Why learn to play by ear?

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By marloweDK

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…


Ditching the Sheet Music « bassgrooves said,


January 17, 2012 @ 12:33 pm

[...] is an interesting article on learning to play bass guitar by ear here. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this [...]


manuelgarant said,


September 21, 2011 @ 11:39 am

Tank you very much Marlowe for your good advises. You are a very great and cool musician.

I first learned to play with noted music, but I think it was better to play pop music, funk etc by ear…It’s good to read music but, in a real context it can be a handicap…It’s very important to play by ear…
I’m happy to read music but now all the new stuff I play is by ear…A good way to learn is to pick tunes by ear with cd an mp3, and also open radio internet and try to pick the tune directly with my bass when it plays…it’s difficult first but I tried and tried and tried…and now I can more and more…it’s very funny and I have to think fast because I can’t loop the radio ;-)…Excuse my poor english…hihihihi….


codycaz said,


April 28, 2011 @ 11:52 pm

Thanks for this very important lesson, Marlowe.
I’ve learned a great lot on here ever since I joined this club.

Thanks once again and God bless.


gusabela said,


April 18, 2011 @ 5:10 am

Kudos, brotha man, I’m a bassist on a journey and many times along the way, I have been frustrated. Your words inspire me. When I can I will give more than just words of appreciation so that you can continue to share your talent… Gus of the Philippines Islands


lac_br21 said,


October 10, 2009 @ 3:03 pm

I started to play bass sinde feb 09, I´m 47 yo, (never late to start) and I´d like to tks for your lessons. (a bunch of)


tunjoris said,


July 4, 2009 @ 1:26 pm

Thanks for your spirit of generousity. I play in the church and have been trying to play by ear for 2 yrs now but still havent scaled the huddle. my progressions clashes with the keyboard everytime, i still cant figure out clearly when to go to 5th or 4th chord on the key and also dstinguish the minor chords. Pls advise, I seem to remain in a rut and I am frustrated. Perhaps there is just one secret that will bail me out. I want to be able to play to any song I know.
God bless
Ola
Well, its not all by ear, experience and knowledge also play a big part . In this situation it would help to ask the organ player which chords he plays, and when. Maybe even sit down with hime and write the chords down


Mr. F Clef said,


May 16, 2009 @ 3:51 am

Marlowe,
Your thoughts on learning to play by listening and practice are, in my humble opinion, exactly right. Far too often music teachers and their students fall into the mind numbing trap of SLOWLY working through method books week after week, year after year without much real musical context or passion. Listening provides a musical context and “active” listening demonstrates a passion for the music. Although I read NOTES (mostly bass clef ;-)) I could never in a million years get the MUSIC from your “lick(s) of the day” off of a printed page. Careful listening, lots of practice and seeing how an expert (you) plays this stuff has been a revelation to me. Your students here and in real life are very, very lucky.
F Clef


WinterWarlock said,


March 10, 2009 @ 8:54 pm

“…After all , most western music uses the same chords, scales, licks and patterns over and over…”

ABSOLUTELY! That is one of the first things I noticed after a couple of weeks of taking lessons – just how much is replicated. I can hear Steely Dan’s “Rikki Don’t lost that Number” and hear “The Girl from Ipanema” Bossa style.


Jerry Attrick Bass said,


March 7, 2009 @ 4:33 pm

I’m 53. Our church went from piano and organ music to worship band. I went from leading hymns to playing in the worship band. OnlyYup, “holding the simple bass lines when playing in a band context” ? No other way to play. Ya gotta keep the main thing, the main thing. (What ever your main thing is) Thanks Mr. Rissel.


muddyroy said,


March 3, 2009 @ 5:51 am

I found your you-tube videos about a week ago and I just signed in here this evening. Very educational, entertaining and fun. I’m 59 and still learning and your site is the best I’ve seen so far..keep up the good work. I’ll contribute next pay-day….


BombTheBass said,


March 1, 2009 @ 12:58 pm

Can you tell us a good beginners bass to buy? Ideally with small amp for practicing at home.Thanks man.
All the major companies makes cheap “starter packs” with bass, amp , strap ect
Try look for the Squier ones, they are ok cheap instruments


Soulvomit said,


February 26, 2009 @ 10:48 am

I am 26 y/o and i been messing around with a bass for about 2 years. I mostly have been self taught with the help of 2 other guys learning drums/guitar… sure you can see where I am going with that. I found your video’s on youtube helpful and found you site helpful, Gives some idea’s for techniques and lets me know I still need pratice. But to date, I havn’t learned anyone elses song. I can just play what me and my friends are playing. Do you consider this kind of practice good or bad? Should I learn to play other bands music or stay soley dedicated on me and my buddies music? I know u will say learn other peoples for practice and techniques, but is it really that important?
Unless you and your buddies are making unique music never heard before and your only ambition is to play with those guys – i think you should listen to as much music as possible and learn as much as possible from others. Dont end up too narrow minded (still unless you of become a billonaire on your own fantastic music…;-))
But you got time…


CNV said,


February 24, 2009 @ 12:56 am

Muito bom o site, estou a começar a dar os primeiros passos no baixo. Espero que entenda esta msg. ^^


Alen said,


February 23, 2009 @ 5:42 pm

Mister Marlow I’ve started playing bass at age of 16/17 now I’m 23. I started on my own with no (bass) teacher. I’m not musically educated but your work is making order from the chaos in my head of all different patches that I tried in studying the bass! :) you are truly inspiring to me! Thank you very much!
Regards from a new fan from Republic Of Macedonia. .


justmusic88 said,


February 18, 2009 @ 8:30 am

that was a very nice and inspiring advice sir… thank you… I really appriciate the things that you do


Rafael said,


February 13, 2009 @ 7:35 pm

learning portuguese haha Im from Brasil :)


GeezerRock said,


January 15, 2009 @ 7:55 pm

Great advice!!! I’m ready to see how you pick out licks and riffs from cd’s, mp3′s etc. Also more on holding the simple bass lines when playing in a band context.

I’ve seen your band play, and didn’t catch all the fancy riffs you show online. IMO, those are mainly for solos because to much poppin’ n’ slappin’ can detract from some genres of music. But man, we sure like it!!!
Cant make a whole site only with basic basslines;-) This and youtube is my showcase and the place for you guys to get techniques, fills and soloparts you can use at your discretion (remember the word), as i do when playin for real (live with a band).
“Holding the simple bass lines when playing in a band context?”
No problem, just hold it or the rest of the band will tell you to;-)


oceanic said,


January 15, 2009 @ 12:40 am

i have red tons and tons of stuff about bass playing, but nothing was clearer and more stimulant than yours!
thanks a lot for this huge work!
Paolo, your new fan from italy


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