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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: 2995
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: 7096
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
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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
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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 Online   content
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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
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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
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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
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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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#1294623 - 10/27/09 08:20 AM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: abminor]
etcetra Offline
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abminor,

I really don't know if anyone can play something that they don't already know somehow.. that's like you using a new word you never heard before.. everything we play is based on our experience.

To me it playing by ear is a combination of your relative pitch, and your muscle&aural memory. It's not about playing or composing "purely by ear" like that mozart clip from amadeus

I guess anything with coltrane changes is a good example.. if you ask a student to just play by ear, it's nearly impossible. Chances are you would have to work some stuff out, like patterns and transcriptions, and after you do that for a while, you start hearing different melody based on what you worked on. Tommy Flanagan wasn't able to improvise that well on it because the chord changes weren't familiar to him, it was outside of his experience at that time. If he was able to purely play by ear, all he needed to do was to come up with a melody on the spot , but he couldn't.

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#1294637 - 10/27/09 08:48 AM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: etcetra]
abminor Offline
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Well I'd say you're right but we don't want to confuse between music which is new to our ear and music which we haven't experienced yet on our instrument. I was more talking about the latter. Someone with a really great ear should be able to reproduce the latter provided he has the right technical level.

Of course you don't come up with brand new idea that comes from nowhere. It's always based on previous music you have heard. I think the difference is that trully great improvisers should be able to play musical ideas that seem foreign to their usual instrumental vocabulary provided that they have enough hearing experience of them.


Edited by abminor (10/27/09 08:56 AM)

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#1294750 - 10/27/09 11:52 AM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: abminor]
pianojazz Offline
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Quite a long time ago I asked my piano teacher how to improvize. He thought for a moment and then said:"there are two answers I can give you to that question, the theory one and the real one." He went on to say that the theory answer is the one you'll see in all the books. It talks about chords, scales, modes, leading tones, chord tones, substitutions, harmonizing, weak and strong metric position and we can spend a few years working on it. On the other hand, the "real one" goes like this - once you learn the tune and you are comfortable with the changes, when it's time to solo, what you want to do is hook-up with the river inside you (your mind's ear) and once you do that, the music will flow out of you and take you places you didn't know you could go. All you have to do is trust it. It's there. Just tap into it and away you go. Personally, after several years of experimentation, I far prefer the 2nd method.
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#1294783 - 10/27/09 12:35 PM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: pianojazz]
tremens, delirium Offline
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Originally Posted By: pianojazz
On the other hand, the "real one" goes like this - once you learn the tune and you are comfortable with the changes, when it's time to solo, what you want to do is hook-up with the river inside you (your mind's ear) and once you do that, the music will flow out of you and take you places you didn't know you could go. All you have to do is trust it. It's there. Just tap into it and away you go. Personally, after several years of experimentation, I far prefer the 2nd method.


let's face it, the second method is the only method...

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#1294795 - 10/27/09 01:02 PM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: tremens, delirium]
Inlanding Online   content
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I recently read a wonderful book that I'll throw out to the group, by Kenny Werner.

It is called, Effortless Mastery: Liberating the Master Musician Within

Great ideas and insight on thinking a bit differently about your own creative capacities.

It's helped me a lot, given me lots of new tools, ways of seeing how I practice, perform - quite applicable as well to life itself.

Glen
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#1294807 - 10/27/09 01:19 PM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: Inlanding]
tremens, delirium Offline
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I will quote Bill Maher part of one monologue which is right on here:

Quote:
I wouldn't recommend heroin, but it didn't hurt my record collection...


no more or less - everything is inside us already, we just need to free it. (not necessary with heroin though, weed is sometimes enough smile

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#1294867 - 10/27/09 02:39 PM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: tremens, delirium]
etcetra Offline
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Posts: 1446
I remember hearing this student trumpet player once.. she was by all means a beginner and she could only play the blues scale over blues. But for some reason she sounded good... there was something about her playing that made it sound fun, and she was playing her heart out. Her solo was way better than any of the solos by more advanced students.

So in that respect, playing from that space is important, and you can make great music with whatever ability you have. But I doubt that the trumpet player would be able to play complex bebop line just because she 'freed her music inside'. To do that she would have to transcribe, learn solos off records, and do her homework. The important thing is to keep your space through the learning process.

And transcribing/stealing ideas should be a natural process. I used to learn Beatles tune off records because I liked them so much and I wanted to play them... that desire came naturally and it s was fun figuring it out for myself. I am transcribing much more complex stuff now, but the desire is essentially the same.

So to say that you shouldn't transcribe or learn other people's music by ear because you will end up being a copycat, and you should "only" follow the music inside, is utterly ridiculous. If you really like something, isn't your first instinct to learn it? Why supress something as natural as curiosity? And if you don't have that kind of curiosity, why are you doing music in the first place?


Edited by etcetra (10/27/09 03:55 PM)

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#1294903 - 10/27/09 03:30 PM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: pianojazz]
etcetra Offline
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pianojazz

I also think its important to realize our teachers lived in a very different time with very different circumstances. My teachers lived in CA in the 70s, and they had a lot of oppertunity to hear great musicians. You could actually gig 5 nights a week and live on that. They were also surrounded by great musicians their age.. they had much better access to the music. They didn't create their own 'jazz' sound out of vacumn.

The problem is that most younger musicians now days don't have that kind of oppertunity..you are lucky if you are playing with a good player at a young age&gigging. Older players have the luxury of being able to hear&play with good players and have that infleunce them.. they can steal ideas from records and their friends They might not have books but they had abundant resource to get information.

So you have to take into the account that whatever they came up with 'by ear' or whatever music you set free 'within' has a lot do with their enviroment. If you grew up listening to someone like Warne Marsh every night, it would make sense that you'd come up with really cool stuff 'by ear', and you might not even realize where they came from.

But for most of us, the only place where we can absorb a genuine jazz sound is off records. We have to be much more deliberate in that respect.


Edited by etcetra (10/27/09 03:33 PM)

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#1294928 - 10/27/09 04:17 PM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: etcetra]
jazzwee Offline
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Loc: So. California
Originally Posted By: etcetra


Etc., yes I can hear this clearly, particularly the RH. I don't know the tune but I can tell what is being played. I've listened to this video before (it's in the AL thread). The changes are very similar to ATTYA. I guess there's only one way to skin a 2-5-1.

Admitedly, if I listened to this a year ago, I wouldn't have heard the same stuff and it would have seemed fast.

BTW - I'm working on this type of 2 handed approach and I just love it.
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#1294939 - 10/27/09 04:38 PM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: jazzwee]
pianojazz Offline
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etcetra - yes. One must be selective as to what one listens to. Listening is a huge part of playing good jazz - I've said many times, the best players are the best listeners. Interestingly, at least for me, after I play some simple Bach or Chopin (just casual reading), I find my ability to improvize somehow has improved - I seem to come up with better ideas. I can't begin to explain but it has a positive effect on my creativity. As far as listening - check out Pandora Internet radio at http://www.pandora.com/ - such a great source for jazz.
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#1295107 - 10/27/09 09:02 PM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: jazzwee]
etcetra Offline
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jazzwee,

the lines he plays in the RH are pretty straight forward, its the rhythmic aspect of the tune that is very tricky. It takes a lot of work to be able to play that freely&over the barline over 5/4.

When I am working with metric modulation, I usually have to write stuff down and come up with exercises first. I think I mentioned in another post about playing 3/4 on RH accenting every 4 triplet and playing regular 4/4 bass line on LH against that.

I think I got that idea from listening to herbie and hearing my friends talk about it.. its a direct result of my curiosity and deliberate practicing. I would have never came up with that on my own if I was just 'playing by ear', or 'unlocking the music inside me'.

Sure you have to have the music come from you, but you practice for hours to make all the things you want happening in music yours. Bill Evans got a lot of his arranging/voicings ideas studying classical music like Ravel meticulously. Inspiration is important, but you can neglect the study part.

I know people like Mike Stern, Pat Metheny, Kenny Garrett all transcribe music to do this day... It's hard work but I don't see reasons not to do them.

I am getting the impression that some people think all you have to do is follow your ear/tap into the 'space'.. and they don't realize all the study and homework that goes into playing jazz.

"People make a mistake who think
that my art has come easily to me.
Nobody has devoted so much time
and thought to composition as I. There
is not a famous master whose music
I have not studied over and over."

Mozart


Edited by etcetra (10/27/09 09:13 PM)

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#1295113 - 10/27/09 09:20 PM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: pianojazz]
Swingin' Barb Offline
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Originally Posted By: pianojazz
As far as listening - check out Pandora Internet radio at http://www.pandora.com/ - such a great source for jazz.

pianojazz,

Thank you for the Pandora link. Excellent! No commercials -- WOW!! I just created an Ellis Marsalis station and a Bill Evans station. I'm in heaven!

Barb
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#1295194 - 10/28/09 12:38 AM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: etcetra]
jazzwee Offline
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Loc: So. California
Originally Posted By: etcetra
jazzwee,

the lines he plays in the RH are pretty straight forward, its the rhythmic aspect of the tune that is very tricky. It takes a lot of work to be able to play that freely&over the barline over 5/4.


Well, there you go. I was thinking about that too. It's the rhythmic part that's always difficult particularly in jazz. If you have a good ear (and that's what we work on to develop), then that's the easy part.

Don't you think it is easy to recognize a bebop style from a non-bebop/modernish style? Bebop is so distinctive with those chromatic notes and grace notes ala-Oscar Peterson. Then you listen to Corea and all that's absent. Before I started piano, I had 35 years of guitar and listening and copying rock solos so I already had an ear. But jazz is different and required some training.

I think it is still hard to hear the exact notes in a McCoy Tyner style because of all the random large leaps with the pentatonics. But without trying to copy the exact notes, at least you know the pentatonics he uses so doing one's own random leaps and you get to sound like him too.

So typically, when I listen I look for a pattern that is distinctive of a style. I look at the intervals betwen notes. That guy Rueckert was mostly moving stepwise so it was easy (like a Bach melody I guess). My teacher uses an intervallic style that's unpredictable and I would listen to his records and say what's that? Good thing is that I can just ask him and I think that improved my hearing so much. I discovered that there's a "shape" to what he does. He knows what the shape sounds like in advance.

Anyway, I never found the urge to copy a solo note for note. I was more interested in being stylistically like the original. An example of this is when I play Donna Lee, I naturally start to play with Charlie Parker triplets and bebop chromatics and the up/down pattern. I'm not actually trying to copy an actual Bird line. Perhaps that's why I never actually transcribe. I gravitate towards studying structure.
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#1295223 - 10/28/09 02:34 AM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: jazzwee]
etcetra Offline
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Registered: 05/25/08
Posts: 1446
jazzwee

yea, bebop is very distinct, so it's easy to pick it up in some ways. The McCoy/Chick Pentatonic stuff are concerned, it's definitely not as obvious. I got a lot of insight from transcribing kenny kirkland and actually identifying which key he actually transpose to as he plays out. .and how his left hand is moving along with it. There is definitely a 'logic' to it.

I transcribe something when I don't understand it and I want answers. I wish I had someone to go to and ask those things but I don't frown

I did actually learn Oscar Peterson's version of "night train" note by note.. up until the end of his solo.. for me it wasn't about figuring out which notes to play, but really digging into his sound and what makes it swing. It was fun discovering how he lays back/accent certain notes and give them character.. you start paying attention to all these minute details that you wouldn't otherwise.

I can say the something about Clare fischer.. he has a such a beautiful sound on the piano, and when I tried learning his arrangement by ear, I realized just how much control he has over the instrument.. he literally plays each note in a chord at different volume and bring out the right notes. That insight gave me something to aspire to.. something that I can spend the next decade developing.

All these things helps me to pay more attention to the finer aspect of sound and refine my ears.

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#1296542 - 10/30/09 09:56 AM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: etcetra]
tremens, delirium Offline
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Registered: 10/16/09
Posts: 155
Originally Posted By: etcetra

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?


you're still confusing things, I hear quite often whole orchestral arrangements in my head, that doesn't mean yet I know or care all notes I hear unless I need to write it down. That's another skill..

p.s.
again analogy to painting - when you see a picture do you know or care how many colors were used??? To know that you'd need to analyze, desect and lose perspective...

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#1296550 - 10/30/09 10:03 AM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: etcetra]
tremens, delirium Offline
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Originally Posted By: etcetra
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?


do you have imagination (essential in improvisation) and can you not take everything literally?

Originally Posted By: etcetra

btw do you actually play jazz?


define jazz...

I play improvised music.

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#1296559 - 10/30/09 10:13 AM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: tremens, delirium]
mwf Offline
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I cant understand how anyone cannot play by ear, when most people in the world are capable of humming or singing a piece they hear on the radio...whilst at work etc.. Its the same thing on piano, I used to listen to CD's/mp3's and just work out the notes eventually through a process of elimination you get the notes right, there are only semi-tones to get right on a piano, its not like you have to match a micro tone to each melody note someone sings for example.
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#1296592 - 10/30/09 11:16 AM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: mwf]
kevinb Offline
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Originally Posted By: mwf
I cant understand how anyone cannot play by ear, when most people in the world are capable of humming or singing a piece they hear on the radio...whilst at work etc.. Its the same thing on piano, I used to listen to CD's/mp3's and just work out the notes eventually through a process of elimination you get the notes right, there are only semi-tones to get right on a piano, its not like you have to match a micro tone to each melody note someone sings for example.


It's one of those things that, if you can do it, it's hard to imagine other people being unable to do.

But I can tell you from experience that there are a great many people who can hum a tune but can't pick it out on a piano keyboard.

I suspect the problem is in the rapidity of error correction. People use their vocal apparatus a great deal (some more than others :)) and can adjust the pitch of sounds very rapidly. So if you sing the first two notes of a tune, and the second note does not appear to have the correct intervalic relationship with the first, you can correct the problem by a rapid pitch adjustment. But adjusting a wrong note on the piano is not so quite. If you play a note that is wrong my a couple of tones, by the time you've compensated by adjusting the note you're playing, your brain will have shifted the pitch centre so you've lost the idea of what the original note was.

That's just my guess, of course. But, whatever the explanation, and ability to translate remembered sounds into piano keypresses is not that common.

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#1296600 - 10/30/09 11:31 AM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: kevinb]
mwf Offline
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Very good intelligent reply my friend, it makes sense when you put it that way, thanks for that.
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#1296625 - 10/30/09 12:05 PM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: kevinb]
tremens, delirium Offline
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Originally Posted By: kevinb
[quote=mwf]
I suspect the problem is in the rapidity of error correction. People use their vocal apparatus a great deal (some more than others :)) and can adjust the pitch of sounds very rapidly. So if you sing the first two notes of a tune, and the second note does not appear to have the correct intervalic relationship with the first, you can correct the problem by a rapid pitch adjustment. But adjusting a wrong note on the piano is not so quite. If you play a note that is wrong my a couple of tones, by the time you've compensated by adjusting the note you're playing, your brain will have shifted the pitch centre so you've lost the idea of what the original note was.


you're right and here comes experience and memory into play.
When you know your instrument well, been playing long and have good memory you know how each key sounds in your head so there is no wandering when playing by ear.

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#1296635 - 10/30/09 12:36 PM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: tremens, delirium]
pianojazz Offline
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The scope of this discussion is headed toward what it means to be a "Fully Developed" musician - in our case, piano players. IMHO this means one has coordinated the senses of sound, touch and sight (time also but I'll ignore that for now). By this I mean one can hear a note (or a chord) in one's head and produce that sound on the piano keyboard - much like one gets an idea and then speaks it aloud - and just as effortlessly. The translation from internal sound (the mind's ear) to the keyboard is effortless - second nature if you will. The Sight part enters the equation when one is reading music. When one has well developed reading chops, one looks at the music and hears it in their head (again, the mind's ear) At which point, they can already take the sound from the mind's ear to the keyboard effortlessly. Developing these skills, along with a sense of time, are the essence of musical study - of countless practice hours and listening. Odly enough, I've never seen this formally stated in any method book - at least that I'm aware of - I'll admitt that I have not looked hard but it should appear in every one ever published - in boldface print yet.
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#1296656 - 10/30/09 01:25 PM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: pianojazz]
etcetra Offline
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pianojazz,

When people improv, I don't think people are necessary trying to "hear" what's in their mind and playing them.. the process is much more intuitive. It's more like you are hearing this music coming out of you as it happens.

I am not really listening to myself like that when I play, I am listening to everything, I am listening to other players, in some ways I am just responding all these things I am hearing.

I think bird said something about you learning the changes and forgetting all that when you play.. if you have to think about "hearing music and translating it into your axe", then you really aren't playing in the moment. That's what you do at home when you are shedding.

I guess if you compare it to marshal arts.. well, you realize that you don't really have the time think about all your movements when you are in real combat situation.. your instinct should just take over.. it's almost as if you are watching yourself as things come out of you.. and in some ways it feels like its not really you doing these things.


tremens, delirium

Yes I do have imagination, but I still would insist that you give a real world example and not work of fiction. What you gave me was an example of a fantasy that non-musicians have about musicians. Do you know anyone who can do that? Why are you citing example of something you(or for that sake 90% of pro musicians) can't do?

Improvised music does not necessary=jazz. Just because you play east indian classical music and improvise on it, it doesn't mean you'll be able to play jazz and vice versa.


Have you ever played a jazz gig, played in a band or played in a jam session with good players? In other words, would anyone beside your self actually consider you a jazz player? If not why are you telling everyone how to play jazz when you don't really play it yourself?

mwf

yes people can work out the notes 'eventually', that's learning by ear.. but playing by ear can mean a lot of different things. Sure most of us can play simple melody we hear in our head, but can you hear 12-tone music and be able to play it on your instrument right away? Can you improvise an entire set worth of music like keith jarrett?

I know some jazz players who can actually improvise a 3-4 part figure.. they are able to do it because they have good ears, good chops, and they also spent considerable amount of time studying that music, through transcription, scores.. etc.

My understanding is that jazz players spend a lot of time 'learning by ear', so that they can just play what they know/their vocabulary effortlessly... so that you have much wider spectrum of ideas to work on. You study and practice your butt off so that you can develop the music in you.

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#1296662 - 10/30/09 01:32 PM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: etcetra]
etcetra Offline
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I also want to add that most great players have tons of notes they've written out in volume and volumes of notebooks. It might be stuff they liked hearing, transcriptions, exercises they made.. etc. My teachers literally have 100s if not 1000s of transcriptions/notes at their home

So I don't think jazz musicians are necessarily dissing theory entirely. Most great players have enough material at home to write a book about it. They just think that it wrong for student to go to theory first and not rely on ear.

Ideally you should have enough stuff worked out to the point where you can actually write a book on it.

Either way you have to work out what is going on musically and there is no other way around it.

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#1296684 - 10/30/09 02:11 PM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: etcetra]
tremens, delirium Offline
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Originally Posted By: etcetra

Yes I do have imagination, but I still would insist that you give a real world example and not work of fiction. What you gave me was an example of a fantasy that non-musicians have about musicians. Do you know anyone who can do that? Why are you citing example of something you(or for that sake 90% of pro musicians) can't do?


gush I've already answered that question, yes - I know people with these skills, another words a real musicians and I repeat - DON'T CALL YOURSELF A PRO MUSICIAN IF YOU CAN'T DO IT!

p.s.
etcetra, I bet you're a young player and/or a women...
I rest my case.
wink

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#1296702 - 10/30/09 02:33 PM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: tremens, delirium]
etcetra Offline
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But you admitted that you can't composed like Mozart did in the film. So I guess you are a young player or a woman too? haha, so why are you giving jazz musicians advice on jazz when you can't do the stuff you claim pros do?

As far as I know NONE of my teachers are capable of hearing a symphony and writing it down on score right away like mozart did.. they usually have to spend hours on the piano to write it down. And they've played with people like Natalie Cole, Nancy Wilson..etc. People like Pat Metheny still have take time to transcribe, and actually learn to play that stuff in their axe, because they can't do it instantaneously. They can probably do it without their instruments, because they've done thoughts of transcriptions throughout their lifetime.

So can you tell me the name of the pro musician you are talking about, I would love to hear that guy play.Again, I would love to have you name just one jazz piano player now that "play by ear"as you call it.. I am sure I can dig a recording from youtube. As far as I know everyone 'plays by ear' just not the magical way that keith jarrett or mozart do it.

Yea, and I am student, just like everyone including Mozart is a student of music.. it's better than pretending like I know everything.

If you really do know your stuff like you claim, you really ought to be teaching seminars and playing at places like the Blue Note, Village Vangaurd..and shoe everyone else just how jazz is supposed to be played.. why aren't you?

After all, if you are willing to diss john clayton as being just a 'techincially efficient' player,then you must have the ability on your axe to back up that claim.


Edited by etcetra (10/30/09 03:32 PM)

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#1297205 - 10/31/09 12:34 PM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: etcetra]
jazzwee Offline
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etc., how much of what a "world-class player" plays by ear or not is quite an interesting question. It seems clear to me from the ones I know, that the degree of creativity (versus accumulation and application of a jazz vocabulary) seems to be proportional to one's level.

I think the lowly people learning to improvise (like myself) probably use a larger proportion of vocabulary (however that's accumulated). The top most players of the world like the Keith Jarretts and Brad Mehldaus are definitely more original. Extrapolate from there the next level down of jazz artists.

I was having a chat with my jazz teacher at my last lesson on this and let me make clear what I already said a lot earlier in this thread. It's not just the notes. The notes themselves are easy. There's not that many poassibilities right? Most any player will typically pick from 7 notes or less per chord with a bias towards 3rd and 7th. This is a fact. I'm sure your transcriptions verify that. I can hear that.

Whole books have been written based on these concepts "Forward Motion", "Linear Harmony - Bob Ligon", "Goal Notes - Shelly Berg", etc. So the notes is never a mystery. Neither is it a mystery that often when you hear something that sounds unique, it is often a SINGLE NOTE out of the expected scale. Like the #11 on a Maj7. It is also no great mystery that most melodies are stepwise movements and are easy to hear.

So if it's all so easy, what's the challenge? IT'S ALL RHYTHMIC MAN. It may take me a lifetime to figure out all the rhythmic variations. Or another aspect of this is creativity uptempo.

I've sort of reduced my focus from the actual notes. I think that's what you're doing too with your 3 against 4 transcribing and so on.

That's why playing by ear is not such a big to do for a competent musician. If you play it slowly enough you could probably be as creative as Keith Jarrett right? Could I be as creative at 250bpm? smile I've tried and I can admit that I'm not. smile smile
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#1297275 - 10/31/09 02:45 PM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: jazzwee]
etcetra Offline
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jazzwee,

I agree that the ear part if pretty straight-forward in jazz. We all learn to use the bebop vocabulary, and we all know how b9 #9 and all those extensions work. Rhythm on the other hand, is not as straight forward. schools don't do nearly enough on rhythm.

I am transcribing compositions by Ben Wendell, Tigran Hamasyan.. etc and the biggest challenge is figuring out the rhythm. They are doing all this rhythmic displacement over odd meter, or sometimes the meter changes constantly.. or you have rhythm section and the head playing different meters.. its a lot of headache to figure out.. but I guess that's what makes the cutting edge sound in jazz right now.

I was listening to Brad Mehldau doing different takes of the same songs.. I am guessing if you were to see him play every day, you will soon discover that he is doing a lot of the same things.. he is drawing from pool of ideas he worked out in a tune and they come out slightly differently at different spot each time..
So you kind of have to take into account that Brad Mehldau sounds more creative to us because his sound is new to us.

I remember talking to Ron Stout, and how he was working on an entire solo made of just quotes from another tune while he was on the road.

Here's a link to his solos. He plays incredibly over body and soul changes.

http://www.lastudiomusicians.net/ronstouttributepage.htm

You would think someone of that caliber can just hear "all those quotes in his head" and just play them spontaneously, but he actually had to work that out in practice.

I don't think the creativity is in coming up with completely new things, its in how you use what you know to make something meaningful..to actually say something with it. You can play all the right notes you intend to in your head, but that won't mean anything if you aren't communicating anything with it.


Edited by etcetra (10/31/09 04:14 PM)

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#1297366 - 10/31/09 06:39 PM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: etcetra]
jazzwee Offline
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etc., like I said, I have a little different opportunity because I can just ask in person. You'd be suprised how much of it is spontaneous at that level. It's almost like thoughts of theory/music structure are out the window. They are basically listening to themselves play.

Honestly, I didn't believe this before but it's been stated to me many times before that at that level, they are making the vocabulary. Now of course, we both understand that there's a structure underpinning all this. All the concepts of chord/scales/harmony are so embedded in their ears that that makes up the foundation of everything they do. Similarly, Brad Mehldau's rhythmic practice and LH practice makes what he is. But I'm talking about creativity within one's own framework.

In comparison though, when you and I play, (and even you delirium), I'm sure we're more limited to what we heard before or practiced. And that can vary. Sometimes I consciously am able to make melodies. But sometimes I get lazy and I know it. For example, when practicing LH lines, the RH is on automatic and I have no idea what's coming out from it. Is that muscle memory? I suppose it's possible.

All I am saying that the top players, in their worst days can put more creativity and originality to it then we regular people in our best days. So there's more 'ear' to it than you think.

On the other hand, it is also revealing that mediocre players can sound authentic if they play within their practiced realms, like those who practice pre-written solos. I personally shoot for the full 'art' that it can be. Like what Jarrett talks about in his Improvisation interview.
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#1297500 - 11/01/09 12:06 AM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: jazzwee]
etcetra Offline
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I guess my experience is somewhat the opposite... I realized just how much of the solo is worked out beforehand even among the best players. I've heard Bill Evans and Kenny Werner do like 8-16 measures worth of stuff the same note-by-note on different takes. There is so much pre-arranging going on that only becomes apparent if you listen to them regularly.

I even read about how Oscar Peterson used to practice his fingerings before gigs.. and some people don't really like his playing because you already know what kind of stuff he is going to play. But I love listening to him for very different reasons than someone like Brad Mehldau... its his feel that makes the music exciting.

For me I don't think the creativity is about the notes per-se but everything else thats going on in the music.. like interaction between other musicians. When you play with good players, they can really take you places.
Sometimes its more about the feel and telling a story than making up new language.

I am not saying these guys aren't playing by ear, they do, but that the reason they can play like that is because they learned so much music by ear. They must have worked out 100s if not 1000s of transcriptions, arrangement, voicings in their hands.


I remember reading about Miles Davis asked Keith Jarrett "how can you just come up with stuff like that??" So I guess what Jarrett does is beyond even someone like Miles. after all how many people prepares a concert by not practicing for weeks in order to keep his ideas fresh?


Edited by etcetra (11/01/09 12:22 AM)

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#1297502 - 11/01/09 12:20 AM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: etcetra]
etcetra Offline
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Ear is important, but I am getting the impression that what Gyro and other people mean by it is totally different than what jazz musicians mean by it. When my teachers say learn by ear and get out of books.. they meant that if I am learning a new tune like Airegin, don't go to lead sheets.. learn the melody and chords to the tune on the instrument without written music in front of you. It does take more work to learn that way but you learn so much more doing it that way.

I try to learn everything by ear that way.. the solo is not too difficult,like Bobby Timmons solo on Moanin, I can learn it without having to write it down. And I get a lot out of playing along with the record note-by-note.

If it's a difficult solo/song like Brad Mehldau's solo, I have to write it down and figure out whats going on. Chances are you wont hear the subtlety just by listening to it. He does a lot of accenting every 4th triplet, but he starts in the different parts of the triplet, which makes the time seem even more obscure. I wouldn't have figure that out unless I wrote it down and analyzed it.

So in my opinion there is a learning aspect to the whole playing by ear thing that people seem to neglect.

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#1297519 - 11/01/09 01:02 AM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: etcetra]
jazzwee Offline
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etc, I know what you mean about saying that Bill Evans or John Coltrane works out their solos. Yes, like you I listened to multiple takes and I hear them do that.

But realize that this doesn't apply to everything they do. John Coltrane obviously worked out general patterns on Giant Steps, and you bet that Bill Evans will sometimes pre-arrange a solo. You can tell if it's pre-arranged though. Bill Evan's Autumn Leaves is played the same way in multiple versions years apart.

You over extrapolate that though to everything they do and I was told that is not the case. For example, my teacher's recordings were done in ONE take, just like a live performance. And clearly from the errors he pointed out (that I couldn't hear), they didn't even work out the details. It's real jazz. Real improvisation. I asked him for example what he played on a track, and he couldn't remember. We had to listen to it and then he'd think of what he was doing at the time.

I asked the same questions you asked several years ago. I almost felt that if Jazz was pre-arranged, I don't think I wanted to do lessons anymore. I would just be a composer instead. But I was assured that it is not pre-planned.

I asked specifically about 16th notes. Are those sixteenth note patterns just pre-arranged muscle memory patterns? I really thought that. Then he demonstrated to me. He played some regular improvised lines in eighth notes. Then he continued the thought process but this time in sixteenths, proving to me once and for all that it was not pre-arranged. They can hear it faster, these top level guys.

I think that each player arranges the Heads though, to their preference. I spend a lot of time arranging Heads. I think because the Head sets up the solo so full understanding of it puts everything in the right place.

Etc., I have no doubt that a large population of jazz players play as you describe. Pre-arranged and chock full of preset-vocabulary. So your question is really valid since that's probably what we observe most often. But I doubt those players will be getting a Jazz Grammy anytime soon.

BTW - did you see that video of Brad Mehldau (Documentary) talking about improvising? He clearly talks about how he develops the line by starting out with an idea and moving from there. Isn't that pretty direct there?
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#1297525 - 11/01/09 01:16 AM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: etcetra]
jazzwee Offline
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Originally Posted By: etcetra
Ear is important, but I am getting the impression that what Gyro and other people mean by it is totally different than what jazz musicians mean by it. When my teachers say learn by ear and get out of books.. they meant that if I am learning a new tune like Airegin, don't go to lead sheets.. learn the melody and chords to the tune on the instrument without written music in front of you. It does take more work to learn that way but you learn so much more doing it that way.

I try to learn everything by ear that way.. the solo is not too difficult,like Bobby Timmons solo on Moanin, I can learn it without having to write it down. And I get a lot out of playing along with the record note-by-note.

If it's a difficult solo/song like Brad Mehldau's solo, I have to write it down and figure out whats going on. Chances are you wont hear the subtlety just by listening to it. He does a lot of accenting every 4th triplet, but he starts in the different parts of the triplet, which makes the time seem even more obscure. I wouldn't have figure that out unless I wrote it down and analyzed it.

So in my opinion there is a learning aspect to the whole playing by ear thing that people seem to neglect.


Etc. I personally don't buy the concept of just "dig in" and it's all random and it all comes out well. Even in classical music there are "rules". Well jazz follows the same rules of Harmony.

Somehow concepts of "Playing by Ear" vs. "Improvisation" is made to imply Random playing and it's nonsense. Again the top players can improvise well because they have COMPLETE understanding of Harmony. It doesn't have to be understood as Music Theory books but I read the story of Dizzy Gillespie and the early times when Bebop was being developed. I was amazed at the late night/early morning Jam sessions between the likes of Dizzy, Bird, Monk etc. and how they spent all their time talking about the structure of the music. I said to myself, my gosh, they really understood this just like Classical composers. Same with Miles Davis and of course Brad Mehldau who both clearly take from Classical literature.

Everyone who says play by ear (without some structure) should demonstrate their playing. I would expect it to sound like folk music.
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#1297538 - 11/01/09 01:38 AM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: jazzwee]
etcetra Offline
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Jazzwee,

Even folk music would sound better than what some people call playing by ear smile


Speaking of Dizzy,

http://www.billevanswebpages.com/galperintview.html


" When Dizzy spent a week as a guest with the Phil Woods Quintet, I learned that, to be able to subdivide tempos accurately, Diz and I had created similar exercises when we were young. For example: taking a bar of 4/4 and playing five quarter notes per bar. Then making each of the five quarter notes pairs of eighth notes but playing them in four-note-groups. The effect was as if one were playing eighth notes in a slightly faster tempo than the 4/4. I did this with as many subdivisions as I could find. Eventually, as Dizzy confirmed, one could play any notes anywhere within the tempo and subdivide accurately.
"

I agree with you. Every great player have Books worth of stuff figured out in their head... You have to analyze, tear things apart and shed all these things. I just don't see how you can go far with just playing by ear, or just "hearing what's in your head and play it", without working things out deliberately.

So If anything, we can agree that what these great players do is a result of everything they've worked out. It's a combination of building fundamentals, muscle memory, ear training.. theory..time..etc that allows them to play the way they do.

I am not necessary saying that these players are just playing patterns pre-worked ideas.. But I am pretty sure that Brad Mehldau, and all those guys were like that at one point in their lives. When you are playing giant steps for the first time, chances are you are playing lots of patterns over it. But after shedding and playing it over and over again in gigs, you'll start to break free from that pattern and just wail on it.

So I don't see anything wrong with working out patterns/muscle memory in practice..esp if its ideas you worked out in your head, or something you heard that you want to assimilate. it's just a means to an end, its a big part of 'paying your dues'.. I just don't agree with those people who flat out deny the importance of these things for ear... why can't you do both?

Heck, some people go through that and toss all that out of the window.. but they did work on it nevertheless. Shouldn't the goal be shedding all these stuff at home so that you can just forget them and just wail when you get on the stage?

Yes I saw the brad mehldau video.. what he says is pretty straight-forward, but if you listen&analyze his playing you realize that it's not as obvious.



Edited by etcetra (11/01/09 02:33 AM)

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#1297546 - 11/01/09 02:11 AM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: etcetra]
etcetra Offline
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What Brad or Dizzy is doing in a lot of way is this kind of "dual time thinking" where you are playing a different time over a given time.. he talks about it in the video..so how do you actually work on it?

For me I made up exercise where I am playing an ostinato bass line in 7 with the LH, and RH is playing a 5 note pattern, and placing them on different parts of the beat. It tricky when you place them on like & of 5.. because LH would naturally want to go with RH. You can also try stuff like grouping 8th notes in groups of 3, 6 against the bassline. So you would in the 5th beat of the 2nd measure if you've played 3 8th note groups cosecutively 8 times.

I know this sounds like a lot of math.. but these kind of exercise helps you know exactly where you are, and it gives you a lot of options when you are 'varying ideas' rhythmically, because your rhythmic variation will not have to be dependent on the barline or even the meter for that sake. I first read about this in a book, but I actually started making exercise on my own after transcribing Brad's solo and hearing how it works in actual playing.


To me the 'general concept' for anything is straight forward.. but working on them is a total different story.. its very time consuming. It's almost like being a scientist&gymnist at the same time.



Edited by etcetra (11/01/09 02:40 AM)

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#1297611 - 11/01/09 08:53 AM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: etcetra]
jazzwee Offline
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etc., that kind of rhythmic play is very complicated, and I'll tell you is very specialized.

I have a teacher who's stuck to 4/4 for his entire career, other than an occasional 3/4 here and there. He told me that it's not necessary to delve into odd meters to play jazz. So he discouraged me from getting too deep into that.

But newer players are challenged by Mehldau so we all try to do it smile. I actually enjoy playing tunes switched around to 3/4. And I've even tried ATTYA as 5/4. It was doable. I wish you luck in this endeavor. As you know, you pick some skill and it takes time, and it takes away from time to do something else.

In my case, I'm targetting LH independence in soloing as my next long term goal (meaning not ostinato smile ). It is TOUGH! I showed my teacher where I was at the last lesson and my RH is still way too dominant.
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#1297670 - 11/01/09 11:03 AM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: jazzwee]
tremens, delirium Offline
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Registered: 10/16/09
Posts: 155
One more thing I forgot to mention - when you're a pro you don't have a luxury to play always what' in your head. It's not possible, when you play gig every night to be in the "mood" at request - then weed, music memory, patterns and licks come to play. When you in that level audience won't even notice that you're copying phrases from the past. But all these doesn't matter, it's just performance, something like trained monkey do...


p.s.
This is also a reason some start to use drugs to help the mood...

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#1299615 - 11/04/09 06:59 PM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: tremens, delirium]
Wizard of Oz Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/12/09
Posts: 873
Tremens you are delirius, keep smoking that weed.

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#1312924 - 11/26/09 06:59 PM Re: Playing by Ear [Re: etcetra]
VideoTiger Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 07/28/09
Posts: 14
etcetra, I think your point has validity. When improvising there is a very fine line between playing by ear and by muscle memory. My guess is you may be using both at times, or switching back and forth unconsciously.

For those that think improvising is fully done by ear try doing it to a musical style you are completely unfamiliar with, music that uses very different harmonies and rhythmic patterns to what the stuff usually play, and try to improvise over it.

People with exceptional ears may come up with something semi coherent right away, but a truly good deep improvisation isn’t likely.

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