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Playing instruments by ear or Reading music.
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19 / F / Texas
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Posted 11/6/12

magicuser360 wrote:

I am learning to read piano music (I'm on level three/C at the moment) and I can play by ear. My teacher encourages both as well.

I think it's very advantageous to know how to do both!


I completely agree! I would love to be able to play by ear/improvise. I'm only good for sight reading.

You seem to be really talented to be able to do both.
Posted 11/7/12

SgtPepper wrote:


magicuser360 wrote:

I am learning to read piano music (I'm on level three/C at the moment) and I can play by ear. My teacher encourages both as well.

I think it's very advantageous to know how to do both!


I completely agree! I would love to be able to play by ear/improvise. I'm only good for sight reading.

You seem to be really talented to be able to do both.


Yes, I think this is the best way because you honestly get the best of both worlds - you're able to read sheet music to anything, and you're also able to sound-out a song or improvise to anything!

Thanks a lot, but I'm not that great lol.
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M / New Mexico USA
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Posted 11/7/12 , edited 11/7/12
I play by ear, I struggle at orthodox learning for music. It really disappointed me when I would be playing something random on keyboard and my old roommate that majored in music came in. He has music theory and all that crap under his belt but he is clueless on how to freestyle. If its not written before him he can't play. In my own personal experience it's better to learn your own way rather than a structured orthodox way that strips you of creativity and creates all these rules with music. I know sour notes when I hear them, I know what on key is, and I know I have more creativity than all my friends that took music classes. Again I'm not talking about everyone, just my old roommates (there were 5 of them and all played different instruments.) Now if you can do both and retain your free creativity to break some rules taught to you heck yeah, Wish I could jam with you. Keep your mind and ears open.

http://soundcloud.com/keiek - Stuff I created without a single music class.
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Posted 11/7/12
OOOO! Something I know real well.

The answer: Both

Reading notes allows that musician to walk a path of structure and music that is already written. This kind of musician gets to learn all the traditional techniques and whatever. However, one becomes rigid and scared to step out of bounds of what is written on the page. It doesn't encourage improvisation and most musicians spend more time learning the music than learning how to express the music. In Asia, there's a higher emphasis on technique then on expression and that's just boring to listen to. Rachmaninov's piano concertos are pretty to listen to but only once have I ever heard it played so well that it moved me emotionally. I would go as far to say, that every attempt of performing music that you did not write, is a continuous upward battle to try and sound anything like the composer's original intention.

Learning by ear allows a musician to explore and be expressive. While learning by ear doesn't grant this person technique, (Which can be added on later anyway.) I have found that these people are always more expressive. IE. Fats Waller (learned by himself) Anything from the New Orlands sound era. Danny Elfman (can't actually read music but you tell me right now that you hate the nightmare before christmas I DARE YOU) Even Bach, who wrote church music, was just playing it by the ear until something good happened. But a musician that learns music with both becomes something exceptional. A polished gem that shines for all eternity.
John Coltrane. Beethoven (I argue because even though he lost his hearing, his music was so stuck in his ear that he could still write) Miles Davis, etc.
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27 / M / Pennsylvania
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Posted 11/7/12
If you want to be a good musician you already have a head start. If you can read music, you can improvise. It is not the other way around. It is good that you are getting classical instruction. Learning by ear is just putting on some music and trying to play with it. You can also just play a bunch of notes without music and that is also improvisation. Wala instant improv. I have two majors in music performance and education. That church band that you played with, you certainly can harmonize with them. All you do is play some random notes and then keep the ones that sound good to you. Improv is actually quite simple. Just play what your ear likes. good luck
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26 / M / Tallahassee, Florida
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Posted 11/7/12
When I was in High School I played the trumpet and sax. I think both skills, sight reading and being able to play by ear, are important to be a good musician, When it came to marching band, I could memorize the music much quicker when listening to it and playing back by ear, I could mimic the small details needed that I honestly had a hard time keeping up with reading the music at full pace at times.

In concert band, It's a little more important to stick to what is written.....but thats just my opinion. Jazz is really important to be able to play by ear since they have a lot of improvising.....


I guess in the end, I honestly feel that if you can't read a music staff, you aren't a musician. Just like "guitar players" who can only read TAPS. You aren't a musician. :shrug:
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24 / M / on your lap, purring
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Posted 11/7/12
I picked up guitar almost 5 years ago because of a girl I liked in high school. The only thing left of that relationship is my guitar. I can't read music, probably never will. I can listen to stuff, try to emulate it, maybe skim over a tab to help out, but let me tell you this. Being able to read music is a wonderful feat that a lot of people envy. It's something you can truly only learn young.
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19 / F / Texas
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Posted 11/7/12

cheerwine87 wrote:

If you want to be a good musician you already have a head start. If you can read music, you can improvise. It is not the other way around. It is good that you are getting classical instruction. Learning by ear is just putting on some music and trying to play with it. You can also just play a bunch of notes without music and that is also improvisation. Wala instant improv. I have two majors in music performance and education. That church band that you played with, you certainly can harmonize with them. All you do is play some random notes and then keep the ones that sound good to you. Improv is actually quite simple. Just play what your ear likes. good luck


Thank you for your educated response. I guess I can pin point my fear of improvising from not having any confidence. Like I mentioned I felt like I needed more experience since I only had 3 years under my belt. Now I feel more confident to try and improvise, and your response has given me a good push.

Thanks once again, and have a great day.
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37 / F / Oklahoma, USA
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Posted 11/8/12
I grew up only doing by ear. I couldn't learn notes. I started trying to play the violen last year and have been learning notes so now I can do both. Sometimes its really hard for me to pay attention to notes because I like to do my own thing and make stuff up.
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23 / F / USA
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Posted 4/19/13 , edited 4/19/13
Playing music by ear is awesome but it sucks when you don't understand something and someone throws a piece of sheet music at you thinking you can read it because you can play. So I think reading sheet music is great and as long as you can read it and play its cool and has a high advantage. People who play by ear. sometimes play only what they feel is beautiful or how they hear the music. Sometimes they even twist a musical peice to their liking and feel that it sounds more beautiful, but being able to read music is also a gift and plus your playing it striaght and how it should be played. So thats really good that you can read music keep it up. I wish I was good at reading music.
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22 / F / Johnstown, PA, USA
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Posted 4/19/13
We're comparing apples and oranges, to say the least.
I'm better at learning by ear, and I prefer it that way. I tried learning the clarinet in school; however, I soon lost most of my interest, because I wasn't able to play they way I wanted, especially when my class started to focus on the high octaves. I greatly dislike the sound of a clarinet's high notes, and it became very tedious for me to have to play that "crap." I'll eventually pick up my clarinet again, and I'll play how I want when I do.
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21 / M / Houston, TX
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Posted 4/19/13
Both lol . I want to be a well rounded musician
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60 / M
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Posted 4/19/13
I've been playing piano since I was 9 years old (50 years as of May this year. Although I have been taught to read sheets I mostly learn by ear or by picking up a "fake chart" and vamping the chords till I feel a resonance coming on between what I already know and what the song's supposed to sound like. Music, for the most part, is created from existing patterns. Each generation, between ages 11 and 20, hears music that they will forever after associate with the time when they were "young and strong". Although that music obeys certain conventions, each succeeding generation puts a peculiar spin on theirs, which often allows the professional to "hum a few bars an fake it" if he or she is familiar with it. Doo--Wop is a perfect example, for most Doo--wop is written from the same I, VI, II, V, I pattern (as in "Earth Angel" where the G Em C D vamp goes on forever). Once you understand one Doo--wop tune, you almost ,know them all. Jazz, as you guys are talking about it, is merely an art form created by bored musicians who had played the same songs from the 1920s and 1930s, over and over, for so long they were terribly bored with them and needed to inject a little variety in order to stay awake till the gig was over. Once you've mastered the art form, in other words, you experiment with it in hope of finding something "new". Improvisation can thus be defined as: assembling existing elements into new or varied patterns, within a system that other band members or musicians can resonate with enough to try and emulate--or compete with on an even playing field. I now understand various "styles" of music to the point where writing my own is more interesting than continuously repeating some else's efforts. However, there are still "favorites", covers, I play simply to improvise to. This builds skill and understanding.
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26 / M / Ohio
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Posted 4/19/13 , edited 4/19/13
The best musicians value both, but needless to say, it depends on what kind of ensemble you're in as to which is more important.

The rule of thumb is if it's an ensemble that you can take in high school or college (orchestra, musical/opera pit, symphonic band/wind ensemble, etc.), sight reading is more valuable. Jazz is a slight exception. Note the word "slight." I'll get to that later.

If it's a band you play in with your friends, your ear skills will most definitely be more helpful. I mean lets be honest. I worked at Guitar Center for a few years. I always did the book merch. No one ever buys the book merch.

Naturally, there are exceptions to everything, but not many. There are very few garage bands that use sheet music, and conversely, concert band cannot be done well by ear. At least not for the first few passes. If you're getting paid to play, messing up those first few passes is all it takes to get fired.

Jazz is a notable exception. It requires both. Especially if you want to gig out. I've had to read plenty of new charts on sub calls for big bands... and it can get pretty dicey if I haven't practiced my sight reading in a while. Then there are the solo sections, which require both a good ear, and good sight reading if you're not familiar with the chord progression. I could go into detail here, because obviously combo-style jazz is more improv and less sight reading, but Benny Goodman big band charts are the opposite... but generally speaking, it's both.

Yes, I am biased. My username should be a dead giveaway that I am a jazz musician... and let me emphasize that my best classical player friends are better at sight reading than me. They do it more. Well, until they graduate. Then most of them stop playing either because they're music ed majors (most of them never touch their instrument after college), or they realize that there simply isn't a big market for classical music.

Moral of the story. Yes.

What was the question?
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21 / M / Ohio
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Posted 4/19/13
depends where you wanna go with your music sometimes its ok if you can only play be ear but other times you are going to be needed to know how to read music
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