphic and aural representation of all the stuff that you're trying to hear, in a variety of ways (i.e., scalar vs. chordal). It allows you to see harmonies while you are hearing them. Bass practice on its own is sometimes a bit of a vaccuum; it needs reinforcement using some form of chordal instrument in order to hear the context of what the "good notes" are, and why they work there. Guitar works well too, if that's more comfortable for you.
  3. bassbloke


    Feb 26, 2002
    Thanks guys. Ed I do work on arpeggios as well although I do feel that's something I could be spending more of my practice time on (usual problem of not enough time in the day). Also I spend some time playing 2 feel or walking along with Aebersold play alongs or Band in A Box which involves constantly thinking chord/arpeggio.

    I've played guitar much longer than I've played bass but I've never played keyboard - maybe that's something I should seriously consider but again time is a factor.

    I'm not bad at hearing chords if I get a chance to think about it. In fact if my funk band decides to cover a song with more complex chords I usually get asked to work out the chords because I'm more accurate than the keyboard player or guitarist, partly as a result of having a better knowledge of theory. But there's a big difference between being able to work out the chords on, say, a Stevie Wonder song if you've got a couple of hours and hearing jazz chords in real time when you're playing with other people. I've heard jazzers criticising other players because they can't pick up simple reharmonisations and chord substitutions and this intimidates me because I know I'd be completely lost. As for busking through a song I don't know purely by ear, forget it. I'm currently playing with a piano player who's a LOT better than me at these things and the gulf can be a little embarrassing.
  4. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    It's not enough to recognize intervals cold. A study in music theory will also take you through the how and why of chord progressions, etc. You're wasting time, effort and optimism going about things the way that you are.

    Ed, I'm still in tears at your reply.... :)
  5. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    Funnily enough, I just started a thread on BG Misc about almost exactly the same thing although with a slightly different "slant" - although I was thinking of posting it over here!

    This has got some interesting replies - even from the Pros! ;) You might want to have a look :


    I think your fears are similar to mine - but although I do find a lot of Jazz musicians "intimidating", I have found by experience, that the vast majority are really nice guys (women as well!) who are very approachable and helpful - they want people to understand more about Jazz and are nearly always very helpful about pointing you in the right direction.

    I think Ed is right about teachers - where are you based incidentally? - but would add that it doesn't need to be another bass player. I think I have learned most from Geoff Simkins who runs regular Jazz classes and is an Alto Sax player.

    I think the keyboard thing is a help also - I have a keyboard and also where I can't actually play the stuff (quite often) I will "programme in" chord sequences and play along with them - I find this helps a lot for recognising chords/resolutions.

    As to your "timescale" question - I must say that I found it a huge step up to playing Jazz. I had played rock/pop for about 15 years, had a break and then decided I would like to play Jazz - a lot of people I know did the same and we have talked about it a lot.

    So - the first year was like starting again, completely from scratch - I was a beginner again. After 4 years of trying to play Jazz, I can see the difference, but I still am not anywhere near where I would like to be - but I also understand more, why this is so.

    Jazz is a lot harder than it appears to be from the "outside" and a lot more goes into it than most people realise - I think your point about lack of talent is not the answer. It just requires huge amounts of practice over many years. I was talking to a pro piano player, who said that he practiced solidly - like 8 hours a day for a few months before undertaking a tour with a trio playing his original compositions and he'd been playing all his life!
  6. bassbloke


    Feb 26, 2002
    Thanks to all.

    Bruce I had seen your thread which I read with interest.

    I'm in the North East of Scotland. If anyone can recommend a good teacher in this area I'd be delighted but I've come up against a blank wall so far. Even Glasgow and Edinburgh are too far for regular lessons - about a 6 hour round trip. Aberdeen or Dundee, possibly Perth are feasible but I haven't found anyone in years of looking. A non-bassist would be fine if he/she was a good teacher.

    As to the other points made: in concentrating on ear training I'm trying to concentrate work on a specific weak area. I HAVE done other things to help my ear - transcribing solos (this is how I learned to play - I've been doing it for 20 years), playing arpeggios, playing a chordal instrument. I HAVE worked on theory. If I see a chord symbol I know which notes are in that chord and where they are on my instrument. I've read Mark Levine, Jerry Coker etc. I'm not complacent about this - I know my knowledge of theory is still fairly primitive compared to many of the guys on this board. But generally I feel it's above average for where I am overall. When playing with other musicians I rarely feel embarrassed by my lack of theoretical knowledge but I am by my slow ear.
  7. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    I feel the same - I go to a lot of Jazz workshops/classes and feel I ought to be able to do better than I do in this respect - especially compared to DB players I meet.

    I am looking at books on this - so I just got Jazzwise magazine's latest up date (Spring 2002) on Jazz books/CDs/DVDs and they have the Jamey Aebersold book/CD on ear training for £15. So I went to the Aebersold website for more details and found a load more books/CDs on ear training/learning to hear :


    Now I'm unsure which one to get?? ;) Any ideas - from anyone who has tried any of these?

    PS - I can appreciate how remote you are - there are lots more options in the SE of England!
  8. bassbloke


    Feb 26, 2002

    I have an ear-training book/cd by Gary Willis which I've seen mentioned favourably on other threads. The problem with a cd is that it contains a finite amount of information - if you need to revisit exercises you may remember the right answer rather than hear it. If you've got naturally good ears this may not be a problem - once or twice through the exercises may suffice - but if you really need to work at it your memory will eventually take over. I've thought about the Aebersold method (in fact I've discussed it with Jamey on his website) but because it's cd based I think it would have the same problems as the Willis method.

    One solution is software which can generate random chords/intervals. There is a free web based one at good-ear.com which I use and have seen recommended by Steve Lawson and others. I have also downloaded a free program called solfege (a Google search should find it) which is an unfinished version but still useful and doesn't require a web connection. One program which is widely used by teaching institutions and gets rave reviews from Ed Friedland is Practica Musica: this is more expensive but I've always thought I'd buy it if I get to the point where the simpler free programs I'm using no longer seem comprehensive enough.

    All this should be read in the context of my original mail - ie I sometimes get concerned that this has been a long slog and that the benefits are not immediately apparent. I have made progress though and am getting better at recognising intervals. I keep hearing that transcribing is the best ear-training but I feel if that was the solution my ears should be better than they are.
  9. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    There's two questions, for sure.

    Are you being unrealistic? The nature of any artistic undertaking is that you measure your progress against your own internal model of perfection. If you've set your standards appropriately, you not meet them consistently. That's doubly true for musical pursuits, which (unless recorded) are transitory. It's even more so for jazz, which is improvisitory and hence unplanned. Chasing those moments for hours and years is what we're doing.

    If you have spent hundreds of hours and you truly feel that you are no farther along, then consider Ed and Ray's comments about learning the "why" as well as the "what." Per usual, those guys are dead on.

    Do you lack the essential talent to do this? Heck no! Everybody knows players who lack raw talent but became skilled musicians and valued collaborators by dint of HARD WORK. A gift enables someone to do xxx months of work in yyy shorter time. Once the prodigy gets to yyy, s/he's got to work just as hard as anybody else to move ahead. Granted, Itzhak Perlman got to move to a point I will never reach, but he works plenty o' hard now!

    My punch line is, forget about how quickly other people progress. Enjoy your musical journey.
  10. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    I was trying to address this in the part where I was saying that I have been attempting Jazz for about four years now - I just think that it is a lifelong study and the more I learn the more I realise I need to know! ;)

    The best Jazz players seem to be middle-aged and have been playing it for all their lives and are stilll learning!! Of course there are always prodigies, but I still think there is no substitute for putting the time in and they will be playing every night and studying all through the day!

    I'm pretty sure that for all the Jazz musicians I've met it has been about putting in the time - I mean people talk about Jaco having a "natural talent"; but the bios say he was playing every night all through the night from a very early age and must have put an enormous amount of time in! His talent was probably his self-belief, which enabled him to be so dedicated?
  11. bassbloke


    Feb 26, 2002
    I take the point about jazz being a lifelong study. But the difference is that when I work on, say, my walking skills I can see real progress. One of my medium-term goals is to be able to play unfamiliar standards at a moderate tempo (say 150 bpm) based on a chart. I can't do this yet but feel I'm a lot closer than I was a year ago.

    With the ear-training, on the other hand, I'm not convinced I've made any progress towards my goals. Sure, I'm better at the ear-training exercises but I've yet to notice any benefit in a playing situation.

    Samuel I take your point that if my goals are properly set I won't meet them consistently. On the other hand if I'm working hard and making no discernible progress maybe lack of natural ability is the issue and I should not be throwing good energy after bad. The debate about whether hard work or natural ability is key to being a good musician is perpetual but I do feel that a lot of what I read and hear is inspired by wishful thinking. Charlie Parker may have practised 16 hours a day but it doesn't follow that practising 16 hours would have made Joe Average another Charlie Parker.

    The advice from Ed and Ray is no doubt sound but it kind of assumes I'm only doing the computer ear-training and not already doing the other things they suggest. Which I've tried to explain above isn't strictly true.

    Ed I wonder if you wouldn't be an even better player if you hadn't squandered so much time learning about the geography of the British Isles!
  12. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    I wouldn't take it personally - Ed is just saying(in a round about way!) that it is much easier to help people if they fill out their profiles comprehensively! ;)
  13. bassbloke


    Feb 26, 2002
    Bruce honestly I'm not that thin-skinned - my remark was meant to be jokey. I've seen enough of Ed in action to know what to expect. I'm always interested in what he has to say. His 3 lessons over at ActiveBass are brilliant.
  14. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    Ok. Here's a hearing test:

    • Write me out a list of the most common changes that you run into.
    • What are the four most common tune-forms that you will play on your average jazz gig.
    • Where is the bridge of a tune likely to go?
    • Where is the second half of the bridge likely to go?
    • What is a tune's 'hook'?
    And then here are a couple of exercises to work on while I grade your paper:
    • Play, without mistakes, some of the songs that you learned as a child. And by this, I do mean 'The Itsy Bitsy Spider' and other such favorites.
    • Then sing these songs and, without mistakes, play the roots to the chords on your bass. Better even if you have a piano nearby to play the chords on as well.
  15. bassbloke


    Feb 26, 2002
    To be honest, Ray, even this simple test is kind of beyond me. I'm just starting out on jazz. I've got together with a couple of other guys and we're trying to find our way. The pianist is probably good enough to legitimately describe himself as a jazz musician but the rest of us are jazz beginners, even though we've all been playing rock for several years.

    Over the past year or two I've done work on chord structures for blues (major, minor, waltz time); rhythm changes; some standards (Autumn Leaves, The Nearness of You, All of Me, All The Way, Night in Tunisia, Autumn Leaves, My Favourite Things, Summertime, Recorda Me, Blue Bossa and a few others); and some modal stuff (So What/Impressions, Maiden Voyage, Blue in Green). I've used Ed Friedland's "Walking Bass Lines", some of the Aebersold Playalongs, and more recently Band in a Box as aids in working on this.

    Obviously I notice certain patterns recurring, cycle of fifths and so on but I'm still at a very rudimentary level. I probably just don't know enough tunes to have started noticing a lot of patterns, or where the bridge typically goes etc.
  16. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    Then my earlier point has been proven. You need a good teacher. Nothing to discuss.
  17. bassbloke


    Feb 26, 2002
    Well I really wish I could find one. But as I said in my original post:

    (Incidentally please don't recommend a teacher - there just aren't any in my part of the world, god knows I've looked hard enough!).

    Ed's remark about BritLand is so tiny that this can't possible be right may be funny but that doesn't make it true.
  18. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    Where there is a will, there is a way. My father, a well sought after teacher in my native part of the country, had students on his waiting list for a year before a slot opened up and they made the weekly 3.5 hour drive...

    If it's important to you, you will find a teacher.
  19. bassbloke


    Feb 26, 2002
    Ray please don't think I'm not taking your advice seriously. But I'm not a pro musician and never will be. Even if I was prepared to drive 3.5 hours I'm not convinced I could find a teacher, although it's just possible that there's someone suitable in Glasgow or Edinburgh which would be around that distance. But I have to earn a living, so I have a business to run and clients to look after; my wife is very tolerant of my enthusiasm for music and the hours I put into it, but even she might baulk at my regularly disappearing with the car for whole days at a time. And I wonder how much I would benefit if a big chunk of the limited time I have available to practise were spent driving instead.

    That may look like lack of commitment from your perspective and if so I plead guilty.
  20. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    Well, I've given you a list of things that you need to know. You already have access to some of the more common practice materials (Band in a Box, etc.). Due to your living on the Dark Side of the Moon, perhaps you can find a teacher somewhere near the modern world that will give occasional lessons. Find the guy, take your tape recorder (we now have MD out here beyond the edges of the jungle, Lord Greystoke ;)) and get a month or two worth of information and get to work. May The Force be with you.
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