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Theory, or ear?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Guss, Nov 26, 2002.

  1. I know that this has been done to death, but (hopefully) I'm bringing a new argument besides,"it ruins your creativity". Don't you think it would be better to learn the instrument by ear? That is, being able to hear notes exactly. You would know what sound you want, and where to go to get that sound without having to pump theory lessons in your brain. Both methods are hard work. What do you guys think?

    P.S. No flame-wars please, I'm begging you!
  2. Theory IS learning to hear things, and then identifying, applying, learning to do things your ears might not necessarily like or think of at first, etc.
  3. PollyBass

    PollyBass ******

    Jun 25, 2001
    Shreveport, LA
    Both. (God that as easy)
  4. No, I don't think it would be better. The best thing is to have both. The idea that one somehow precludes the other is IMO ridiculous.
  5. I'm gonna have to vote TABs.
  6. jazzbo


    Aug 25, 2000
    San Francisco, CA
    For this....you, will die. Slowly.
  7. moley


    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK
    They're not mutually exclusive, you don't choose theory *or* ear. I do both. Theory is just a way of describing what you're able to pick up by ear. Perhaps what you mean is reading music or playing by ear? Still, I'd go with both. Being able to play be ear is very valuable, but it is useful also to be able to read music.
  8. Pacman

    Pacman Layin' Down Time Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Omaha, Nebraska
    Endorsing Artist: Roscoe Guitars, DR Strings, Aguilar Amplification
  9. thrash_jazz


    Jan 11, 2002
    Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
    Artist: JAF Basses, Circle K Strings
    Yep, both.
  10. Secksay

    Secksay Guest

    Sep 6, 2002
    New York, NY
    think of it this way, theory tells you what notes would sound good, ear training tells you which one to choose and where/how to play it. (so yeah, both)
  11. ldiezman


    Jul 11, 2001
    both are of great importance. In college, theory and Aurall skills classes are taken separately.
  12. Yup, both.

    Wait a minute.........
  13. ZuluFunk

    ZuluFunk Supporting Member

    Apr 14, 2001
    I suppose it takes longer to learn something in an unstructured format. It's good to know what the name is for what you're doing. But only learning the nomenclature and structure isn't enough.

    Learning "theory" without developing an "ear" would be pretty non-productive, seems to me. Probably less productive than the converse, imo.

    Imagine learning how to cook by memorizing recipes and mastering preparation techniques without ever developing the ability to determine the taste or smell or presentation of the food.
  14. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    What SKUNK_ENEMA said. All of it, and word for word. Theory is like the grammar of music - you don't learn it so you can walk around reciting all of these nifty little rules and regulations, you learn it so that you can become more adept at reading, writing and speaking. If you're thinking of "theory" as something that exists only in the abstract and on paper, then you're missing what it's really all about.
  15. stephanie


    Nov 14, 2000
    Scranton, PA
    I think both go hand-in-hand. Learning theory will help you improve your ear in my opinion. It will help you identify the key of the song, the chords, etc. A basic part of ear-training is learning intervals. Learning intervals is part of theory. There is theory behind every song you learn to play by ear.
  16. Moment of zen.:) :D
  17. Boplicity

    Boplicity Supporting Member

    You'd have to be in solitary confinement with a bass guitar, a stereo and numerous CDs to learn "purely" by ear, meaning you have zero knowledge of theory, don't know what a scale or chord is, don't know note names, and have no clue about intervals, keys, or similar fundamentals of theory.

    For the sake of argument, let's assume you are starting at zero in an isolated environment and try to teach yourself to play bass guitar from absolute scratch purely by ear, your progress would be hampered by two major advantages that theory offers...terminology and structure.

    How would you identify and classify what you are hearing? It would take such a long time to "reinvent" music theory for yourself, because how long would it take you to realize, for example, there are major and minor scales, there are numerous chords, there are major, minor and perfect intervals, that songs have keys, that some keys have flats and some have sharps? I mean it is endless.

    Then there is song structure, such as twelve bar blues and its variations, including the variety of turnarounds. How long would it take you to sort out the typical, most common song structures, so that you could quickly identify departures from that regime? Of course such challenges include chord progressions which may be hard to identify if you had yet to realize strictly by ear that there is such a concept as a chord.

    Until you recognized patterns and building blocks of music for yourself, learning by ear would reduce you to virtually memorizing every song you play note for note because you wouldn't have the understanding or a basic "road map" of musical building blocks to guide your learning.

    Plus, you'd have to name everything you discover. Why reinvent the wheel? All this has been done already.

    I am in no way denigrating the value of ear training. Ear training is part and parcel of becoming a musician, but to try to learn ONLY by ear seems needlessly burdensome. All that said, I can easily imagine that some musicians do learn that way.
  18. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    The internationally-renowned solo percussionist, Evelyn Glennie is profoundly deaf, yet still manages to have a glittering career playing with all the top symphony orchestras in the world and has had many percussion concertos written for her by contemporary comoposers.


    You could always ask her about playing by ear - she lip-reads very well! ;)
  19. moley


    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK
    LOL. Yeah, Evelyn Glennie is unbelievable. A deaf percussionist. And she's better than most hearing percussionists :)

  20. Assuming the senario you gave:
    I disagree. Why would it not be: "Hey, I want that sound, and this is where I need to put my finger to get it."
    I think you made it too complicated.
    Friendly arguments? (key word, friendly:) )

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