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Learning to play by ear (written)

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Learning to play by ear (written)

Post  Smaz on Thu Apr 30, 2009 10:59 pm

Learning to play by ear - by Smaz!

Ok, my way of learning to play by ear is half by ear, half process of elimination Smile

Learning to play by ear to begining bassists seems like a very daunting task. Where do you start? How do you do it? With the availability of TABs these days, most people rely heavily on them to learn their favourite song but get stuck when they can't find one or they are innacurate/incomplete.

Take youself back to the beginning of electric bass... What, 60 years ago?

When the electric bass first came out, there were no computers (in the sense that we have them today), and no TABs. There were two formats to learn bass & basslines from - one was sheet music, the other by ear. Bassists used to have to sit there & learn to play songs by playing along to the radio, or their vinyls or cassettes. So if they can do it... with all the technology around now that makes it so much easier, why can't we? Smile

In order to learn by ear, you don't need to know much, if any music theory. So don't worry if you don't know Smile However, it does help to at least know the major scale, and basic triads. That'll pretty much get you started.

One thing a lot of people do is listen to songs with complicated basslines, and think "Wish I could play that! But I've no idea how I'd ever work that out!". Well, take it back a step... Let's start with basic songs & riffs Smile

Pick a song, nice & simple. Either a slow song, slow riff, or just root note stuff for now. For this example, let's try a song together? Smile


I'll pick Roll Over Lay Down by Status Quo - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SGhzXXVy2VU

FIRST THINGS FIRST: Tune your bass!

It's quite a simple riff, simple song. It features heavily on one note... Let's find that one shall we? If you listen to the riff, there's a hammer on to this note as part of the riff. As it's in standard tuning, it can't be an open low E then... Let's go for an A? Play an A (5th fret on the E string as opposed to open A will help for this exercise) & listen to the riff. Too high? Too Low? You should find that the A is too low. But how much by? A little bit? A lot?

If you find you're off by a little bit, try going up two frets. Too high? Then it must be the note inbetween where you started & two frets up Smile Too low? Try going up one more fret. Any better?
If you find you're off by quite a bit, try going up a string, two frets down. Too high? Down a fret. Too low? Go up two frets. If it's then too high, go down a fret & you've got it... Smile

This may sound like an odd way of doing it, but as us bassists are lazy, you'll find that once you've found the root note, you won't have to move your hand much - if any - to find the rest of the notes.

Now, you should have found that the A was off by quite a bit. So go up a string & down two frets, to the 3rd fret on the A string (C). Still off? Go up two more... Ahh, perfect Smile Yup, this riff is in D.

Listen to the riff... It's got a hammer on from a lower note, before going up to a higher note. The lower note? How much lower? Bear in mind it should be under our fingers, so you won't have to search too far... Then the higher note. Again, judging by how much higher it is, you should know where to start looking. So, by going up or down 2 / 3 frets, try and work out the other two notes.

Got 'em? Hope so! You should end up with the other two notes as C (3rd fret A string) & F (3rd fret D string). That's the main riff sorted!

Try & work out the rest of the song, using my 'two frets / string & two frets' method, listening to each note to see if it sounds right. You should only need a couple more notes to be able to play the song... Smile

If you're searching for a lower note than what you're on, just reverse the above lines about going up two frets - go down two frets, or try going down a string & up two frets.


Practice makes perfect... Once you apply this to more & more songs, you'll find that you're picking out the right notes much easier. You'll get used to certain patterns & sequences that a lot of songs traditionally follow. Remember, start simple, work from there Smile I shall post a list of songs to try, feel free to add your own!

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Re: Learning to play by ear (written)

Post  Smaz on Thu Apr 30, 2009 11:01 pm

Some to get started: I won't normally post the starting note, but I have in another thread for these so might as well.

The Police - Every Breath you Take: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kSaHoYN-FsU

Start on the 4th fret E string (Ab/G#)

Ben E. King - Stand by Me: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vbg7YoXiKn0

Start on the 7th fret E A string (E) I think, off the top of my head!

Bod Dylan - Knocking on Heavens Door: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4a_QPJrMY8g

I can't remember, I *think* you start on the 3rd fret E string (G).

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Re: Learning to play by ear (written)

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Re: Learning to play by ear (written)

Post  McSnuggles on Fri May 01, 2009 12:43 am

Great lesson Smaz. Very useful.

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Re: Learning to play by ear (written)

Post  SuperMaximo93 on Fri May 01, 2009 5:59 am

Brilliant! Thanks Smaz Very Happy

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Re: Learning to play by ear (written)

Post  david2545 on Sat May 02, 2009 1:55 am

thanks smaz very helpfull Very Happy

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Re: Learning to play by ear (written)

Post  Protoplm on Sun May 10, 2009 5:53 pm

I like. Thanks for the extended version of your reply Razz.

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