Playing Bass Guitar By Ear

I started playing music from a very young age. It so happened that I grew up where steel-pan music was heard, or if you took a little stroll from my house you would more than likely walk into the steel-pan band room or steel-band shed as they called it.

What I remembered is that I used to take our galvanized garbage pan cover, held it between my legs as if it was a steel-pan, and played with one piece of stick, knocking on that garbage can cover, and what I heard coming out from it at that time was some interesting melodies, I felt some kind of connection to music then even though I couldn’t interpret the experience. I don’t think that others could have heard what I was hearing, but what I heard sounded so good, it made me aware of something greater than myself was happening within me. Looking back now makes me to believe that it was my inspiration, and a fore-taste of what I would be doing in life.

At times the band members would call me into the band room to play a song with them, they thought that I did have a good ear for music, and catch the music very fast, and I loved it. I also remembered playing with a friend who played the acoustic guitar, and I another acoustic guitar, but with only four strings. I think I was in training then, and didn’t know it.

Even in elementary school I had the privilege to play in the school’s steel-pan orchestra.

My ear got better at that time. All this time I lived In Trinidad. Then we moved to live in Tobago which is the sister island of Trinidad. There my cousin and uncle lead me to a combo, a band that had just started, and my uncle and cousin told the band captain that I was interested in playing bass, which I never remembered telling them, however, the captain was willing to give me a try-out.

There were other bass-guitar players in that band at the time, although we were all learning, but with a bass that had all the notes written and stuck to the fret board, as if they knew I was coming, I then made it my duty to take advantage of this opportunity. Well, that interested me a lot.

What did happened next was an experience I would never forget. After classes at school, I would rush to the band room to practice by myself so to learn about that bass-guitar, and after about three weeks or so I took off the paper that had the notes name stuck to the fret-board. I think my desire and dedication made me to become the more used bass player of that band, more used than the other two bass players.

When I actually started to play; my initiation, or rather to learn songs with the band, the leader of the band who was the organist, would ask me to hang the bass around my neck, and while they played the songs would call out the notes which I would see stuck to the fret-board, and I would play them, and even though I didn’t have the correct fingering as all bass players should, (this must be corrected when starting to practice playing the bass by ear: you can find help on some social media sites), I was able to see, hear, and play the notes.

I got better with time and experience, and with the opportunities to gig with other bands that I think liked my style of playing. Being in the island of Tobago, musicians would come from Trinidad, who would have heard of my playing, and would ask me to play with them, which I did. I learned quite a lot from them. All this time, playing with those groups, had never read a note from a music sheet, or bass-guitar tab; I really knew nothing about such at that time. I played many styles of music only by listening, and transferred what I heard to the bass.

I remember a popular night club where I was a member of the resident band. There were situations when I had to play songs I only heard for about a minute or so, and then had to accompany the singers having to play the entire songs only a very few minutes after. As a matter of fact, they only came to us so to give us a sample of what we should expect. I loved that experience also, I think it helped to train my hearing.

The bottom line is, playing music by ear has its challenges, but it’s not impossible to be a good bass player that plays by ear. My only advice is, even though you might like playing by ear, still learn how to read notes from music sheets and bass-guitar tabs, it will help with knowing note values, learn scales, arpeggios, etc… Listen and try to play all types of music so that you might be an all round player; not just restricted to one style of music.

I just thought that I should encourage the beginners who would like to play bass-guitar by ear.

Have Fun!

Dobro Lessons – Music Theory + Playing by Ear = Super Musician!

Here are 3 things I recommend you memorize.

1.    All the notes of the dobro or specific instrument

2.    All the Key Signatures

3.    All the Chords and Chord Tones for each key

Question: Why do this?

Answer: To gain a more complete understanding of your instrument, and to know where you are at all times and to know why what you are playing may sound good and why it may sound not so good.

Question: Is there an easier way? Can I get around not knowing any music theory and not knowing where any of the notes on my instrument are located?

Answer: I have found if you do not want to learn any music theory one can still play and in fact get quit good. Tons of great players have done it, and this is what I think ones options are if they want to get really good, but do not want to learn any music theory.

No Music Theory Option 1:

(I highly recommend doing this “In addition” to also understanding music theory)

To simply transcribe tons and tons and tons of songs, solos, rhythm playing, song forms, etc…so many that you can use the memory of those solos to dictate what you should play when you hear it in the context of a song. Your memory of all the songs and solos that you’ve learned and transcribed will trigger a muscle memory with your fingers and mind, and it will be like you are speaking with your instrument. Simply reacting to what you hear like you would if you were carrying on a conversation with someone. You will see all the patterns, and scales, and key signatures more as shapes that you equate to things that you’ve learned from solos, songs, and other musicians. You will have a working knowledge of the theory, but will not know why any of it works. You just know it does.

This is actually a great way of learning, and this way combined with an understanding of music theory can dramatically improve your playing and improvising in a much quicker way than just theory alone, or just transcribing alone.

Wtih theory you can take one thing that you transcribe and play it in other keys. Know how to change it around and play it over other chords. Basically multiplying everything that you already know.

No Music Theory Option 2:

(I do not recommend doing this)

The slowest way of improving….Not transcribing solos and simply to use trial and error or “noodling” around, fishing for the right note, not having a clue why anything you play sounds good or bad.

Getting Started:

The Keys:

The Sharp Keys:

C MAJOR – C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C

G MAJOR – G, A, B, C, D, E, F#, G

D MAJOR – D, E, F#, G, A, B, C#, D

A MAJOR – A, B, C#, D, E, F#, G#, A

E MAJOR – E, F#, G#, A, B, C#, D#, E

B MAJOR – B, C#, D#, E, F#, G#, A#, B

F# MAJOR – F#, G#, A#, B, C#, D#, E#, F#

C# MAJOR – C#, D#, E#, F#, G#, A#, B#, C#

The Flat Keys

C MAJOR – C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C

F MAJOR – F, G, A, Bb, C, D, E, F

Bb MAJOR – Bb, C, D, Eb, F, G, A, Bb

Eb MAJOR – Eb, F, G, Ab, Bb, C, D, Eb

Ab MAJOR – Ab, Bb, C, Db, Eb, F, G, Ab

Db MAJOR – Db, Eb, F, Gb, Ab, Bb, C, Db

Gb MAJOR – Gb, Ab, Bb, Cb, Db, Eb, F, Gb

Cb MAJOR – Cb, Db, Eb, Fb, Gb, Ab, Bb, Cb

To Start Memorizing the Chords and Chord Tones Just Use these simple rules:

1) Chords are built in 3rds – Root, 3rd, 5th. Start with your root, skip a note, then you’ve got your third, skip a note, then you’ve got your fifth.

2) If you do that in a major key you end up with this pattern, harmonizing over each note of the scale: (examples are in the Key of G major)

1. = MAJOR ex. GBD

2. = minor ex. ACE

3. = minor ex. BDF#

4. = MAJOR ex. CEG

5. = MAJOR ex. DF#A

6. = minor ex. EGB

7. = diminished ex. F#AC


To memorize anything quickly, simply use NOTE CARDS, and make out a set for your Key Signatures, a set for your Chords per Key, and a set for your chord tones per key.

Carry them around with you and when you are waiting in line or just don’t have anything to do. Pull them out and start memorizing them. In a month or so you will see dramatic improvements.