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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I'm not sure if this belongs in the beginner's section so please move it if it should go somewhere else.

I can sight read most sheet music fairly easily (not crazy 16th note+ jazz licks and the like, but popular songs and stuff) and I'm a semi-decent player, but I can't play by ear for the life of me. I have no training in music theory at all and struggle to play even the most basic songs (Happy birthday*, twinkle twinkle, etc) without trial and error and memorizing the notes. How do I get to a point where I can hear a song and then just play it? How should I train that skill?

*I have happy birthday memorized now
 

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How do I get to a point where I can hear a song and then just play it?
Learn how to sing :) Not as in "be a great singer" but as in "be able to sing the intervals". As you practice being able to sing seconds (e.g. from C to D), thirds (e.g. C to E), and so on, you're also training your ear to hear those intervals, and as you get better at singing them, you'll start to get better at hearing them as well. Then the same thing applies as you get more advanced - be able to sing/hear melodic lines, chord progressions, and so on.
 

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You're talking about developing a new skill that does not happen to come naturally to you.
You can do it, but you will need to be patient. (A thousand mile journey begins with the first step, yes?)

I'd recommend starting with recordings of simple melodies, whether they be children's tunes (Jingle Bells, for instance) or jazz tunes like Freddie the Freeloader.

Press play.
Listen to the first note.
Try to sing the note.
Try to find the one on your horn that sounds like the one you're singing.

Repeat for second note.

Put the two notes together.

etc...

**

Your 'ear' will improve. Work at it a bit every day and, so as not to allow frustration to get the better of you, acknowledge growth and progress, as slow as it might seem.

Best of luck!
~Rick
 

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I play almost exclusively by ear these days. I started saxophone at age 9 or 10 after switching from clarinet. I had already picked out a few Kenny G melodies by ear before my first saxophone lesson (required by our school in order to switch to saxophone.) Some people, playing by ear comes more naturally....I have perfect pitch to some level. I'm always working on relative pitch to help make it easier switching between Tenor/Soprano (Bb) and Alto (Eb). I think relative pitch is more important than perfect pitch.

My suggestion; if you have access to a piano, have someone play a note on a piano and try to match it on your saxophone (without looking at their hands). Next, have them play a chord...find the different notes of the chord on your saxophone. Experiment with different notes to hear how they sound over any given chord. Learn to identify what different intervals sound like. Next, listen to a simple melody, then try to play along. Use a program like "Amazing Slow Downer" if you need to. Focus on accuracy, not speed. Learning to play by ear takes much more time for adults compared to children.

*I have happy birthday memorized now
Learn it in every key.
 

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I'm kind of the polar opposite of the OP , I can pick out tunes by ear but I'm a Rubbish reader..maybe folks are naturally either one way or the other ?... !
Actually, people do have a talent for one or the other. On the other hand, you can train yourself to accomplish both. If you look on the web, you can find ear training materials as well as signt reading. What's really weird is that my 14 yo nephew, who plays Viola as his primary instrument, also plays keyboard/piano and vibraphone, and can both sight read and play by ear interchangably.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
I did tons of sight reading training as a kid, but I never tried to play anything by ear. I'll try singing and playing all of the transitions to get used to them. I remember someone telling me about an app that helped you work toward perfect pitch (Identify the note by tone). Sight reading is great but I want to hear a cool song on the radio and just play it freestyle. That would be awesome!
 
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