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Hi all, I know the topic has been beaten to death but after reading hundreds of threads I still have a specific question about ear training.
There are many tools and approaches for improving the ability to play by ear ( by which I mean instantly picking up a line another musician just played, or being able to play a line I hear in my head while improvising), and since this is obviously going to be a long term investment I want to make sure my efforts aren't wasted.

Sooo... I am looking for feedback from fellow musicians who actually went from pretty bad (in real time I can't replay a 3 note melody 9 times out of ten) to a significantly better ability to play by ear.

The two main questions I have are:
- is it actually useful to learn to recognize intervals outside of any harmonic context? Do you actually use that ability when replaying a line, or do you hear each note in reference to the current harmony?
- is it useful to practice at the keyboard, or should I directly pick up the sax and try to play what I hear, skipping the intellectual "name the interval/note" step? Sometimes it feels like there is a direct ear to fingers connection that bypasses the abstract music note/interval names...

Thanks!
 

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Forum Contributor 2015, seeker of the knowing of t
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I've been on that journey and can share what's working for me so far

Scales
Theory behind scales
Interval mnemonics ie octave is "somewhere over the rainbow"
Trying to play nursery rhymes in 12 keys

I think the key is not to expect too much, this is taking me years not months.
 

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good questions but I don't have simple answers.
regarding your first question I tend to hear the notes in their harmonic context more then as "stand alone" intervals.
However it is a valuable tool to be able to recognize every interval outside a harmonic context.
the second question has more or less the same answer; do both ! The "intelectual" thing isn't all that hard and is good training which comes in handy when you put it to use picking up the sax
I'd recommend the earmaster programme, install it on your PC (or MAC) and work with it untill you gain speed at giving the answers.
have a look at it and get the trial version to see if it works for you. www.earmaster.com
 

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Hi all, I know the topic has been beaten to death but after reading hundreds of threads I still have a specific question about ear training.
There are many tools and approaches for improving the ability to play by ear ( by which I mean instantly picking up a line another musician just played, or being able to play a line I hear in my head while improvising), and since this is obviously going to be a long term investment I want to make sure my efforts aren't wasted.

Sooo... I am looking for feedback from fellow musicians who actually went from pretty bad (in real time I can't replay a 3 note melody 9 times out of ten) to a significantly better ability to play by ear.

The two main questions I have are:
- is it actually useful to learn to recognize intervals outside of any harmonic context? Do you actually use that ability when replaying a line, or do you hear each note in reference to the current harmony?
- is it useful to practice at the keyboard, or should I directly pick up the sax and try to play what I hear, skipping the intellectual "name the interval/note" step? Sometimes it feels like there is a direct ear to fingers connection that bypasses the abstract music note/interval names...

Thanks!
On the first question - it depends on the individual, and you have to find what works for you. Here's a case in point. I was convinced by arguments in Bert Ligon's book that the tonal center approach is the "correct" one, and have made progress with that approach. But I was in a few group lessons taught by Greg Fishman, and he seemed to advocate the "dead-reckoning," interval by interval approach (caveat - our conversation about this was brief so he may not have given me the full story).

On the second question - it's useful to try many avenues and let your brain assemble the results. More important than playing either keyboard or sax for me has been singing. I've gone the whole solfegge route, which most jazz sources seem not to recommend, but it seems to really help me. I'm making slow progress, which is more than I was making before.

But, again, there are all kinds of approaches. The "opposite" of what I'm doing is to pick up the horn and start fumbling through whatever song you are trying to learn. That produced no results for me, but others have advocated it here on the forum based on their success with it.
 

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Hi all, I know the topic has been beaten to death but after reading hundreds of threads I still have a specific question about ear training.
There are many tools and approaches for improving the ability to play by ear ( by which I mean instantly picking up a line another musician just played, or being able to play a line I hear in my head while improvising), and since this is obviously going to be a long term investment I want to make sure my efforts aren't wasted.

Sooo... I am looking for feedback from fellow musicians who actually went from pretty bad (in real time I can't replay a 3 note melody 9 times out of ten) to a significantly better ability to play by ear.

The two main questions I have are:
- is it actually useful to learn to recognize intervals outside of any harmonic context? Do you actually use that ability when replaying a line, or do you hear each note in reference to the current harmony?
- is it useful to practice at the keyboard, or should I directly pick up the sax and try to play what I hear, skipping the intellectual "name the interval/note" step? Sometimes it feels like there is a direct ear to fingers connection that bypasses the abstract music note/interval names...

Thanks!
Yes it's very useful to be able to recognize intervals outside of harmonic context, it's also useful to be able to recognize them within harmonic context. It's not mutually exclusive.

About your second question, I would do both. Try to work out solo by ear(writing down isn't necessary yet). The good thing about the "intellectual" thing is that learning chords is much easier when you know the names and notes of all intervals. There are only 12 of them so that's not so hard.

It helps if you picture it as learning a new language. Learning words(intervals) is good but it helps if your learn how to make a sentence(harmonic context). The ability to understand a language and the ability to speak it fluently. (Recognizing intervals/chords etc vs playing what's in your head).

Singing is the best way to learn how to use your ear because there is not an instrument to hide behind. This is probably not what you to do be take it from me it really helps. I suck at singing although I take lessons but since i'm doing it my ear has improved dramatically.
 

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Piwikiwi is totally right about singing. If you can sing the 2 to 5 note phrase you're trying to pick out, you can use your voice to slow it down and isolate the intervals.

I used to keep a pitch pipe in my car and use my voice to find the tonic of a song on the radio (usually by listening to the bass), then check the pitch pipe (not while I'm driving, of course) to see what key it's in.
 

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transcription helped me a great deal.
practicing songs in all 12 keys help for me too. :)
 

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....The two main questions I have are:
- is it actually useful to learn to recognize intervals outside of any harmonic context? Do you actually use that ability when replaying a line, or do you hear each note in reference to the current harmony?
- is it useful to practice at the keyboard, or should I directly pick up the sax and try to play what I hear, skipping the intellectual "name the interval/note" step? Sometimes it feels like there is a direct ear to fingers connection that bypasses the abstract music note/interval names...
.....
The brain works in many ways - with your fingers, with things you hear, and with spatial relationships (the math of the spacings between pitches and the timings for rhythms). Stimulating your brain work in these multiple ways with music will help. So besides playing things on the sax, singing will help, and plunking things out on the keyboard will help too, even if your keyboard skills are weak.

You can hear intervals when you sing, and singing has the advantage that you will not rely on the crutch that many sax players fall into of being able to play many notes quickly (but with no good melodic idea behind those many notes).

Playing melodies on a keyboard allows you to "see" the intervals on the keyboard, giving your brain another way to help you.
 

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I can only give you a non-educated response, but I am pretty darn good at playing back anything I can hear within my physical abilities. In other words - I can repeat any phrase (at tempo) I am fast enough to repeat - as long as it doesn't contain altissimo notes or bends beyond my ability to play. I can fudge the bends, but the altissimo is simply a "no-go" for me on some notes.

Anyway....here's how I learned to do it:

I spent (and spend) hours actually doing it. It's a bit like learning to speak a foriegn language. You could study sentence structure and conjugate verbs for years without actually ever being very good at speaking.... Or - you can go to a place where they speak the language and try to communicate. You may suck at first but soon enough you'll sound like a native.
 

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Hi all, I know the topic has been beaten to death but after reading hundreds of threads I still have a specific question about ear training.
There are many tools and approaches for improving the ability to play by ear ( by which I mean instantly picking up a line another musician just played, or being able to play a line I hear in my head while improvising), and since this is obviously going to be a long term investment I want to make sure my efforts aren't wasted.

Sooo... I am looking for feedback from fellow musicians who actually went from pretty bad (in real time I can't replay a 3 note melody 9 times out of ten) to a significantly better ability to play by ear.

The two main questions I have are:
- is it actually useful to learn to recognize intervals outside of any harmonic context? Do you actually use that ability when replaying a line, or do you hear each note in reference to the current harmony?
- is it useful to practice at the keyboard, or should I directly pick up the sax and try to play what I hear, skipping the intellectual "name the interval/note" step? Sometimes it feels like there is a direct ear to fingers connection that bypasses the abstract music note/interval names...

Thanks!
I think it's a mistake to worry about any of the tools or methods being a waste of time. Anything you do in regards to ear training is helpful as far as relative pitch goes. I've had friends practice for hours a day trying to gain perfect pitch to no available. I think maybe it's it's like a color blind guy trying to see colors and trying really hard for hours a day. Not sure that will work. (I could be wrong) I know relative pitch work helps a ton. One thing that was huge for me was working with hearing a pitch after a cadence,a static chord or a drone. Also, being able to sing those different pitches over those. Also what helped me a ton is working on all my approaches from my approach note books. Something about working on those over static grooves really helped my ears hear all 12 notes over a tonality. If you practice for hours by starting on the 6th and approaching the 5th pretty soon you are just hearing those notes and where they fit in relation to the key.
 

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A word about "singing." What matters (to me at least) is knowing what you are singing. I could always sing 3 Blind Mice, but it wasn't until I explicitly starting working on it that I knew what steps of the scale I was singing. The solfegge syllables have helped me develop this skill, but others might find them useless or worse. But somehow, you have to force yourself to hear what you are singing. If you are really a rank beginner as I was not so long ago (I've since progressed to beginner :bluewink:), a good elementary book to get the concept across is Beginning Ear Training by Gilson Schachnik.

Back to the lessons with Greg Fishman - he talked about when he conducts improvisation clinics and asks for a volunteer to play Happy Birthday in all twelve keys. He said it was rare to find anyone who could do it, and that without being able to do that (and much more) there's obviously little hope of improvising well.

My big regret with this is that ear training and playing by ear wasn't integrated into my musical training when I started lessons 45 years ago. But, better late than never. I figure it gives me a new skill to work on to try to ward off dementia as I enter senior citizenship [rolleyes].
 

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There are obviously lots of "techniques" that can work your mind in a way that eventually melds your hands to what you want to play. The singing part is especially good, and you don't need perfect pitch or to even be able to sing well. It's a matter of thinking the melody or line you want to play. This establishes that it's coming from you and not just the same old patterns of regurgitated riffs and arpeggios that happen to be in the right chord. Most practice will eventually take you there as long as your inner voice is leading your hands. It's way too easy to slip into being a soulless technical player who can muster a few flashy bits, but can't play (the already mentioned) "happy birthday to you" or any other nursery rhyme in 12 keys.

Putting a "translator" between you and your horn should be avoided unless it's the only way you can think. If you need to think in terms of an intellectual approach (intervals, note names, seeing notes as written out, etc.) this means you are translating a desired sound through an intellectual construct in order to play the note(s). It's obviously the long way around but if it's the only way you can get there, then that's fair. Some people have the sort of mind that requires an intellectual construct. If you already think musically there shouldn't be a need to go there.

No matter what technique you use be ready for it to take quite a while before those pesky fingers follow what you want to hear. By all means you MUST always be leading with your inner voice. Getting down pat cool sounding stuff that you like the sound of will establish those finger patterns that just jump out of your horn, but will not necessarily take you can closer to being one with your horn and playing what YOU have to say.

Doing it directly means that you have an idea then play it. Can be nursery rhymes or anything. For those of us (most) who don't have perfect pitch use a random start note. This forces you to hear the rest of the line/tune from that start point. Note that this is easy when singing, and that's the main point! You can already hear what you want to play (no translation needed). Getting the fingering right will be a frustration but if your mind works directly with sound and you have some degree of coordination it should be the straightest line between the two points.
 

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Discussion Starter #13
Thanks for all the good replies!
One thing, I meant computer keyboard (using ear training software), not piano keyboard :)
I can immediately sing any reasonable tune I hear, the pb is to either play it on the horn or name the notes then play them depending on the approach. I can work it out for a short easy tune but much too slowly for improvisation purposes.
To me having the fingers play the tune directly on the instrument without any intellectual intermediate thinking is fascinating: many young children can't sing a tune they hear (mine sure can't :) ), but most of them eventually learn to do it; and it doesn't seem like they are practicing singing anywhere near as much as we practice our instruments.
Maybe this is something that is way easier if you start doing it when you are young... sigh.
 

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Thanks for all the good replies!
One thing, I meant computer keyboard (using ear training software), not piano keyboard :)
I can immediately sing any reasonable tune I hear, the pb is to either play it on the horn or name the notes then play them depending on the approach. I can work it out for a short easy tune but much too slowly for improvisation purposes.
To me having the fingers play the tune directly on the instrument without any intellectual intermediate thinking is fascinating: many young children can't sing a tune they hear (mine sure can't :) ), but most of them eventually learn to do it; and it doesn't seem like they are practicing singing anywhere near as much as we practice our instruments.
Maybe this is something that is way easier if you start doing it when you are young... sigh.
If you want to do that I highly recommend this book
http://www.jazzbooks.com/mm5/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Store_Code=JAJAZZ&Product_Code=Y&Category_Code=EARTRA
It's only 10 pages or so with tips on how to play by ear in a more intuitive way. It cost $1,50. It's the best 1,50 i ever spend.
 
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