Why learn to play by ear?
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Learning to play music and bass by ear is something we all can achieve - of course some of us learn faster than others ( natural musical talent play a part ).
And when im talking about playing by ear i mean;
To have the ability to learn and replicate the music being played from a cd, mp3s, etc…
To be able to interact with other musicians – thats what jamming is all about – ie the drummer plays a rhythm or the keyboards play a funky groove on a D7 chord and you play something that fits both the rhythm and the chord while adding your own thing.
Learning the notes on your instrument is one of the first things you should learn (more on this later but a diagram can be found here
) - you wont be able to learn anything and put into musical content unless you know what you are doing, and here i repeat my old bass teacher's words "Some people can play and can respond to what other people are playing (playing in a band), and others just wiggle their fingers in a fixed sequence like a trained ape, not beeing able to interact musically with others"
And interacting with others is what music is about - its the ultimate teamwork experience - getting into the groove with the drums, guitar and keyboard - melting into one force of emotion, rhythm that makes people listen, dance, cry, think, happy...
And in my experience its a combination of practice, experience and being able to recognize the musical elements/patterns that occur (some knowledge of basic theory comes in handy here – but dont dispare, we learn as we go along)
Its like learning a new language (im studying portugese as we speak) – you learn some words (licks, chords, scales.), and little by little you put the words together into phrases and sentences (bass lines, solos…) and you keep adding into your vocabulary by learning from records, books , teachers and other musicians.
And you learn to hear and recognize certain sounds, licks, bass techniques or phrases when transcribing (learning /writing down) music, making you able to learn new tunes, licks or solos faster and more precise.
After all , most western music uses the same chords, scales, licks and patterns over and over - especially in pop, rock, blues, soul, funk and partly in jazz (Jazz has more advanced and varied choices of chords and notes and requires an in depth study and passion for the style to really be able to play well)
There's a lot of jazz elements in funk, but the bassparts are mostly based on simpler structures and should be possible to figure out
BUT the most important thing is to actually practice doing it!
That means that, unless the basspart you want to learn is very complicated and involves several choices of fingering, techniques etc (Like learning Victor Wooten , Marcus Miller and the likes), you should throw away the TABs/transcriptions and learn it yourself (most tabs are not accurate anyway)
And STOP for a minute right here!
I just said "the basspart you want to learn"...
May not actually be the basspart you should try to learn - at least not right away. If we try to learn things that are way to advanced for us and fail, we get discouraged and stop trying.
So why not start simpler and succeed?
And save the solo bass pieces just for a bit longer
I mean most basslines you will ever play with a band is actually quite simple, because bass guitar in its nature is a supportive instrument providing the foundation of the band - its YOU that makes the rest of the band sound GOOD!
You have the basic harmony (the root notes you play have massive impact on the chords played by the guitar/keyboard)
You are in charge of the basic rhythm together with the drums.
So, its a mighty fine mission you are on even when playing simple and in the pocket (pocket to me means keeping the time without rushing or lagging while adding your swing, groove , soul and general funkyness)
To be continued...