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Playing by ear

mgavrilov

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When I listen to the radio that plays old famous songs and I play the treble side by ear, let's say some song that I have heard before and can sing the melody in my head, the first thing that I do is identify the key of the song. I don't have absolute pitch, so I press a few tones and I immediately hear if the note that I played sounds as if it's part ot the key of the song, or not. Maybe that is the fundamental part - the ability to tell if a particular note is part of the key of the song or not. So in the first few seconds it is trial and error :) Then, when I know which keys I can use and which I can't, it's all downhill - the only thing that can cause a problem are the accidentals, if present, but with practice you start to hear them too. The main thing is to know which notes you can and can't use in the particular song (so here comes the importace of learning scales) and actually be familiar with the melody. The basses are trickier for me, but again, when you figure out the tonality, you immediately know the tonic, fifth, fourth, etc. For me playing the melody by ear is easy, but the harmony (the basses) is harder.
 

Frank Fusari

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I do kind of the same thing as mgavrilov does. If I want to play a song by ear, I have to listen to it over and over, and learn to sing along. Then when I know it really well, and can sing it without the music, I can sit down with my accordion and sing it, and figure out where all the notes are...
hope that helps a bit..
 

Stephen Hawkins

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Hi Yaroslav,

Our friends seem to have covered your question very nicely, but I would like to add a little twist of my own.

Long before I picked up an accordion, I played the Clarinet. In the early 1960's, Acker Bilk recorded a tune called "Stranger on the Shore" which was massively successful. Acker was a Clarinet player of some note, and I wanted to emulate him.

I bought "Stranger on the Shore" as a 45 rpm single, placed it on my record player, left off the arm in order that it would play repeatedly, and listened for hours. After some considerable time had elapsed, I managed to play the tune quite well.

I was never anywhere near as good as Acker Bilk, but I was satisfied with my progress.

Kind Regards,

Stephen.
 

Chrisrayner

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Stephen Hawkins said:
Hi Yaroslav,

Our friends seem to have covered your question very nicely, but I would like to add a little twist of my own.

Long before I picked up an accordion, I played the Clarinet.  In the early 1960's, Acker Bilk recorded a tune called "Stranger on the Shore" which was massively successful.  Acker was a Clarinet player of some note, and I wanted to emulate him.

I bought "Stranger on the Shore" as a 45 rpm single, placed it on my record player, left off the arm in order that it would play repeatedly, and listened for hours.  After some considerable time had elapsed, I managed to play the tune quite well.

I was never anywhere near as good as Acker Bilk, but I was satisfied with my progress.

Kind Regards,

Stephen.

Ahem!  Mister Acker Bilk.  At least in the first stage of his career.

On the matter of playing by ear, I have been playing mostly by ear all my life.  I was seventy before I really got to grips with reading music.  For what it’s worth I find that whistling a tune or being able to play it on a mouth organ is a good indicator of capacity to play by ear.  If you can, you can.  It seems that those who are unable to do this easily find it difficult to identify the intervals in a piece of music.
 
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maugein96

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Aside from brass tuition at school I've played just about everything by ear for about 60 years. The melody is one thing with the accordion, but the basses can be a nightmare to work out if you're short on music theory, which I am.

Same with right hand chords. I have to study those and cannot recognise them by sight. I suppose that pianists have an easier time on the accordion, but most of us who move to accordion from other instruments can have an uphill struggle with the bellows, and the Stradella bass, which appears to have been designed to work well with the three chord trick, but not much else.

There are, or were, one or two online jazz courses where you have to identify single notes selected at random with a view to improving your ear. You then move onto two notes at random and so on. I tried the demo versions, but had no joy at all. Couldn't even identify the single notes on their own, and don't even mention chords. Unfortunately I cannot remember the names of the courses.

As Chris Rayner says, you've either got it to play be ear or you haven't. I'm probably somewhere in the middle, and if I need to play from a score my playing is pretty ragged. As I mainly play French musette, simple tunes that tend to follow recognised chord progressions are what I normally encounter, as even when there are jazz or swing influences involved, they tend to be fairly predictable. What is a bit of a challenge is working out the basses for the "chanson" type of tunes played on accordion. Some of them are pretty tricky, as they weren't written for accordion, and the bass chords can be all over the place.

I started out trying to learn everything by ear, but after a few months I decided it was time to learn to sight read. It was the only way for me, but I will say that if I've never heard a tune played before I just cannot tackle it from sheet music. I need to get a "feel" for it first, then work from there. First 20 bars or so from memory/by ear, then I need the score to work out the bits I can never remember.

Good luck in your quest, which I think could be a tall order, given the relative complexity of the accordion. I'm one of those who can "knock a tune out of anything", but unfortunately that's about as far as it goes with me. I know most of the tricks and dodges the old musette players used, but stringing it all together under pressure is where I often fail.
 

Jim2010

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yaroslav9728 said:
Hi everyone.

Do you know some methods that allow to play music by ear?

I started out playing by ear, later learned to read music, and now sometimes want to play by ear again. A book that has helped me is Primacy of the Ear, by Ran Blake. The author is a jazz musician, which I am not, but the book is serving me well. It is not a "learn to play by ear" book. It is a book about approaching music through your ears.

New
https://www.amazon.com/Primacy-Ear-Ran-Blake/dp/0557609127

Used
https://www.ebay.com/itm/PRIMACY-OF...138370?hash=item4daca778c2:g:p5kAAOSwWbFezdJL

For a detailed description of the book by the editor, Jason Rogers:
https://jasonharmonica.com/primacy.html

-----------
Of possible interest to CBA players (and harmonica players), Jason Rogers plays a chromatic harmonica tuned essentially like a four-row cba accordion. More on that is on the jasonharmonic.com website.
 
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maugein96

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Jim2010 said:
yaroslav9728 said:
Hi everyone.

Do you know some methods that allow to play music by ear?

I started out playing by ear, later learned to read music, and now sometimes want to play by ear again. A book that has helped me is Primacy of the Ear, by Ran Blake. The author is a jazz musician, which I am not, but the book is serving me well. It is not a "learn to play by ear" book. It is a book about approaching music through your ears.

New
https://www.amazon.com/Primacy-Ear-Ran-Blake/dp/0557609127

Used
https://www.ebay.com/itm/PRIMACY-OF...138370?hash=item4daca778c2:g:p5kAAOSwWbFezdJL

For a detailed description of the book by the editor, Jason Rogers:
https://jasonharmonica.com/primacy.html

-----------
Of possible interest to CBA players (and harmonica players), Jason Rogers plays a chromatic harmonica tuned essentially like a four-row cba accordion. More on that is on the jasonharmonic.com website.

Very interesting Jim, and thanks for the links.

A lot of the old accordionists used to improvise a backing when playing along with a vocalist, and it used to be said if you could do that, then you had broken through the wall, as it were. You had reached the stage where you knew how to make the instrument work for you, and were able to "play on the run". It is a great achievement, although not many of us can do it very well. 

The article in the third link is of considerable interest in that it conveys the fact that many great players don't bother too much with what's on the score. 

I suppose music is like that. Some spend years aiming for perfection, and others spend years deliberately breaking all the rules. I generally tend to prefer the efforts of the latter category, and personally couldn't play any tune the same way twice, even from the score. Drives the music teachers mad, but that's just the way I am. As Denis Tuveri, a French pro player, used to say, "The dancers know I play fast, so if they pay to come and hear me playing why don't they just sit down and listen?" 


Quite near the score for a bar or two, then the gates are opened right up. Tempo is Denis' own, start off at a gallop then speed up a bit.

He used to write his compositions down at the same speed as he played them. I used to have several of them in his handwritten scrawl, but my granddaughter painted over them. She's still alive! 

For the uninitiated Denis was the husband of Lina Bossati, who accompanied Marcel Azzola on piano. If you don't know who Marcel Azzola was, it's time I went to bed!
 

Eddy Yates

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The more you do it, the better you get! 15 minutes a day is not even close to enough if you want to learn to do anything.
 

JeffJetton

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Eddy Yates said:
The more you do it, the better you get!

^^^ This

Like anything else, if you want to get good at it, you've got to be willing to be terrible at it and yet keep at it anyway.

To this day, I remember sitting down at the piano bench with a cassette tape recorder, trying to learn a song off of it for the first time. Man, was it a struggle. And I probably got most of it wrong. But I keep chugging away at it and got a little better each time.

It helped that it was a day and age when you couldn't just search Google for that sort of thing. You either had to pony up several dollars for the sheet music (which wouldn't always match what the person on the record played anyway), or figure it out yourself. The latter was a lot cheaper.


15 minutes a day is not even close to enough if you want to learn to do anything.

I guess that depends on how many days you're okay with it taking. :)
 

TomBR

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Playing by ear is no big deal, and the only difference between those who can and those who can't is practice, in the loose sense of having done it before.

More people have played and sung by ear throughout human history than have ever learned from notation.

There may be other routes but to my mind the crucial thing is being able to hum or "sing" the tune, either out loud or kind-of in your head.

The great Shetland fiddler and teacher Tom Anderson said something like "you should never learn a tune you don't know!" meaning you need to be able to "sing" or "visualise" the tune.

I'd suggest the way to start is with a tune you already know, a song or nursery rhyme, your country's national anthem, anything.
Sing it to yourself and see what note you end up on. Find that same note on your accordion. Ideally you want it to be the key note of a scale you can play. Many people might be happier with C or G than with A flat! You might need to adjust up or down a bit.
Imagine you've just finished singing the tune ending on that note then sing the first note as if you're starting the tune again. Find that note on the accordion, then then next and then go back to the beginning. Build up the tune note by note, phrase by phrase.

In folk playing workshops tunes are often taught in this way, building up note by note, phrase by phrase.

You will soon start recognising intervals and knowing where the next note is. It's fine to do this by ear, you don't need to know that an interval is a minor third or whatever to be able to play it. (Though some people will work that way.)

Once you start getting fluent with playing tunes by ear (OK this might take some time) you can start adding basses. What I hope you'll find is that magical connections build up between right and left hand whereby you left hand starts to play the right chords without any need for conscious thought

My main instrument is fiddle playing traditional dance music. I know lots of people who have come to fiddle from a classical notation reading background with little or no experience of playing by ear. It generally doesn't take them long.
Good luck!
Tom
 

Dingo40

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Guys,
What you're putting forward has already been formulated into a philosophy of music education known as the Suzuki method.

See here: :)

http://www.suzukimusic.org.au/suzuki.htm

If I remember rightly, famous musical old timers, such as Satchmo, Ray Charles, Pavarotti, and Debbie Reynolds, also Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Elric Clapton, The Beetles, and Jimi Hendrix all learned their music " by ear".

See here: :)

https://www.themusicstudio.ca/blog/2017/11/909/
 

losthobos

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Playing by ear is great if you can still remember the tune next time you nees to pull it out of the bag... Sadly my memory is either overworked or just plain jubbled... So i need a bare bones reminder sheet sonetimes to jog it quickly into gear...
 
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maugein96

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Dingo40 said:
Guys,
What you're putting forward has already been formulated into a philosophy of music education known as the Suzuki method.

See here: :)

http://www.suzukimusic.org.au/suzuki.htm

If I remember rightly, famous musical old timers, such as Satchmo, Ray Charles, Pavarotti, and Debbie Reynolds, also Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Elric Clapton, The Beetles, and Jimi Hendrix all learned their music " by ear".

See here: :)

https://www.themusicstudio.ca/blog/2017/11/909/

Dingo,

In Hungary they make cars with Fiat engines and sell them as Suzukis. I have one and it's a great car, but I don't think they used the Suzuki method you mention to tune it! 

Emile Vacher, the creator of French musette, was musically illiterate, and his pianist, Jean Peyronnin, penned some of his compositions for him. I believe one of his compositions was actually credited to a drummer known as L'Hotellier. 

I think Clapton eventually took lessons in music theory, but I wouldn't have fancied telling him his playing was below standard. He was criticised for lack of imagination in his melodies, but I don't think he or Hendrix, who couldn't keep his guitar in tune with his cheese wire strings, really bothered too much. 

Like Terry, I often need to have a look at the first few bars of a tune to remind me how it "goes". After that it's just play it any old way in the knowledge that I'll never play the same tune the same way twice. If I try and play a tune from the score I sound like a clockwork toy. Some would say I actually play like a broken clockwork toy, but I don't charge them to listen. 

In days gone by musical tuition was usually the prerogative of the better off, at least in Scotland. My father and I used to sit for hours playing our mouth organs (harmonicas), and when we worked out how to manage a cheat for a flat or a sharp we thought we were musical geniuses. As a guitarist I learned the rudiments of the Turkish saz in Istanbul, and found those quarter intervals a bit strange. I picked up one or two Turkish music books, and the quarter tones differ, according to whether they are Persian, Turkish, or Arabic. Needless to say I never kept the books for very long, as I couldn't find a Turkish piano player or a drummer to work it all out for me. Not to worry, I discovered Azeri guitar in the clubs in the Pera district in the European part of the city (Uskudar is in Asia), and they just improvised on standard electric guitars imported from the former Czechoslovakia, often with the bottom E string removed. 

So many different music books in this world, and so few coal fires left to throw them on!
 

Dingo40

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John,
Always interesting and witty, as usual! :)

I remember hearing Reg Varney (of "On the Busses ") fame being interviewed ( and playing a tune on the piano) on radio.

Evidently, Reg was quite an accomplished pianist in the "pop" music genre. He explained he'd never had any lessons, but one, when he had decided, as an adult, to see what a proper teacher could offer him. 

Apparently, his whole first (and, as I remember the interview, only) lesson was spent in the teacher enthusing over and trying to write down Reg's riffs.

That was his one and only formal lesson! :)
 

Chrisrayner

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Dingo40 said:
John,
Always interesting and witty, as usual! :)

I remember hearing Reg Varney (of "On the Busses ") fame being interviewed ( and playing a tune on the piano) on radio.

Evidently, Reg was quite an accomplished pianist in the "pop" music genre. He explained he'd never had any lessons, but one, when he had decided, as an adult, to see what a proper teacher could offer him. 

Apparently, his whole first (and, as I remember the interview, only) lesson was spent in the teacher enthusing over and trying to write down Reg's riffs.

That was his one and only formal lesson! :)
He was also the first person to use an ATM in the U.K.  in 1967.
 

TomBR

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I'd say the Suzuki method is a structured version of learning by ear as it has been done throughout the history of human music! Shinichi Suzuki was only born in 1898.
 
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maugein96

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Dingo40 said:

Dingo,

Talking of ATMs, here in the UK we have no less than 11 versions of each banknote, all printed by different banks, so according to where that ATM is, you may have your cash issued in banknotes that will not be accepted in other parts of the UK. 

The rules in the UK regarding which notes are valid in different parts of the country are complicated, and have been the cause of much domestic strife. 

The highest profile cases have involved Scottish notes in England, and vice versa, but that's only really the tip of the iceberg.

A shopkeeper in England will probably never have seen a First Trust Bank, or Danske Bank (both Northern Ireland), or a Clydesdale Bank (Scotland) note, so would be entitled to decline to accept any of them, on the basis that their origins cannot easily be ascertained. The Danske Bank anomaly is due to the fact the bank is Danish owned, and has its HQ in Copenhagen, but solely operates in Northern Ireland.  

Those three tend to cause the main issues, but we also have Royal Bank of Scotland, which non Scots presume to be a fake name, as well as Bank of Ireland, which most UK types think refers to a bank situated in the Republic of Ireland. 

It actually gets more complicated than that with several of the "independent" island banks but I think I have highlighted the main issues. 

The moral of the story is any visitor leaving the UK with banknotes is advised to ensure they are Bank of England notes so that they can be exchanged when they return home. Otherwise, they'll find they have a wallet full of expensive and worthless souvenirs. States of Jersey bank notes are very pretty, but are only worth their face value on the island of Jersey. They are not recognised as international currency, same as all of the others, except the Bank of England. 

I'm glad Birmingham pounds are accepted in Worcestershire, where we do most of our shopping, as it would be a chore having to carry two different kinds of notes. That's the "United" Kingdom for you. Another county, another culture.
 

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