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Need help training my ears

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by mfratt, Sep 10, 2008.

  1. mfratt


    Nov 11, 2007
    Boston, MA
    I've only been playing for about 8 months now, but I am pretty ambitious and have high goals set for myself in terms of my bass-playing.

    Anyway, I've been trying to move away from tabs lately, but I am having a horrible time learning to play much of anything by ear. Even simple songs (for instance, I was just working on Mission by Rush, which is overall a quite simple bass line) I have trouble with.

    How should I go about training myself to be able to learn by ear? I know its a crucial step for me in my general playing as well, especially in terms of translating a sound I have in my head to a sound from my bass, without fiddling around trying to get it right.
  2. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Saint Louis, MO USA
    IMO, the biggest step learning to play by ear is to train yourself to distinguish intervals and the common progressions.

    The first practical steps is to learn to recognize the very common rock/blues type progressions like 1, 4, 1, 5 and the like, because so much of popular music is based on just a handful of common progressions. Once you can hear the intervals between the chords and id the progression, you are a long way to getting there.

    The next steps would be learning chord forms.

    I tend to focus on the key, the chord and the progression much more that trying to distinguish the actual and individual notes in the line. If you noodle around enough in the right key with the right chord changes, you'll eventually get the line that you are trying to emulate.
  3. DudeistMonk


    Apr 13, 2008
    Newark, NJ
  4. mfratt


    Nov 11, 2007
    Boston, MA
    ^^ Thats a really cool exercise. Thanks a ton for the link. I'll definitely be spending some time on that site.
  5. TFunkadelic


    Apr 9, 2006
    Playing by ear, all the time, is the ticket.

    And don't just learn bass lines. I often sit with itunes on random, and play a long with the melody of whatever song happens to pop up. It'll also help with your phrasing, expression, technical facility, and understanding of the fretboard.
  6. mfratt


    Nov 11, 2007
    Boston, MA
    This is something that I enjoy doing. Its tough to come up with much of anything coherent at this point though.

    What can I say, I'm learning.

    My real problem, up until recently, has been a lack of much real "practice." Sure, I'd pick up the bass and start jamming, or try to learn some songs off tabs, but nothing really all that productive. I've now made the decision to bunker down and really learn some concrete skills, but I'm finding my poor self-taught habits are coming around to bite me :scowl:
  7. TFunkadelic


    Apr 9, 2006

    I don't mean just jam with it. Learn the melody of the song, be it a vocal, guitar, or clarinet part. Obviously, you can't do this with every song that comes up right off the bat. No one can just flawlessly play Donna Lee by ear the first time.

    The idea is that you go through a variety of songs in different feels and genres. It forces you to familiarize yourself with the sounds of different intervals, improves your technique, and refines your feel all at once. When you only work on bass lines, you miss a lot of the nuances and inflections that are inherent to other instruments.

    If I'm missing something big in a song, I'll replay it a few times until I'm satisfied I got the gist of it. You don't have to perfect each one as you're doing this.
  8. a_magg


    Sep 23, 2007
    You can actually sign up and track your progress on this website, one of my college musicianship courses used it to track our progress.


    Best of luck


    EDIT: For technical practice, try using www.Cyberfretbass.com

    Up until I went to college for music I was self-taught with that site, my instructor in my first lesson told me how surprised he was at my technique for being self-taught. (been an uphill battle now ever since he expects a great deal more from me haha!)
  9. Grinky


    Oct 16, 2007
    Sing. If you can't sing what you're trying to play, you're just faking. It is much harder than you think, and it'll open up a new 'dimension' that you've not been aware of.
  10. Deacon_Blues


    Feb 11, 2007
    +1. A good exercise is to simultaneously play and sing a totally random melody. Do it very slowly. The goal with the exercise is to become familiar with how different intervals sound and how you play them on the bass. I do this fairly regularly.

    That interval trainer is good. I just played it for five minutes with an average answering time of 2-3 seconds, and got 100% right (all intervals on, ascending). I've done similar exercises before but it wasn't until last year when someone else posted a link to a similar exercise that I started to become pretty good at it. It's extremely useful to know how the intervals sound to be able to play what you hear in your head, which ultimately is the goal.

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