Friday, December 19, 2014

Music - Figuring It Out for Yourself

My transcription of a tune I'm learning -
a work in progress
You don’t really learn something until you learn it yourself in your own way. For example, I remember finding other people's instructions on how to play by ear and re-blogging this information long before I had ever tried it myself. That was over three years ago. Now that I am five weeks into attempting to learn tunes by ear I'm developing an inkling of an idea of how to do this based on how I’ve managed to do it thus far.

After a full year of playing by ear I'll have an even better understanding of the process and a more refined way of doing it. Chances are what works for me - my eventual way of understanding it or describing it - may be different than the way it was explained in those instructions written by others.

Another example is the chord player who refers to a chord chart to tell her when to go to the IV chord, the V chord, and so on.  If instead she learned through trial and error by relying on her ear to tell her what’s right and what’s wrong rather than what some guy wrote on some sheet or even what some teacher said to do, then not only is she learning in a more direct, intuitive fashion, but she may also happen upon personal harmonic preferences, such as hearing a minor sounding chord that the chart omitted.

When you figure something out for yourself, you learn what's important and what you can leave out.  My chicken-scratch transcriptions make sense to me and don't need to be any clearer for my use and understanding, but would be confusing for someone else. A lot of people will say when you are learning a new song you figure out what the chords are first and then go from there.  I may be wrong in my approach and this may be an incomplete view, but I don't really even think about or care about chords. I think in terms of melody. That's what's important to me.

I like to learn the melody first and then go from there.  I understand theory well enough to know what chords would be available in the scale being used, but I don't need to know that to play the tune.  I might harmonize a melody note with another note - that's similar to the idea of a chord. It took figuring this out on my own for me to personally decide what's important and what's not.

One impact I hope learning by ear will have is, rather than being so focused on just playing the notes - a "midi" style melody - I can shift my focus to articulating the general feel, rhythm and vibrato of the piece. You don’t need a book telling you where to do a triplet or hammer-on, you just hear the need for it in the music and do so automatically.


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