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...Most musicians are not capable of playing by ear and cannot play in any meaningful way without reading music. They didn't get that way by only reading music - they do not have the gift of music in the first place, although they can learn to play beautifully and have lifetime careers in music...
I'm going to disagree a bit here.

I think all real, quality, musicians, that actually "play beautifully" DO play by ear. They may continue to use the dots as a memory aid, but they are playing according to how what comes out of the instrument sounds.

We've all heard people "playing" an instrument from written music that sound like they're typing. THOSE are the people who truly can't play "by ear". They can learn to push the buttons in the prescribed sequence, but it sounds like nothing.

After all, the dots are just a code that you have to decipher in order to play the music - a very imperfect code, at that. The music's not on the page, it's in your head and in the air. I doubt any gifted musician, even those who rarely or never play without printed music, would disagree.
 

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I played the super simple "Watermelon Man" yesterday, while reading off the sheet, and I can't even remember what the first whole note is!
LOL, I hear you. The first note on the head of "Watermelon Man" is the (b)7 of the I7 chord.

It's interesting that you mention this because to some extent, the starting note of a melody is the one you want to memorize; it sort of 'kick starts' the line for you and your ear can take over from there. Also, knowing that first note by 'number' means you can start it in any key and go from there. For example, "Happy Birthday" starts on the '5' of the key: To play it in C, start the melody on G, in A start on E, in F# start on C#, etc. FWIW...
 

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LOL, I hear you. The first note on the head of "Watermelon Man" is the (b)7 of the I7 chord.

It's interesting that you mention this because to some extent, the starting note of a melody is the one you want to memorize; it sort of 'kick starts' the line for you and your ear can take over from there. Also, knowing that first note by 'number' means you can start it in any key and go from there. For example, "Happy Birthday" starts on the '5' of the key: To play it in C, start the melody on G, in A start on E, in F# start on C#, etc. FWIW...
Just ran through the A section to Lester Leaps In in my head and how it correlates to the sax, still in there! Don't know what the dots look like, haven't even counted it out, but the rhythm and melody are stuck in there, at least for now. And, I did that Happy Birthday playthrough yesterday after Steve mentioned it. I was able to do it (I played it in C), Actually started on the right note too :) Just ready to end this work-day so I can get back to playing again!

It'll take me a bit to work this song out but, like I was saying on Watermelon Man and how I couldn't remember it (because I just read it), but I feel that playing by ear like this regularly is going to make this come so much faster and I may be able to hear that relationship offjust the melodies in my head. I'm seeing connections I didn't before - and its just started lol!
 

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The other day I stumbled across some lectures that Herbie Hancock gave as the "Norton Professor" at Harvard in 2014, here's the first one... There are six videos, I've watched three, I know what I'm gonna do Saturday morning :)


I think in the second lecture he discusses writing Watermelon Man, and how the first long note came from the sound of the women calling to the vendor.... "Heeeeeeeeeeyyyyyyy, Watermelon Man". With that in mind, I don't think I could ever forget this tune.
 

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LOL, I hear you. The first note on the head of "Watermelon Man" is the (b)7 of the I7 chord.

It's interesting that you mention this because to some extent, the starting note of a melody is the one you want to memorize; it sort of 'kick starts' the line for you and your ear can take over from there. Also, knowing that first note by 'number' means you can start it in any key and go from there. For example, "Happy Birthday" starts on the '5' of the key: To play it in C, start the melody on G, in A start on E, in F# start on C#, etc. FWIW...
All of this is 100% correct. Yet if you've got to think in terms of naming notes and thinking of intervals (my start note is D so the next note is an F#) then you're thinking mechanically and translating. If you've got talent and have practiced to make yourself "one with your instrument" you hear it, your fingers know where to go for that sound and you play it. That's what's meant by singing through your instrument and/or playing by ear. It's what makes the difference and allows players to play and improvise outside of formulas, tell stories and be creative. If you can't do that, by all means translate and do the best you can within those mechanical limitations.

The point of this isn't to be arguing. It's simply that those who give mechanical prescriptions should realize that there are other ways to play and people who would be hampered by being told the only way to play and think of music is in mechanistic ways. Different people learn differently. The majority of people are visual learners, so a written mechanistic means is OK/necessary for them. If you're an aural learner and talented it's not a natural way to conceive of music, it's an impediment. There are lots of area of grey within this as some aural learners can learn to read and some visual learners can eventually become ear players. There just needs to be a recognition that music education (if it's to be effective) isn't a "one size fits all" exercise. The irony is that the aural talented learner who is most sited to becoming a creative musician is least catered for.

We just keep going round and round and yet you can pick out the players just in this thread who are obviously aural types and then the majority who are visuals. The visuals are (and always have been) a majority, but that doesn't mean that they hold knowledge of what works for everyone. Unfortunately teaching is based on academic and visual constructs, so it makes it seem that everyone should be following that type of learning. Fortunately there are alternatives like Suzuki, but they have their own cultural baggage (very Japanese). It's up to individuals to know what works for them. Unfortunately most beginners haven't a clue and most music educators can't be bothered to step outside their curriculum, even though they may recognize a talent. It's a conundrum, but requires recognition and possibly a few adventurous educators to take up the challenge?
 

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All of this is 100% correct. Yet if you've got to think in terms of naming notes and thinking of intervals (my start note is D so the next note is an F#) then you're thinking mechanically and translating.
Yes, no disagreement on that. Of course there will be a certain amount of 'study' involved before arriving at that point, and with a new tune some of us (well me, anyway) might need to do some analysis. But eventually it's all by ear without thinking notes.

I've played 'Watermelon Man' about a million times, so I can do it as you describe. No need to think about any notes at all, just play it and improvise on it.
 

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Your goal and list is really great. I'd only want to chime in to say that learning 10 tunes, in the way you're describing (i.e. properly learning 10 tunes) is a big task, so please don't feel discouraged if after a year you've only really managed 3 or 4.

Don't be afraid to take your time and really dig in. I really recommend singing the melodies to internalise.

I would suggest There Will Never Be Another You. It's a really nice melody and progession, and includes loads of common harmonic moves. I would maybe push Giant Steps towards the end of the list...even though it's a really great tune it's a bit less "useful" (both in terms of likelihood of performing and in the uniqueness of it's progression - bridge of have you met miss jones notwithstanding) and harder than some of the others. Having said that if you're up for it by all means go for it!!
 

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Yes, no disagreement on that. Of course there will be a certain amount of 'study' involved before arriving at that point, and with a new tune some of us (well me, anyway) might need to do some analysis. But eventually it's all by ear without thinking notes.

I've played 'Watermelon Man' about a million times, so I can do it as you describe. No need to think about any notes at all, just play it and improvise on it.
Hopefully I'm not alone in this as that would be awkward: I've never played Watermelon Man, but certainly heard it many times (live with Mongo Samtamaria!). It's easy for me to hear in my head, so I gave it a shot. Yes I can play it by ear in whatever key because I can hear it. Mind you it's incredibly simple. I'm hardly a musical savant or genius, but I've taken a different path (like mmichel?). I learned to read but was never comfortable reading music. I was also a singer, so that possibly helps, but have always known that I learn best by hearing (auditory learner). In University I made sure that my professors were good lecturers as that was the information I retained. Reading text books only partially "stuck". If I heard it, it was remembered. There are lots of degrees of this...maybe I'm in the extreme group? I can also say that it's not always good or fun to be "auditory" as I suck at being given a tune to read and sound lame. It's more like "hunt and peck" typing.
 

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Hopefully I'm not alone in this as that would be awkward: I've never played Watermelon Man, but certainly heard it many times (live with Mongo Samtamaria!). It's easy for me to hear in my head, so I gave it a shot. Yes I can play it by ear in whatever key because I can hear it. Mind you it's incredibly simple. I'm hardly a musical savant or genius, but I've taken a different path (like mmichel?). I learned to read but was never comfortable reading music.
Like most kids who were in grammar school back in the late '50s-early '60s, the first thing, and only thing I was taught in music class (at least we had music classes!) was how to read music and the fingerings on my instrument (clarinet back then). Nothing at all about chord progressions or any of that, just read the notes off the page. I got ok at doing that, but never was real comfortable with it. In high school when I picked up a sax I started playing by ear and never looked back. I'm still glad I can read music because it has its place, but that's not how I like to play.

As to Watermelon Man being simple, it's simple because you can hear and recognize the progression. I do think that for most of us, there is a need to understand the chords and underlying harmony so you can translate what you hear. In Watermelon Man I can easily hear where the dominant chords move from I to IV to V and that helps find the notes by ear. But with any tune that I've played enough (meaning a lot), I can just play it without thinking about all the notes.
 

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Hopefully I'm not alone in this as that would be awkward: I've never played Watermelon Man, but certainly heard it many times (live with Mongo Samtamaria!). It's easy for me to hear in my head, so I gave it a shot. Yes I can play it by ear in whatever key because I can hear it.
Along the same lines (and perhaps as another useful tool for the OP), there's a song randomizer training tool a this link that I sometimes use to train my ear or check my progress. Its author put together a repository of different common tunes (organized into different categories like Jazz Standards, Nursery Rhymes, Classic Rock, etc). The tool is very simple: it just picks one of these tunes at random, along with a random starting note, and you have to play it. It relies on the assumption that these tunes are so familiar that you already know them by ear (i.e., you could easily sing the melody from memory). The first time I tried it, I was surprised at how well I did. It's fun too, I've spent hours playing with it.

The entire site is pretty interesting and very germane to the current topic. It has lots of ear training tools and it was put together by the author, a lapsed trumpeter who (like me) had started out as a reader and trained himself to play by ear. It includes a blog (with recordings) documenting his progress and a bunch of ear training tools. I think I first heard about it on another thread from fellow SOTWer @Heath Watts.
 

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Well everyone, I'm sorry that such a small comment took everyone so far away from the initial question, but I think the conversation that is ongoing is a really great one.

Personally, I spent so much time as a reader, and became pretty well known in my area as a great reader, that I neglected my ear. I find that most of the things that have been said above me are correct, but I'm unclear why it has to do be "one or the other" and can't be both? In my experience, the best players have a connection between the ear and the brain that gets them through musical situations.

Watermelon Man starts on the b7 of the I chord. That's correct, and it's a great tool if some guitar player says "Sure, I know Watermelon Man in E." It's also incredibly helpful to be able to hear all the intervals in a particular melody very clearly in your head. For example, I recently spent time learning "Au Privave" in all 12 keys. There were times in the "strange" keys that I was I found myself saying "oh, it goes to the 6 here," or I would simply hear a pitch and go to it. They aren't mutually exclusive, and I think most of us know that.

-Bubba-

p.s. Anybody watch the interview of Chris Potter BY Bob Reynolds? As some point, Chris was talking about how he had spent so much time on his ear and working on 12 keys, that he could play virtually anything in 12 keys. Bob threw out the example of "There Is No Greater Love" in E major, and Chris just jumped right into it... on the piano. That's the level of internalization we're all striving for, I think.
 

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Anybody watch the interview of Chris Potter BY Bob Reynolds? As some point, Chris was talking about how he had spent so much time on his ear and working on 12 keys, that he could play virtually anything in 12 keys. Bob threw out the example of "There Is No Greater Love" in E major, and Chris just jumped right into it... on the piano. That's the level of internalization we're all striving for, I think.
Yeah, you're talking about the one that was offered via the GroundUP platform a few months ago right? That interview was great (and extremely humbling).
 

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For me, the breakthrough will playing tunes in different keys came from learning tunes as progressions or roman numerals.

e.g.

Blue Bossa, goes Im to IVm, minor ii v in the tonic key, ii V I a half step above the tonic (or modulate to b2), then ii v I back in the tonic. When you've lerant it like this is not too hard to play in any key. Especially when you've already isolated and shedded those common building blocks (major and minor ii V's)

I think it would be good to work with a teacher, you have the dedication, enthusiasm and work ethic already, the right teacher may save you many wasted hours
 

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Well everyone, I'm sorry that such a small comment took everyone so far away from the initial question, but I think the conversation that is ongoing is a really great one.

Personally, I spent so much time as a reader, and became pretty well known in my area as a great reader, that I neglected my ear. I find that most of the things that have been said above me are correct, but I'm unclear why it has to do be "one or the other" and can't be both? In my experience, the best players have a connection between the ear and the brain that gets them through musical situations.

Watermelon Man starts on the b7 of the I chord. That's correct, and it's a great tool if some guitar player says "Sure, I know Watermelon Man in E." It's also incredibly helpful to be able to hear all the intervals in a particular melody very clearly in your head. For example, I recently spent time learning "Au Privave" in all 12 keys. There were times in the "strange" keys that I was I found myself saying "oh, it goes to the 6 here," or I would simply hear a pitch and go to it. They aren't mutually exclusive, and I think most of us know that.

-Bubba-

p.s. Anybody watch the interview of Chris Potter BY Bob Reynolds? As some point, Chris was talking about how he had spent so much time on his ear and working on 12 keys, that he could play virtually anything in 12 keys. Bob threw out the example of "There Is No Greater Love" in E major, and Chris just jumped right into it... on the piano. That's the level of internalization we're all striving for, I think.
Agreed! Definitely trying to keep myself focused on the goal at hand, and not get to wrapt up in the semantics of learning styles or who is/isn't a good musician. Soo, I'm trying hard to connect the dots here (not the dots on a sheet lol) - I hear a pitch and want my ears/hands to be able to match that pitch. I'm finding that I was better at this than I expected, it's just something i never did!

My primary focus is to get this connection, and develop my time/feel/rhythm/articulation/intonation from just using my ear to hear what the pro is doing in the songs I'm listening too. On that note, in the Sonny Stitt version I've been jamming out to a lot, there is a lot going on for each note he plays. As I slowed it down, I noticed the tail end of the note waivered slightly, like one wave of vibrato to end the note and close it out. There's a lot of complexity that I wasn't hearing before - but I'd never even thought of this technique, as it provides a lot more interesting ending to playing any singular note. Anyone have any thoughts on this?

'Lester Leaps In' has a simple A section at least, but it came fairly naturally. I'm starting to think the B section is just improvised? Every take I've listened to has a pretty unique thing going on in there. Thoughts here? Another thing I'm failing to comprehend - learning the changes without a lead sheet. The first thing I thought of that could give me clues to the changes are transcribing the bass line. I also thought about playing what I thought was the root and up the chord - making sure I hear the chord tones and they don't clash. I feel like there would be a high chance of error here though.

You should definitely drop the link to that Chris Potter interview! I'd be happy to watch that one.

For me, the breakthrough will playing tunes in different keys came from learning tunes as progressions or roman numerals.

e.g.

Blue Bossa, goes Im to IVm, minor ii v in the tonic key, ii V I a half step above the tonic (or modulate to b2), then ii v I back in the tonic. When you've lerant it like this is not too hard to play in any key. Especially when you've already isolated and shedded those common building blocks (major and minor ii V's)

I think it would be good to work with a teacher, you have the dedication, enthusiasm and work ethic already, the right teacher may save you many wasted hours
Agreed, a teacher is helpful - and I have one mentioned earlier. It is online only sadly, so I may try to branch to in person lessons.
 

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There's a lot of complexity that I wasn't hearing before - but I'd never even thought of this technique, as it provides a lot more interesting ending to playing any singular note. Anyone have any thoughts on this?
Firstly, it's great that you're picking up on details you haven't heard before. Different players will have little things like that, which define their sound. Some guys will give it that one little wave at the end-- it was pretty "in" to have vibrato that started towards the end and sped up until the end of the note, too. I've heard classical/academic types try to say that's the "jazz vibrato," but that's highly era specific, player specific, and inorganic.

'Lester Leaps In' has a simple A section at least, but it came fairly naturally. I'm starting to think the B section is just improvised? Every take I've listened to has a pretty unique thing going on in there. Thoughts here? Another thing I'm failing to comprehend - learning the changes without a lead sheet. The first thing I thought of that could give me clues to the changes are transcribing the bass line. I also thought about playing what I thought was the root and up the chord - making sure I hear the chord tones and they don't clash. I feel like there would be a high chance of error here though.
The B section is improvised. Learning the bass line is a excellent step... can you sing it? What about some other note in the chord, can you sing it? I would consider that the first step to internalizing it, personally.

You should definitely drop the link to that Chris Potter interview! I'd be happy to watch that one.
Here's the link to all their available masterclass/sessions, I know it costs a few bucks/donation: Snarky Puppy - Crowdcast
Honestly, I remembered being a little disappointed by the lack of practical details in the talk, but really enjoyed listening to two of my favorite players chat.

-Bubba-
 

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Firstly, it's great that you're picking up on details you haven't heard before. Different players will have little things like that, which define their sound. Some guys will give it that one little wave at the end-- it was pretty "in" to have vibrato that started towards the end and sped up until the end of the note, too. I've heard classical/academic types try to say that's the "jazz vibrato," but that's highly era specific, player specific, and inorganic.
Thanks Bubba, very informative and helpful as always! There are so many things going on I'm going to have to work to get this to the caliber I am hoping before moving on. I was definitely having trouble matching that with Sonny. Lester was a little easier, but I feel that ending my notes feels far more abrupt than any of the pros, like theirs feel like they definitively end a statement and mine just trailed on a sentence and stopped suddenly. Going to be a long road!

The B section is improvised. Learning the bass line is a excellent step... can you sing it? What about some other note in the chord, can you sing it? I would consider that the first step to internalizing it, personally.
I haven't listened enough to it while focusing on the bass part well enough to sing it - however, I found that when I want to sing the melody, It helps me to think of the bass/piano intro from the Count Basie/Lester version first, and internally I hear the rhythm section in my head while I sing it. As to the progression, I think I'm going to specifically work that today and try to see if I can play the roots of all the chords by ear. I feel if I can memorize just those it'll really help me to hear better what's going on through the tune - ie where the player is over the root. That'll be a great place to start and really solidify my ability to hear. I've also found some of those ear training websites (similar to what @mmichel shared but with audio and other functions). I'm going to see if I can do that most of my work day! After I get those roots down, then I'll move up to the entire bass line - as I think that shows some clear progress. Then after that, I'll come back to transcribing Lester's play through! (I feel like this is the standard format for internalizing a tune? Although for most people I assume they just hear the chords and go Oh, thats a D7b9, or ii7 or however they care to verbalize the musicality.)

Here's the link to all their available masterclass/sessions, I know it costs a few bucks/donation: Snarky Puppy - Crowdcast
Honestly, I remembered being a little disappointed by the lack of practical details in the talk, but really enjoyed listening to two of my favorite players chat.

-Bubba-
As to the link you shared, I'm sad again - blocked on my work computer. Would have been a great thing to watch while sitting here! No bother on the donation part though - I'll have to check it out at home this weekend!
 

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Discussion Starter #99 (Edited)
For anyone who is still interested in this project of mine - here is how far i've made it. I usually play along with Sonny Stitt's version (which is where that one embellishment comes from), but found that it is harder for me to hear the bass line and progression with his great sax playing distracting me. I'm starting to get to a point where I can sing portions of the bass line though! Anyways, here is me playing through the head once - not soloing - just trying to make sure I'm thinking of the right tones inside the chord.


As to what I'm hearing so far for the progression.
A section: C... And thats about all I can tell so far - I feel like there is an F in there somewhere, but can't nail it down. I'm hearing a lot of variation, but everything seems to sync up over a C scale - although occasionally it seems like there may be a Bb in some of the chords, which is why I think there is an F.

B Section: This one took me a few days to solidify, but I think I have it down Ex2, Ax2, Dx2, Gx2 (haven't been able to hear anything past the fifth, and only played my arpeggios to see if it synced up by ear. so not sure if its dominant or anything, that's coming next test).

Bass line transcription is the next plan after I play around with some notes over the chords some more at an even slower tempo to see if I can hear whats going on in the A section. I feel like there are a lot more chords going on, but with minimal changes from the notes in the C scale, which is why I'm having trouble.

Let me know what you think and how this is coming!
 

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Solid start. Couple of things.

Time: Clearly rushing at the 34 and 39 sec marks. There's also parts where I can't tell what the rhythm is supposed to be, but you should be making it clear. Make sure you know where the beat is and land solidly on the beat. As is typical of beginners, whatever part of the tune you want to get through at that moment, you rush through. But when you do that, it's not musical. I'd say time is your number one biggest issue right now.

Swing: I assume you're playing straight on purpose, but this tune should swing.

Articulation: I'm not hearing any accents where they should be or legatos and staccatos where they should be. When you play along with Sonny, don't just copy the notes. Copy everything he is doing - accents, dynamics, swing.

Keep in mind all of the above are what you should aspire to. I wouldn't expect a beginner to nail all of that at this point. You're right where a beginner typically is at this stage. You just need to be aware of what to work on.

I assume you're still taking lessons from Chad and he's already told you all of this. Having more than one teacher can be confusing and counterproductive. So always defer to Chad whenever you're given conflicting information. I'm just telling you what I would tell one of my students, as is he.

As far as the chord progression goes, this is straight up rhythm changes. You should hear the bass playing I-VI-II-V, etc. At this stage, I'd rely on the written changes. Save the harmonic analysis for the future when you're a little bit further along. Right now, I'd expect you to be able to hear, say, a blues progression, not fast, complex changes that have a different chord every two beats.

I admire your enthusiasm, but you're still biting off more than you can chew. Yet another reason to have a teacher to give you the right amount of material at the right level so you can learn at a realistic pace and gain a solid understanding as you go before progressing to the next level. Otherwise you're going to be lost.

To summarize, slow down, focus on the fundamentals.
 
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