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Playing instruments by ear or Reading music.
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34 / M / California Centra...
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Posted 11/3/12
Learn both. If Wynton Marsalis can do it, so can you. You use your ears to tune, you use your eyes to see what your doing, so you should be able to both read music and play by ear. You just have to practice (dun dun duhhhhh!). Practicing is the bane of all music majors (unless you're some freak that likes being cooped up in a room for hours on end, I went to college with some), but you will never get better at what ever you play without practicing. I suggest starting out with something simple like nursery songs and progress up from there. FYI I have a BM in music education with an emphasis in instrumental music and this topic was talked about ad nauseam at several conferences I would attend.
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37 / M / NY
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Posted 11/3/12

SgtPepper wrote:

Hello this is a topic I want to discuss with all the musicians on this website. I can't seem to place an opinion over this dilemma that has always segregated musicians since the beginning of sight reading.

Some musicians that can’t read a note of music, but can play on tunes for days using their ears. Conversely, many classical musicians can read for days and days, but ask them to improvise and the room becomes silent. It's difficult to place an opinion over what is more valuable for a musician.

My experience is: (It's a little long so I'll spoil it if you don't want to read it.)



So what are your thoughts and experiences over this dilemma?



You shouldnt feel inadequate if you feel you cant play by ear yet, or improvise. You learned by reading music, have practiced reading music, and performed that way also. Wether you can read and play music, or hear and play music, both require probably the same amount of technical and physical ability. If you can do one, surely you can do the other. It just requires the same level of practice, unless your a prodigy.
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17 / M / North Dakota
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Posted 11/3/12
I learned how to read drum music and did it for a while. I really stunk at it

Set them up a year later and let my hands do the reading. I can shred on them drums now.
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26 / M / Seattle, and ever...
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Posted 11/3/12
You might be able to do one and then the other but it's pretty challenging. I didn't grow up reading sheet music, and then I hit a point where it was necessary (pieces became just way too complex) and had to start sight-reading from scratch. Because I'm older, I just can't reach the same sight-reading speeds as somebody who's been doing it since they were six years old. Your brain just doesn't work the same way past a certain age.

It's not impossible, but the transition doesn't occur in lab settings... investing that time is pretty challenging. I'm pretty adamant about it personally because I'm sick and tired of just playing by ear, but I struggle with it every day.

Future parents : have your kids practice both as much as possible.
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21 / F / USA
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Posted 11/3/12
I would love to be able to play by ear
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26 / M / Seattle, and ever...
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Posted 11/3/12

FreeHorses92 wrote:

I would love to be able to play by ear


Wanna trade?
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23 / M / Los Angeles, Ca
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Posted 11/3/12

SgtPepper wrote:

Hello this is a topic I want to discuss with all the musicians on this website. I can't seem to place an opinion over this dilemma that has always segregated musicians since the beginning of sight reading.

Some musicians that can’t read a note of music, but can play on tunes for days using their ears. Conversely, many classical musicians can read for days and days, but ask them to improvise and the room becomes silent. It's difficult to place an opinion over what is more valuable for a musician.

My experience is: (It's a little long so I'll spoil it if you don't want to read it.)



So what are your thoughts and experiences over this dilemma?



Good post!! I can't read music but if I listen to the music long enough I can tab it out and improvise..Honestly I envy people who can read and write music; I'm just too lazy to learn. I have met very few people who can do both; all it takes is practice.
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18 / F / Texas
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Posted 11/3/12

Kageru77 wrote:



You shouldnt feel inadequate if you feel you cant play by ear yet, or improvise. You learned by reading music, have practiced reading music, and performed that way also. Wether you can read and play music, or hear and play music, both require probably the same amount of technical and physical ability. If you can do one, surely you can do the other. It just requires the same level of practice, unless your a prodigy.


Thank you for taking the time to respond, and I completely agree with what you wrote. Both skills take practice and dedication to cultivate. My piano teacher is sort of incredible, he can play by ear and sight read to high classical music standards.

Yeah it took me a while to get over that experience and accept I wasn't inadequate as a musician. Usually with this dilemma it's viewed as, the grass is greener on the other side. Classical musicians would love to play by ear and have the ability to improvise while likewise the musicians that play by ear would love to be able to sight read. One has to learn to appreciate what they know.

Have a great day.
Posted 11/3/12
Most will do it by ear, but learning through reading tableture seems best.
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18 / F / Texas
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Posted 11/3/12

DAN213 wrote:



Good post!! I can't read music but if I listen to the music long enough I can tab it out and improvise..Honestly I envy people who can read and write music; I'm just too lazy to learn. I have met very few people who can do both; all it takes is practice.


Thank you for taking the time to respond, and what a beautiful talent it is to be able to improvise.

I agree, music is all about practice and dedication. You seem like a very smart person, I think you can learn to sight read and compose music if you really wanted to.

Have a great day.


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21 / M / Australia
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Posted 11/3/12
I'm not sure which is better, both are in the extreme difficulty category for me. Go you music players, go!
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22 / M / 風の山
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Posted 11/3/12 , edited 11/3/12
i have no formal experience, so can't read sheet music. not even for mary had a little lamb. i'm curious by nature so i learn by listening. i've messed around with a violin , recorder flute, and piano. im not good but i can play twinkle little star on violin with many flaws, but good enough that anyone who knows the song can figure it out.

from what i know violinist is where sheet music is pretty useless. so i think i did a pretty decent job with it. for a total beginner that is.
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20 / M / Chicago, USA
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Posted 11/3/12

Frodizzle wrote:


Nikolajdrevun wrote:

@Frodizzle, I agree with you're point completely, and yea, it's still improv with sheet music in front of you, as long as you only use it to get the gist of the piece. =) sadly, in jazz i never play whats on the paper, it's hard as hell hahaha


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YtjzVThkiFs&feature=related

I found this and i think everyone should listen to this and this should make the decision pretty clear...either way is good.


haha, this is awesome, I've seen this movie SOOO many times, hahaha.
I was messing around with the settings on youtube (for graphics reasons) and found out that you can put the speed at 1.5x...
Epitome of awesome incarnate, haha
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Posted 11/4/12
Reading sheet music is great if what you want to play something something complicated, which you don't have much chance of playing just from hearing it.

Also, some instruments are easier than other other as to play by ear. A violin for example. I could play a lot of tunes, albeit shittily, just by hearing it. A piano on the other hand... you can do it, but it'll take a hell of a lot longer. For me any way.
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20 / F / Wherever the wind...
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Posted 11/4/12
Taught myself how to play piano when I was 14. I know how to read music but I can't sight-read to save my life. It's been a long-time frustration of mine. Every time I try to learn a new piece I find myself staring at a single staff for almost an hour I end up drooli- I mean, not playing anything. If I were to play an arrangement, even the easy ones, I'd have to memorize everything first. I really admire those people who can sight-read well. It must really take a lot of focus.

I mostly improvise and play music by ear. Sometimes though I feel worried and ask myself: "Am I playing this right? Are the chords right? Did I miss any notes? Is this even legal?" I obviously don't trust my ears that much. ><
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