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#474697 - 08/17/19 11:06 PM formal training vs play it by ear
Mark79100 Offline
Senior Member

Registered: 10/23/06
Posts: 1661
Loc: USA
I had a revelation today from something that happened a few days ago.

I was in Guitar Center looking at the keyboards. On the way out the door, I noticed the guitar salesman playing around on his axe. I asked him to show me how a guitarist plays so that I could emulate him on a keyboard. He was only too happy to show me what he was doing. Until...I started mentioning things like scales and 4ths and 5ths, and voicing, etc. Then he just clammed up and said "if you want lessons...sign up at the desk!"

I dismissed his strange behavior, but this morning it hit me. This has been happening to me over the years. The same scenario. Not only guitarists. Musicians in general. The common denominator I figured out. I'm hypothesizing that there are many musicians out there making great music who never had any formal training and who wouldn't know a 4th from an egg salad sandwich.

It's about as clear as a bell to me now. As soon as the person realizes I DID have formal training the lesson is over because...they can only "show" me what they're doing and can't explain in words.

Looking back over the years that's happened to me periodically. It's not a big deal but I've always taken it personally. Either they didn't like ME or they didn't like my after-shave lotion. Now I'm thinking if this were true (their lack of musical training) then it's about them and not me.

Which leads to a bigger question for me? I'm wondering now how many musicians DON'T have formal training? What do you think? P.S. I personally think that non-trained musicians play better as they don't deal intellectually with music structure and rules!

#474698 - 08/17/19 11:44 PM Re: formal training vs play it by ear [Re: Mark79100]
bruno123 Offline
Senior Member

Registered: 06/04/02
Posts: 4602
Loc: West Palm Beach, FL 33417
My View:
I have studied scales and scale mods. – arranger and reharmonizing, classical music (with Guitar) and music theory. The learning was good, but now I do my best to forget what I have learned.

That is an odd statement because you cannot unlearn what is inside of you ---But you can stop relying on what you learned. People who continue to use much of the above loose their freedom to express.

Entering the world of music without the above is very much like going the library and not being able to read.

IMHO, John C.

#474701 - 08/18/19 12:02 AM Re: formal training vs play it by ear [Re: Mark79100]
abacus Offline
Senior Member

Registered: 07/21/05
Posts: 5083
Loc: English Riviera, UK
It depends on the style of music you are going into, classical (And other similar music) is structured, whereas other types are less so, thus you have to adapt to the style, however if you understand how music is created then you have a better understanding of how to do something with less faffing around.
When it comes to the final product, there is only one thing that counts, Talent, if you Havant got it then you will never stand out. (And relying on technology to help you out will not cut it either)

English Riviera:
Live entertainment, Real Ale, Great Scenery, Great Beaches, why would anyone want to live anywhere else (I�m definitely staying put).

#474703 - 08/18/19 01:41 AM Re: formal training vs play it by ear [Re: Mark79100]
Bernie9 Offline
Senior Member

Registered: 09/21/02
Posts: 5158
Loc: Port Charlotte,FL,USA
I never have had near the formal training many of you have, yet I did learn enough to read chords and count time, as well read fairly fluently. Unfortunately, it became a crutch until a few years ago I began trusting my ears and muscle memory.

There is no question about being freer to express your music, not being hobbled to sheet music, but having a few basics is still a good starting point. I can read the music, as intended, put away the sheet, and play as I wish. It does take time and effort to wean yourself from slavery, but the rewards are there.
pa4X 76 ,SX900, Audya 76,Yamaha S970 , vArranger, Hammond SK1, Ketron SD40, Centerpoint Space Station, Bose compact

#474706 - 08/18/19 05:12 AM Re: formal training vs play it by ear [Re: Mark79100]
RC Offline

Registered: 04/29/02
Posts: 88
Loc: Pa Usa
I still say playing by ear is a gift. I had formal training and unfortunately my teachers told me to play scales but never told me why. I have to read the music unless I memorize the song. I have a son who can hear a song and play it. He also picks out the various instruments and can add them into a sequencer. I have seen him play one note behind a song while listening to it. I myself cannot play mary had a little lamb unless there is music. Don't mis understand me I can play anything as long as I have music. After years I can add some runs and other notes that are no written in the music. I really envy anyone who can play by ear. If you can do both you have the best of both worlds. Sounds like Bernie can.

#474707 - 08/18/19 05:28 AM Re: formal training vs play it by ear [Re: Mark79100]
Riceroni9 Offline
Senior Member

Registered: 11/15/04
Posts: 1298
Loc: TX, USA
Both methods can produce incredible music. I have nothing but respect for both "types" of musician... no matter the instrument.

In the final analysis... whatever works best for you is what you should pursue. I never took piano lessons in my youth but have always wished we could have afforded it... time-wise and more importantly, in the element of affordability.

Great topic.

#474711 - 08/18/19 08:45 AM Re: formal training vs play it by ear [Re: Mark79100]
W Tracy Parnell Offline

Registered: 08/22/06
Posts: 719
Loc: Jamestown NY
There is a video of a girl on youtube. She studied classical piano for years and at some point decided to learn popular music. It showed her transcribing Oscar Peterson solos and then playing them and her years of study allowed her to do that. So, I think for a piano player, it is really good to have lessons because that gives you the facility to play anything provided you practice long enough. Then, if you know theory as well you have the whole package.

I don't think note-reading is as vital for a guitar player but a basic understanding of theory is a good thing for anybody. That said I have a basic understanding of theory but never read music and never took lessons. I just fool around with an arranger for enjoyment.
Korg PA900/Arturia Keylab 49 MK2/ JBL 308P/Focusrite Clarett 2Pre/Band in a Box/Reaper/EZdrummer 2

#474713 - 08/18/19 09:43 AM Re: formal training vs play it by ear [Re: Mark79100]
Bachus Offline
Senior Member

Registered: 03/02/06
Posts: 7136
Its fun how people tend to talk about extremes while most people i guess are somewhere in the middle..

Espescially for keyboardists, i guess its important to know some theory..
As well as know how to play some scales in the correct fingering..

But its also important to see and hear how other instrumentalists play..
Not just piano, organ and epiano have different playstyles
But also emulating other instruments or fingerdrumming on the keys requires training,but also a good ear.
Yamaha Genos, Roland Jupiter 80, Ipad pro.

#474714 - 08/18/19 11:38 AM Re: formal training vs play it by ear [Re: Mark79100]
Fran Carango Offline
Senior Member

Registered: 05/26/99
Posts: 9673
Loc: Levittown, Pa, USA
Trained or ear

If any of my comments appear to insult anyone .. Tuff!!..(Just kidding). grin

My intentions would be more of a challenge to expand your musical knowledge.

I believe it would be foolish to not study theory, music structure, score reading,
and understanding charts.

This along with practice to increase your playing skills, is the foundation
to be the best you can be.

The next natural step after a learned foundation, is to develop your ear..

This will give you the freedom that will enable you to be comfortable as a performer.

Your ear will allow you to ab-lib with the tune. But it is essential that you have the foundation
to do it right.

There is a learning progression, and it is pretty much the way I have stated.

Here are some real experiences that I have found to be true..

My training years were classical study on accordion.. this developed my so called "chops". smile

I moved on to theory, also voicing of chords , alternate chords, dropped 2's, bi-tonal..
You get the idea,,, This is the stuff that will make you better as you mature as a player..
(my last statement is what is usually lacking with classical trained pianist).

If you can not read scores or charts, professionally you are done.. If you have any
interest in larger bands with elaborate arrangements, or a studio musician .. forget it. frown

Most untrained folks get use to a 1.4.5 chord progression..
It sounds great to your family played with an arranger, but is really so empty..
You are short changing yourself. Study theory some more.. understand chord structure.
And practice voicing of chords on your right hand and left hand too. Learn to play the chords
in piano mode on your arranger, using expanded chords and substitute chords. It is in you,
you just have to do it.

Being locked into music in front of you... it is a crutch. Other than a specific arrangement with 18
players in a band.
You already know your material, you just don't know you do.

Early 80's (before I used SMF;s or arrangers), I relied on my music books.
Songs I performed a zillion times.
One day while working with a young lady (of course).. I forgot my music .. we were playing
at one of our regular jobs..
Guess what we didn't miss a beat, (I think it helped that my girl was "hot"). smile
From that day on I didn't need the books.. New songs I would learn at home.
(maybe take an index card with chords).

I hope I have said something to challenge you , or at least have a better understanding.

Both a trained mind and a "good" ear together is the ultimate... You still need to practice.

#474715 - 08/18/19 01:07 PM Re: formal training vs play it by ear [Re: Mark79100]
MacAllcock Online   content
Senior Member

Registered: 03/02/02
Posts: 1186
Loc: Preston, Lancashire, England
I've played by ear since i could reach the keys on a piano. I've had 15 years of classical training. I consider myself to be an ear player rather than a music reader, partly because i trust my ears more than a lot of the music you get for popular tunes.

Having said that I find Beethoven very therapeutic and I'm not playing that by ear....

To me learning scales, arpeggios and such means I can play tunes without having to think about the mechanics of what is actually happening with my hands. I'm not going telll anyone I enjoyed it much, but it is worth it.

I had to train my ears. I could not "hear" jazz type chords until I got an Elton John book which I agree is not particularly jazzy but does have lots of chords where the bass / left hand is not related to the right band in the way it is in more classical music. Once I'd cracked that it became clear that a lot of the transcriptions in the Elton book were wrong....

And I have to agree that you do have to practise!
John Allcock

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