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

* NOTE:

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.

Playing For Life – How to Keep a Child Engaged in Music Lessons From Early Childhood Through Teens

How many parents have given their children years of music lessons, only to have the child one day announce: “I quit!”

It can be heartbreaking for the parent, not least because of the thousands of dollars they may have invested in lessons and instruments.

But inevitably, years later, the former teen will say, “I never should have quit the violin (or cello or viola)! I wish my parents had forced me to stick with it!”

Being a music school director for the past ten years, and the parent of three (an 8-year-old, a teenager, and a former teen), I have seen this sort of thing happen again and again. So I have made it one of my primary missions to create an environment that keeps kids in music, from tot through teen years. Here are some of my most powerful techniques for keeping children involved in, and passionate about, their music.

1. Start them young – on piano. I have found that children who begin with piano, and then come into my violin or other stringed instrument class, always do better than children who have not had early piano training. Violin and other stringed instruments are difficult, due to the many aspects needed to focus on at once. It is also physically challenging. Piano is a lot easier to grasp for pre-k kids. Once the student already has a basic understanding of music, including note-reading, rhythm, and practicing, they are freer to focus on the technical challenges of the stringed instrument. I now require tots to take my beginning piano class, and i encourage parents to keep those lessons going until they begin in my violin class.

2. Don’t go it alone! How many parents enroll their children in private music lessons, only to have them refuse to go because they don’t know anyone? Yet the same child will participate in almost any activity if at least one friend is present! Group beginning music classes can be a lot of fun for the younger set, and particularly ideal for children age 3½ years through 5 ½, depending on their maturity.

3. Kids who play together like to play together! The more opportunities the children have to play the more they will improve. In addition to private lessons, as soon as the child is eligible, we place him or her in a performing group. At our school, graduates of our beginning violin class will enroll in private lessons and in our training orchestra. More advanced players go into our more advanced children’s orchestra. Older students are encouraged to join regional youth orchestras. Ninety-nine percent of the time, once the initial excitement of playing an instrument has passed, it is the group playing that the kids will remain excited about. Children love to be with other children! Participation leads to more practicing, especially if the conductor or musical director connects well with children.

In addition to private lessons and orchestra, many participate in our chamber music program. I started the chamber music program with four kindergarten girls who knew each other from orchestra. After a few months of playing together they named themselves the bff (‘best friends forever’) they have been playing together for 3 years by now. They’ve performed for our us congressman, senior centers, local schools, and even at our local farmer’s market. What I’ve discovered is that the kids in the quartet were developing faster and playing better, so i set out to form more groups and a chamber music program.

4. Keep em’ in the spotlight! It is rare that a kid doesn’t thrive from the envelopment of warm feelings, positive attention, and sense of accomplishment that they feel after a performance, (not to mention camaraderie with their fellow performers). Whether it’s performing in a studio recital, a solo competition; or with their youth orchestra at carnegie hall, performances are key to keeping up a child’s interest, and improving their playing. The vast majority of children who only do private lessons, and don’t have any performance opportunities, will eventually lose interest and drop out.

5. Stay positive! When in doubt, do not shout, berate, belittle, or threaten to drop the lessons. None of the negative stuff works, and it will just lead to more frustration for you, and your child. Even when it feels like your child is not meeting your or the teacher’s expectation, remain positive. Your child may just be going through a rough patch.

To get through it, with the little ones, offer small rewards for practicing daily or weekly. It could be a sticker or a trip to the toy store. In their teens, you can relax their practice schedule if it feels like too much of a burden. When my teen son decided that he wanted to quit saxophone, his teacher suggested that he just practice five minutes a day. He did this for over a year, continuing to participate in various orchestras and jazz groups. It worked! He continued playing saxophone through high school, and received a huge music scholarship to college. Although he has decided not to make music his career, he continues to make money with his instrument through teaching and gigging.

6. Summer and school breaks are a great time to move ahead! Rather than taking a break from music lessons, vacation is actually a great time to make headway. It’s an opportunity for life-changing musical adventures or just plain getting lots accomplished. Enroll your child in a summer music program that offers something different in the way of lessons and orchestra or chamber music. For teens, there are many programs away from home, in beautiful settings in the mountains or countryside. The more your child improves the more they will like playing, and the more they will feel good about themselves. It’s the child who lags behind who will want to stop practicing or worse, quit.

7. Don’t over schedule. Although we want our children to be well-rounded, it’s better for their psyche for them to excel in one thing. And if that one thing is playing a musical instrument, it will have tremendous benefits. Skill on a musical instrument sets them apart from their peers. They will begin to identify themselves as a musician, which is great for their self-esteem. Excelling at a musical instrument – especially strings – will help in applications for arts schools and programs, and eventually, colleges! Most colleges have orchestras with many chairs to fill. There is usually a need for many more violin, viola, cello and bass players!

8. Stay committed. Staying committed to your child’s music education may be the hardest part of raising your child, but i can say from first-hand experience, it’s worth the it! The experiences your child will have being a musician will shape their lives (not to mention their brains) in a way that cannot be duplicated any other way. Music promotes self-esteem, teamwork, and good study habits, and it has shaped the lives of many youngsters in a most profound way.

Taking all these steps will make it far more likely that your child will have lifelong appreciation for their instrument and for music.