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#1293252 - 10/25/09 05:29 AM Playing by Ear
etcetra Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/25/08
Posts: 1446
I was wondering, when you guys improvise, how much of what you do is something 'you play by ear'? I personally feel like the whole idea of "playing by ear" is somewhat misguided. When I improvise, I am relying heavily on both my tonal/muscle memory. I have things I've worked out that I know would work over certain changes and I play them. Although I don't play them note by note the same, there are certain concepts behind the lines that I worked out in my practice.

I also think that not many of us are actually capable of hearing complex idea and play them on the fly without any kind of training. I have been transcribing for years, and I can transcribe big band charts,film scores etc.. but my ears are nowhere near being able to play anything by ear. I can probably recall simple melody/chord changes by ear.. and I might be able to figure out complex bebop heads fairly quickly (like conception, Milestones(old) etc), I can even figure out melody and chords to chopin op9#2 nocturne by ear if you give me some time.. but there is no way I can just play them right away by ear.

I can say the same thing about doing jazz piano solo, if I want to do complex reharmonization and extensive counterpoint, I will have to work them out, and I will have to rely on what I learned from books, teachers .. etc I would not have come up with very hip reharm stuff on my own.

I know there are people like chet baker who couldn't read music.. but I don't think those people are completely ignorant of all that goes into jazz improv. They might not know the theory, but they have a very deep understanding the language that they acquired from imitation and extensive study.

I am not saying ear is not important.. jazz musicians do listen to themselves.. but the way we use our ears and is much different than the way non jazz musicians think. What we improvise is combination of theory,muscle/aural memory.. etc and you can't single any of it out.

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#1293317 - 10/25/09 11:04 AM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: etcetra]
tremens, delirium Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/16/09
Posts: 155
good topic...

Originally Posted By: etcetra
I personally feel like the whole idea of "playing by ear" is somewhat misguided. When I improvise, I am relying heavily on both my tonal/muscle memory.


...and that is dead wrong approach, and the reason why jazz is dieing today. 'Jazzers' are just doing what you've described which hardly you can call a music - it's rather exercising.

Playing 'by ear' means you're able to play what's in your head. During improvisation you should be playing ONLY what's in your head dynamically composed on the fly not what in your static fingers memory.

Hence the reason of the biggest problem - you have to have something interesting in you head to begin with (and let's face it, not everybody can have it) and you have to know how to communicate it to the world. IMO Musical theory is the biggest obstacle to free improvisation for musicians.
Another interesting implication from this is - your improvisation is real and unique when you're in the 'mood' because if you're not you start playing from memory and that's just exercise.



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#1293342 - 10/25/09 12:05 PM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: tremens, delirium]
Jazz+ Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/07/04
Posts: 838
Loc: Banned
Ah, the debates of students.

In jazz there are these things called chords, and unlike horn players piano players have to actually play chords with their hands, and when it's time to improvise they play melodies that associate with those chords. And without some "muscle memory" the hands are useless.

I have known many many great players and have never heard one espouse the idea of playing with out any thoughts of harmonic concepts.

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#1293356 - 10/25/09 12:25 PM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: tremens, delirium]
etcetra Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/25/08
Posts: 1446
tremens, delirium,

Can you cite examples of people who play purely by ear? because I can't.. Every good player has some stuff that have worked out beforehand. To me the whole "playing by ear' thing is a myth. You can't play something you don't already know.

Do you think that Bill Evans played all those hip chords because "he just happened to hear it"? Bill Evans pre-arranged a lot of stuff extensively before he played them in gigs. If you hear Bill Evan's doing different take of the same tune from one CD, you would hear remarkable similarities in his solos. In fact sometimes he would play an entire phrase note-by-note the same. Would you be surprised to find out Oscar Peterson practiced his fingering?

If you want to hear the difference between something that is worked out vs something that isn't, just listen&compare Coltrane and Tommy Flanagan's solo on Giant Steps.. I'd love to see someone who's never played Coltrane changes play by ear and see how well they can actually pull it off!!


I also think whether jazz is dying or not is a matter of opinion, and most people who say that don't really have an idea as to all the good stuff that is happening now. I've heard Shelly Berg play just like Oscar Peterson, and heard about how Ray Brown used to steal ideas from Oscar Petifford so much that people used to call him "Ray Pettiford" but that does not make any of these players deriviative boring player..

one last thing, can you name any piano player who can play a complex chord solo purely by ear without working any of it it out? because it took me years of practice to be able to do that, and I'd love to meet someone who can just play that on the fly!!


Edited by etcetra (10/25/09 12:36 PM)

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#1293366 - 10/25/09 12:45 PM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: Jazz+]
tremens, delirium Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/16/09
Posts: 155
Originally Posted By: Jazz+
Ah, the debates of students.


exactly, mature players don't have to - they know music theory is only for wannabeplayers...


Originally Posted By: Jazz+

In jazz there are these things called chords,


really? where exactly?


Originally Posted By: Jazz+

and unlike horn players piano players have to actually play chords with their hands,


so are you suggesting horn player don't play chords?


Originally Posted By: Jazz+

I have known many many great players and have never heard one espouse the idea of playing with out any thoughts of harmonic concepts.


Obviously you're hanging with wrong company wink
Again that's the reason so few good jazz musicians today.

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#1293367 - 10/25/09 12:45 PM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: etcetra]
etcetra Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/25/08
Posts: 1446
btw I do agree that there is overemphasis on theory in school.. but that doesn't mean theory is not important. For some reason people think that playing by ear means playing only 'whats in your head'.. do people realize that many great players learned to play by ear by imitating other great players, stealing licks and ideas from them? Many of them actually learned to play an entire CD note-by note by ear.

To me it seems like what jazz musicians call "learning by ear" is quite different than what non-jazz musician think, and its often misunderstood.

If anyone thinks that Bird played all those hip substitution and extension because 'he just happened to hear it' than that person is clearly deluded. He actually had to spend a lot of time practicing worked all that stuff into playing. And John Coltrane worked a lot of stuff out beforehand on his "giant steps" solo.


Edited by etcetra (10/25/09 01:05 PM)

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#1293368 - 10/25/09 12:51 PM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: etcetra]
etcetra Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/25/08
Posts: 1446
tremens, delirium

Who do you actually consider good musician? Can you name a single musician who doesn't transcribe or who doesn't know their theory?

Would you be surprised to find out that Clayton urges students to transcribe and analayze solos.. and that people like Tamir Hendelman, Gearld Clayton.. etc have learned entire album worth of Oscar Peterson CD by memory? As far as I am concerned they are darn good players.

By your defintion, would you consider Bill Evans a wannabe player then? because he obviously stole a lot from Bud Powell and George Shearing (Just listen to his block chord solos!!) and he is quite a theory buff too!!

So please by all means name a single piano player in the history of jazz piano that didn't know theory or didn't imitate someone else. I'd love to know who these real players you are talking about, because obviously those players are way better than someone like David Kikoski, Geri Allen or even Brad Mehldau!!



Edited by etcetra (10/25/09 01:01 PM)

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#1293411 - 10/25/09 01:38 PM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: etcetra]
tremens, delirium Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/16/09
Posts: 155
Originally Posted By: etcetra
tremens, delirium
Who do you actually consider good musician? Can you name a single musician who doesn't transcribe or who doesn't know their theory?


We're not quite understanding each other here, although there were numbers of musicians who didn't know theory this is not the point here. The order of events is important - first learn to play by ear and then so called "music theory" will come to you later by itself that you won't even notice...self-taught Hendrix, Monk is a good example here. The problem today is we completely reversed the order. You have to play what in you head, not in your hands.

Originally Posted By: etcetra

Would you be surprised to find out that Clayton urges students to transcribe and analayze solos.. and that people like Tamir Hendelman, Gearld Clayton.. etc have learned entire album worth of Oscar Peterson CD by memory? As far as I am concerned they are darn good players.


yeah, I heard about that - this is the most stupid idea someone could come up with. I guess you're confusing good players with technique efficient players...

Originally Posted By: etcetra

By your defintion, would you consider Bill Evans a wannabe player then? because he obviously stole a lot from Bud Powell and George Shearing (Just listen to his block chord solos!!) and he is quite a theory buff too!!


Evans is one of my favorite players, again we don't understand each other - in music we often repeat ourselves or someone else and nothing wrong with that. Otherwise after Bach and few others we would have no more notes to play...

Originally Posted By: etcetra

So please by all means name a single piano player in the history of jazz piano that didn't know theory or didn't imitate someone else.


You forgot about the topic I guess. BTW Why are you limiting improvising music to jazz??? but if so self-taught Monk comes to mind.


Anyway that's what I'm talking about in regards to improvisation:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tlPQD04tn88&feature=related


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#1293427 - 10/25/09 02:04 PM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: tremens, delirium]
KlinkKlonk Offline
Full Member

Registered: 05/19/09
Posts: 365
What's great with Mozart and Bach is their ability to blend music from preceding styles and forge into something unique, creating a new idiom by building on tradition, just as Jarrett or Evans.
Anyway why would you want to restrict yourself anyway? Theory vs ear, use whatever you got. It's what it sounds like that matters, not how you achieve it.

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#1293433 - 10/25/09 02:16 PM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: tremens, delirium]
etcetra Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/25/08
Posts: 1446
You are citing a movie as an example? Do you realize that the movie is a dramatization and the facts in it are heavily distorted? Can you cite a more realistic example that is not from a work of fiction and doesn't involve Mozart-caliber talent?

Also do you realize that the example you gave me is an example of composition and not improvisation which requires you to actually play an instrument? I doubt that anyone can improvise anything that complex on the piano.

If you really think the Clayton brothers are just "technically-efficient" players, then well, all I can say is that we have very different taste in music. Btw the Clayton brothers got their ides from Ray Brown, Oscar Petifford etc etc..

What they are saying is not stupid at all, it's how jazz musicians used to learn before and they are just trying to bring that tradition back. every great player I know have transcribed 100s of solos and learned to play them. As far as I know, what they are doing is what jazz musicians actually mean when they say 'learn by ear'.

The problem is that people talk about ears/muscle memory as if they are two different things. And there are many different levels of listening.. when you play a chord, you are not necessary hearing all the notes moving/resolving in counterpoint. chances are you probably won't be able to process all that information and play them on spot if you have to rely completely by ear.

If you are really playing you shouldn't be thinking about whether you are listening.. you should be wailing and let what it is that comes out come out.

btw do you actually play jazz?



Edited by etcetra (10/25/09 02:27 PM)

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#1293476 - 10/25/09 03:40 PM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: etcetra]
Jazz+ Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/07/04
Posts: 838
Loc: Banned
Erroll Garner couldn't read music but he started playing piano at around age 3.

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#1293479 - 10/25/09 03:47 PM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: tremens, delirium]
Jazz+ Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/07/04
Posts: 838
Loc: Banned
Originally Posted By: tremens, delirium


We're not quite understanding each other here, although there were numbers of musicians who didn't know theory this is not the point here. The order of events is important - first learn to play by ear and then so called "music theory" will come to you later by itself that you won't even notice...self-taught Hendrix, Monk is a good example here. The problem today is we completely reversed the order. You have to play what in you head, not in your hands.



At the age of 11, Monk was taught by Simon Wolf, an Austrian émigré who had studied under the concertmaster for the New York Philharmonic. But the direction the boy would go in, after two years of classical lessons, was jazz.

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#1293756 - 10/26/09 01:25 AM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: etcetra]
etcetra Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/25/08
Posts: 1446
I want to elaborate more than whole hearing thing.. Most people play chords like C7#11 not because they hear each individual notes, but they "kind of know' what that sounds like in their ear.

So I am not sure what people mean when they say play by ear.. esp when it comes to chords. Like I said, I can figure out chords/melody to chopin nocturne op9#2 fairly quickly (it took me like 10 min), but there is no way I can do that on the spot. And it would be nearly impossible to figure out the exact voicing chopin uses on the piece.. that will take me at least an hour.

I really think that if you have to rely solely on responding to what you hear you'll be very limited in what you do. How many of us can actually hear 2-3 voice couterpoint, and actually be able to play them on the spot?

So in my opinion, if you really want to play by ear, your ear and your hand coordination have to be so good that you can hear chopin nocturne or bach fugue in your head and play them instantly. The only person I know who can do anything like that is keith jarrett.. someone requested him to play Ravel's Bolero on a hotel gig and he played the entire thing by ear.

I really think those who say play by ear usually don't know what they are talking about and just how difficult that is. that kind of a ability is a myth.. only ppl like mozart or jarrett can do it, and most pro musicians don't have that kind of ability.

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#1293760 - 10/26/09 01:39 AM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: etcetra]
Jazz+ Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/07/04
Posts: 838
Loc: Banned
Mozart could do it.

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#1293795 - 10/26/09 05:40 AM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: Jazz+]
dannac Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/04/07
Posts: 598
Loc: USA
Quote:
so are you suggesting horn player don't play chords?


My trumpet can not play chords ....

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#1293798 - 10/26/09 06:07 AM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: etcetra]
kevinb Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/18/09
Posts: 1565
Originally Posted By: etcetra

So I am not sure what people mean when they say play by ear.. esp when it comes to chords. Like I said, I can figure out chords/melody to chopin nocturne op9#2 fairly quickly (it took me like 10 min), but there is no way I can do that on the spot. And it would be nearly impossible to figure out the exact voicing chopin uses on the piece.. that will take me at least an hour.


In this context what I mean when I say I `play by ear' is that I could play the basic melody of op9#2, probably with some mistakes, and maybe some vague attempt at some of the harmony.

I'd certainly make a better job of both the melody and the harmony if I tried it in the key of say, G, rather than the original Eb. So it's clear (I think) that I'm relying on some theoretical knowledge of harmony that I have better grasp of in some keys than others. I'm certainly not translating directly from the `sound in my head' to finger movements, and I'm certainly not interpreting individual notes. I imagine that I'm relying on my expectation of how chord progressions typically work in music of this genre.

I guess `playing by ear' can mean different things to different people -- but being able to play, say, a tune in three-voice counterpoint using only the information stored in your head is a prodigious talent, and one that I doubt many people have. Limiting the term `by ear' to that situation probably robs of it any practical meaning.

BTW I'm certainly impressed if you're saying that you can work out the exact voicings of the left hand in an hour. Some of the harmony is actually quite subtle, and I'm not convinced that I could get all of it ever, let alone in an hour.

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#1293801 - 10/26/09 06:17 AM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: etcetra]
kalai1 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/22/09
Posts: 39
Loc: Big Island of Hawaii
Hi, etcetra , I guess I qualify as being able to play by ear, I have piano pieces I made and recorded that were spontanious, I know nothing about chords, I can plan songs from George winston but I do need to work that out before hand but I do that in my head for the most part, I always tell my wife if it is iin my head I can play it, I can improvise very easy and creat or just fool around.
I don't know if this is what your talking about by playing by ear, I also saw a piano player who could listen to a song and then with in 1-3 min. he could play it. Aloha.

Chris

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#1293817 - 10/26/09 06:58 AM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: kalai1]
etcetra Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/25/08
Posts: 1446
Kalai,

I don't doubt that people can play be ear somewhat... I guess the question is whether people can actually come up with something as complex as a Bill Evans piano solo or a chopin nocturne just by ear.

I do think that some people have to actually learn how to improvise more than others.. and it sounds like for improv just came naturally for you smile

kevin,

I've been transcribing music for a while. I've transcribed big band charts, film scores..etc. I was able to figure out most of the harmony without looking at the music.i think it took me like 20min. I am not sure.If I have to sit down the piano, I can probably pluck out all the notes in a chords.. although its probably not going to be 100% accurate, at least I would know 2-3 notes of a chord for sure.

I've also transcribed the block solo from this clip.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w5gcMTD8jZc

I agree with you that having theoretical knowledge helps quite a bit. If I had to learn it note by note, it would be extremely difficult and time consuming. But I can kind of tell which voicing Gearld playing although I might not be hearing every single note.


Bottom line is that your ear is something that you can infinitely develop, and there are different levels of playing by ear. I am mainly refuting those ho say that it's all done spontaneously by ear.. and somehow you are hearing all that complex music in your head and your hands somehow just plays them... that sounds like a fantasy, its something you hear about in movies, but as far as I know, jazz improvisation doesn't really work like that.


Edited by etcetra (10/26/09 07:02 AM)

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#1293855 - 10/26/09 08:49 AM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: etcetra]
tremens, delirium Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/16/09
Posts: 155
Originally Posted By: etcetra
I am mainly refuting those ho say that it's all done spontaneously by ear.. and somehow you are hearing all that complex music in your head and your hands somehow just plays them... that sounds like a fantasy, its something you hear about in movies, but as far as I know, jazz improvisation doesn't really work like that.


that's because you don't understand how playing by ear works - you don't necessary hear all parts/notes of 'complicated' chords etc (although at some practice you can do that too) but you see such chord like a painting. I often compare music hearing to painting because it's very similar and I hear that way. I don't even care what notes are being played.
Ability to repeat tune after one hearing only is something else - it's musical memory which you can practice too.

Every real pro can play by ear the way I say - not only in the movies! I met many people including my teacher when I was a kid
who could do this easily, that's the ESSENTIAL skill of being pro! My teacher after one hearing only used to write down a tune without instrument on the scoring sheet.

You guys are putting very low bar for a pro as I see it...

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#1293894 - 10/26/09 10:01 AM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: tremens, delirium]
kevinb Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/18/09
Posts: 1565
Originally Posted By: tremens, delirium

that's because you don't understand how playing by ear works - you don't necessary hear all parts/notes of 'complicated' chords etc (although at some practice you can do that too) but you see such chord like a painting.
[...]
Every real pro can play by ear the way I say - not only in the movies!


Here's a thing to try: have somebody play four arbitrary notes together on the piano, with the restriction that they have to be within a couple of octaves. See if you can reproduce those four notes without knowing what they are.

I'll bet there aren't many people who can do that reliably. That you say you don't care what notes are played, but see them `like a painting', then you should do well at my four-note test.

But I would bet that such a skill, without extensive training and practice, is very, very rare.

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#1293916 - 10/26/09 10:30 AM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: kevinb]
knotty Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/01/07
Posts: 2993
Loc: Bethesda, MD (Washington D.C)
Quote:

I am mainly refuting those ho say that it's all done spontaneously by ear.. and somehow you are hearing all that complex music in your head and your hands somehow just plays them... that sounds like a fantasy, its something you hear about in movies, but as far as I know, jazz improvisation doesn't really work like that.


I don't think complexity is the issue. Nor is comparing oneself to Bill Evans.

I don't think complexity has anything to do with playing by ear.
If you can hear a simple melodic phrase, and play it, you are playing by ear. If you can hear the individual of possible voicings for an E7, and you choose one, based on that melody you just improvised from your hear, you are again playing from ear.
This music that sounds so simple, is yet very advanced.

I suspect you play by ear more than you want to admit.

Do you know the sound of scales? can you sing chords?
When you play those LH chords, do you adapt to your RH melody?
Are you creating melodies when you improvise? Are you more concerned with the beauty of the lines you are creating, or the difficulty and speed of what you are playing?
When you take a rest, do you ask yourself "ok, I just took 4 beats last time, so based on proper rules, I should mix it up and take 6 beat rest this time"? Or do you just decide based on the mood?
I think that's what playing by ear means.

As you are able to play simple lines by ear, you start experimenting with other sound, and those sounds become part of the available pool of notes. Beginners would start with major scales, then adding passing tones, then playing with various minor scales. It's getting those sounds in your ear, and applying them methodically (and slowly) on top of progression, that will unlock the ear.

Note that some people have a better ear than others. In general, I have noticed that guitarist seem to have a solid ear, based on the fact that they often do not read music, and often play pop by just listening. They are able to pick up chord progression (often simple ones) very quickly.

I also think that there is a limit to what transcribing will do to you, and that playing along to records will provide a nice balance. Just simply putting the record on, and trying to play along. I'm sure you do that regularly already.

Sorry if all of this is obvious to you, you are without a doubt much more accomplished than I am. I am merely trying to say that you are probably playing by ear much more than you want to admit.

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#1294039 - 10/26/09 12:23 PM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: knotty]
etcetra Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/25/08
Posts: 1446
Knotty,

I pretty much agree with everything you've said. We all do play by ear to a certain extent, I just think that the ability to "play by ear" depends heavily on your training, on just how much vocabulary you have acquired.

Keith Jarrett can do an entire concert of with nothing planned beforehand.. in fact I even read that he prepares his concerts by not practicing for weeks in order to keep his ideas fresh. I've also read stuff by Herbie Hancock which makes me think that he is actually hearing all the notes in a chord as he plays them.

But I really think playing by ear for most of us, is about familiarity, and results of what we worked on. We can recall ideas we worked on and played them, because we've transcribed and stole ideas and we worked on their so our muscle memory/instinct takes over.

It just seems like some people are on the extreme about this.. as i you have to either play by ear/be original or learn theory/imitate others.. As far as I know you can actually do both, and most great players do.



tremens, delirium,

the example you showed me was Mozart composing a choral piece with a full orchestra, how many people can compose an orchestral piece in their head?

So you are saying playing by ear has nothing to do with your ability to retain tonal memory, interval recognition ..etc?? Isn't what you describing free-playing, or playing by pure instinct? Anyone can do that.

To me this is an example of free-improv

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x0OdpeDvs7g

As far as I am concerned he can do what he does, because he has developed his technique, his ears, his sense of time, theory(counterpoint, harmony etc) to a very high level.

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#1294046 - 10/26/09 12:30 PM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: etcetra]
etcetra Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/25/08
Posts: 1446
For me

1. Listening to something I like

2. Transcribing, analyzing what makes it sound good

3. Takes elements from of what I analyzed and make an exercise out of it.

4. Eventually those ideas will become part of your natural vocabulary.

As far as I am concerned, this process requires you to use your ears,and train your muscle memory. You also have to imitate others to a certain extent, at the same time but you have to figure out how you work on them and how you make it part of your vocabulary is... and you end up doing it your own way anyways.

It just doesn't make any sense to single out any of these ideas and ignore the rest.. you can, and should be doing all of the above.

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#1294508 - 10/27/09 12:09 AM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: etcetra]
jazzwee Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/25/07
Posts: 7086
Loc: So. California
etcetera, I've talked about this before so I'm being repetitive so sorry about that.

When I first started playing jazz, I thought much like you. My first two teachers were lick based and the whole idea of teaching was to collect a bunch of melodic phrases and then practicing them in all keys. For the life of me, I could not apply this AT ALL. I failed miserably and I thought that perhaps I was incapable of learning jazz.

Now in retrospect, I could not play these licks because they didn't come from me and I couldn't hear it my ear at all. It sounded foreign.

Fast forward to new teacher. Absolutely not one lick taught. Sure I learned a couple of neat runs and such but really no discussion of vocabulary. Instead, my teacher was a stickler for accuracy of harmony and stating of harmony in the solo. Chord tones on downbeats. Complete awareness of beats. Being free on the upbeats on note choices. Now at the beginning, this sounded pretty rote too as I just kept plunking away at 3, 5 and 7. Then he introduced rhythmic variety to this. Suddenly even simple notes had a variety of melodic possibilities. Then it was awareness of the sound of leaps.

I don't know what happened but once I hear the harmony in my head, I know instantly what the chord tones sound like and I don't even have to think about where to find to find it on the keyboard. I start to instantly hear melodically. It is actually easy to hear melodically with stepwise movement (I'm sure you can play Mary Had a Little Lamb by Ear right?). It's harder to hear leaps, like fifths, fourths, sevenths, tritones.

There seems to be a finger connection now to my ear. I can hear what it sounds like even without pressing the keys. Isn't that a sign that the ear is taking over?

Now in actual playing, we're not always so creative. There are certain moves on the keyboard that I describe as "filler". I think the filler gives us time to think. How good a solo is seems to depend a lot on how much concentration I put on the melody rather than the filler. Filler to me is muscle memory. But with a little concentration, I could alter the filler and go on to a melodic idea and I'm just an amateur.

I've watched my teacher do "filler" (a world class player), and watch him come out with such original melodies. I've asked him this many times and when he creates melodies, he's in a different world. He doesn't do so much of that in class, which is probably 50% filler. So I think real top-level jazz playing goes beyond 'worked-out' licks. Maybe average players are all about licks.
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#1294527 - 10/27/09 12:53 AM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: jazzwee]
etcetra Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/25/08
Posts: 1446
jazzwee,

I guess I am driven by curiosity, and If I hear something I like I want to know what's going on. I used to learn licks from other musicians too, but when I transcribe new things now days, I am not really doing it to steal a particular lick but I am going for the concept behind it.

For example when I transcribed Gearld Clayton's block chord solo, it was more about figuring out how I can make block chords sound good.. and knowing when to use the 'normal' voicing, diminished voicing, or the kind of bill evans voicing with more dissonance in it.

I've also transcribed many Kenny Kirkland solos and worked out couple of pentatonic runs too. Again it's not about stealing a particular lick, but figuring out how I can use pentatonic scales to play "out". When I tried to do it before it just didn't sound good at all, but transcribing kenny gave me a way to understand and play those ideas musically.

For me I just don't think one can come up with stuff like that completely on your own. I do come up with cool new voicings I hear, or new lines, but I realized those things are results of all the work I did.. the stuff I used to imitate are coming out in my own way naturally, and sometimes it happens without thinking about it.

All these things just gives me more tools when I create melodies.. there are so many things you can do like rhythmic displacment, polyrhythms, superimpostion..etc. I am starting to be able to do some of it, and I can create all sorts of melodic/rhythmic ideas on the spot that I was not able to do before.

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#1294533 - 10/27/09 01:17 AM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: etcetra]
jazzwee Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/25/07
Posts: 7086
Loc: So. California
etc., when I've transcribed (which is not very often), I actually work out what chord tones were, extensions, and leaps. So I look more to a harmonic structure so I can always repeat in all keys. That's been my way.

I stopped doing it when I realized that just from hearing a solo, I could make out what's happening. I think I have exceptionally good ears. I can duplicate a lot of stuff just from listening. So I suppose, although I'm not physically transcribing, I must be doing it aurally. When I listen, I imagine the actual movements, stepwise, and leaps, and chromatic. In a way I've simplified my understanding of all this.

I think I realized that no matter how fancy a lick is, it's just often just combinations of small snippets (like 4 eighth notes). If analyzed that way, there seems to not be that many choices. So I never have the problem now of picking notes to play and I still don't know any licks. smile

Well not true. I know Blues licks though I NEVER use them.
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#1294544 - 10/27/09 02:17 AM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: etcetra]
Inlanding Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/05/09
Posts: 1650
Loc: Colorado
Originally Posted By: etcetra
I was wondering, when you guys improvise, how much of what you do is something 'you play by ear'? I personally feel like the whole idea of "playing by ear" is somewhat misguided. When I improvise, I am relying heavily on both my tonal/muscle memory. I have things I've worked out that I know would work over certain changes and I play them. Although I don't play them note by note the same, there are certain concepts behind the lines that I worked out in my practice.

I also think that not many of us are actually capable of hearing complex idea and play them on the fly without any kind of training. I have been transcribing for years, and I can transcribe big band charts,film scores etc.. but my ears are nowhere near being able to play anything by ear. I can probably recall simple melody/chord changes by ear.. and I might be able to figure out complex bebop heads fairly quickly (like conception, Milestones(old) etc), I can even figure out melody and chords to chopin op9#2 nocturne by ear if you give me some time.. but there is no way I can just play them right away by ear.

I can say the same thing about doing jazz piano solo, if I want to do complex reharmonization and extensive counterpoint, I will have to work them out, and I will have to rely on what I learned from books, teachers .. etc I would not have come up with very hip reharm stuff on my own.

I know there are people like chet baker who couldn't read music.. but I don't think those people are completely ignorant of all that goes into jazz improv. They might not know the theory, but they have a very deep understanding the language that they acquired from imitation and extensive study.

I am not saying ear is not important.. jazz musicians do listen to themselves.. but the way we use our ears and is much different than the way non jazz musicians think. What we improvise is combination of theory,muscle/aural memory.. etc and you can't single any of it out.


Muscle Memory - I was in the fitness business for 17 years ane that term came up pertaining to golfers, but it a rather generic term to describe all sorts of "memory facets", I think. hmmm... Lot's to think about.

Thanks for bringing up the subject of memory, though - it has a very broad meaning when it comes to creating music, both by improv, or by interpreting what is written, playing along with others, playing blinfolded, playing with earplugs etc.

From what I gather from at novice level, improvs and classical expressions, much of it comes from what you what first describe as something that you've worked out over time.

I like to call it a musical vocabulary, limited by experience, technique (dexterity) velocity, several different types of memory (I suppose you can throw muscle memory in there), putting into practice any theoretical concepts have managed to stick their way in, only to hopefully help to put something together that makes sense. It also seems to have much to do with mood, time of day, etc. Playing music, to me, seems much more detailed than to define playing by ear as simple muscle memory.

I hope I understand to what you refer when it applies to playing the piano - please describe it more. /\/\/\/\ Thanks

Here are a few play it by ear pieces - hope you like

cmin version
http://www.box.net/shared/90f97d6m54

Another flavor
http://www.box.net/shared/igvm1lfuee

Glen
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#1294549 - 10/27/09 03:26 AM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: Inlanding]
Ken. Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/07/08
Posts: 286
To me playing by ear is the ultimate goal but you have to do the ground work first. My current teacher has taken my playing to the next level. He gave me a lot of licks which I recorded as he played it. I started to use them in my playing and for a while I liked it but then started getting sick of my licks. So with his help I've been working at getting away from my licks by being more about hearing what I want to play rather than thinking about it. I still play licks sometimes but that's ok every now and then.

I used to think playing by ear meant not playing any licks but now think it's really a matter of balance. You need to know the underlying chords well enough so that you don't have to think about them so much when playing. You can use licks to get you into a tune. Then you can start to play more by ear. Also it helps to establish an improvisory framework over the tune beforehand.

So for me playing by ear is at the end of a process of figuring things out and working things out beforehand. My teacher has shown me through this process that it is possible to learn licks and still keep your playing free.
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#1294562 - 10/27/09 04:04 AM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: jazzwee]
etcetra Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/25/08
Posts: 1446
jazzwee

I can pretty much figure out what's going on in a solo for most of the stuff too, but I really can't say the same for many of the modern stuff. I started to understand what people like Kenny Kirkland, David Kikoski, Fred Hersch or Brad Mehldau is doing by transcribing them.

I just think you get much more out of it by digging into them, and I personally don't like to settle for just the overall picture... but that's just how I am

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ovqa_WG5z74


Can you actually pick something like this up by ear and play it? I just can't see how anyone can just 'pick this up by ear'. esp with all the rhythmic displacement happening over 5. Can you actually listen to what someone like Brad Mehldau, Aaron Parks, or Tigran Hamasyan, Jean Michel-Pilc and play like them just by ear? if so I am impressed.

For me transcribing and analyzing, and learning to play them is all part of learning by ear.. It's how I internalize new ideas and make them my own.

Inlanding,

For me muscle memory, aural memory/ability all part of playing by ear.. and like I said, it's not something you can just single out. You may be able to hear ideas, but you're hands have to know where to go first. You need to figure out the most efficient ways to play a certain ideas. And at first you may have to learn things note-by-note like you do in classical, but once you are comfortable enough with it, you can start to vary them.

I guess its a lot like martial arts, when you start out, you are basically learning much of it by rote, through tons of repetition and imitation.. the point is to do it accurately. Once you have done that long enough... you should be able to do what you need to do at a given situation based on instinct. For me building muscle memory is working something to a point where it becomes instinct, and it takes a long time.


As far as I know, all great musician/martial artist are well versed in the styles and traditionand they are extremely meticulous in their studies. You really do have to do your homework before you can do something with worthwhile/original with it.

It just seems like in music there is more tendency for people to have naive ideas about being original and not imitating anyone, or how you can just doing things by feel/ear, or whatever you call it. I guess in that respect, musicians are much better off, because the worst thing that can happen to us is being humiliated in front of the public. Mistakes martial arts, is not as forgiving smile

I think Ultimately, your concepts, your action, your intention, your movement should all be one thing... and I think the distinction is arbitrary, and it's a problem when you overemphasize one and neglect the other.

Ken

I agree.. like I said there are different level of playing by ear, and all I am doing is training my ability do play by ear better. I've heard Brandford Marsallis play the intro to Bird's rendition of "just friends". I've studied with great piano players, I was always amazed just how much they knew.. they can play albums worth of transcriptions,solo piano arrangements of others jazz greats, because they've committed them to memory. And many of them can play just like Oscar Peterson, chick Corea or whoever their idols are. That's A LOT of very meticulous and deliberate practice. They've definitely done their homework smile


Edited by etcetra (10/27/09 04:26 AM)

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#1294588 - 10/27/09 06:41 AM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: etcetra]
abminor Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/11/08
Posts: 23

If I understand correctly the real question here is how much you can infer unfamiliar musical things from your existing knowledge. That's a question I have asked myself for quite a long time two. How much do you have to work on transcribing before you're able to have a sufficient low level understanding of intervals and scale degrees so that you become able to hear on the fly what's going on in music that is unknown to your current vocabulary.

At my current level I must confess I'm only able to transcribe things in style that are familiar, so I'm more using some kind of high level knowledge rather than low level. It's like I'm being able to understand familar phrases, sometimes familiar words in foreign language but have trouble to grasp letters in unfamilar words.

Therefore, I'm more like you but I know there are so people out there (including on pianoworld) that have this ability and I'll be curious to know how they could reach such a point. Unfortunately, it seems that most of them had early musical training which is not my case.

I however did some progress with the following method: choosing a scale degree say the fifth and trying to hear all its occurences in a several tunes played on your cd player or whatever. It did help me to have a better recognition of few scale degrees more independent of context so that I don't have to rely on pre learn words that contains the degree.

I don't know if it's the best method thought. If I base myself on the music learning theory of gordon, one should learn by heart a variety of arpegios and sing them until you gain a independent knowledge of their components degrees. For instance by learning every possible arpegio containing the third degree you should eventually remember this degree just by itself indepedent of any context. however I have no idea of the success rate of this method.

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