Listening and learning by ear, alto

How and what to teach and learn.
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timothy42b
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Listening and learning by ear, alto

Post by timothy42b » Thu Jun 14, 2018 10:19 am

I had a thought this morning, and then saw that listening and learning thread. This is totally thinking out loud, sorry.

Playing by ear. I spend a little time on it, because it's a skill I don't do well, and that's always an opportunity. Actually I thought it was just impossible for me, but it turns out I'm making some progress. If I can play something by ear, that's far more reliable than memorizing it (even though they must be related.)

Learning alto. Same thing, I don't need it nor have an opportunity to use, but I like the challenge, so I do just a little bit of it.

Combining the two forces me to really think the interval and the note I want to play, because nothing is reflexive on the alto. So when I'm going through a series of key signatures on a simple tune, thinking what note I'm on and what note I'm going to, where in the scale I'm at for that key, it's different on the alto. I can't cheat.

But people who learn to play by ear, without doing notation and theory first, don't have access to that (overly intellectual) process.

So here's what I'm wondering. Suppose I'd picked up alto and tried playing tunes copying a recording, without any attempt at all to know what note I was on. Just move the slide till I found the pitch. Learn it like people who've never seen sheet music would. Would that kind of immersion approach result in faster more solid learning?
AndrewMeronek
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Re: Listening and learning by ear, alto

Post by AndrewMeronek » Thu Jun 14, 2018 1:07 pm

It probably depends on what your goals are. If one of the goals is to get more physical and aural comfort with the alto, then yes.

I'm also thinking in terms of sight-reading, that when I sight-read, I don't really think to myself note names any more; I kind of "pre-sing" the phrase as I read it, which is more about translating the symbols directly to sound and not adding extra steps in-between like mapping symbols to note names, note names to the alto, then alto slide positions. All of the tools we can use to correct mistakes (like inspecting lines for note names/weird intervals/etc.) will come later anyway.
“All musicians are subconsciously mathematicians.”

- Thelonious Monk
brtnats
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Re: Listening and learning by ear, alto

Post by brtnats » Thu Jun 14, 2018 2:09 pm

I encountered this question a lot when I was teaching early music in graduate school. I noticed that both me and my students who learned their secondary instruments by ear were much more facile on those instruments when they improvised. It’s not unlike the prevailing advice I got when I wanted to learn various jazz idioms: transcribe them. I didn’t think writing them was the answer, but instead thought learning to play them by ear would accelerate the process of me being able to integrate improvisation with my existing technique.

In short, it works really really well. Playing by ear makes your intonation better, frees you from visual paralysis, and helps you connect what you hear in your head with what your hands/arms/lips are doing. Specifically with alto? You’ll need to spend some time learning how to play notated music on alto in all 4 clefs. But the basic production and intonation and facility you’ll gain through playing by ear is priceless, and it will accelerate all the other processes. Let us know how it goes!

Matt
timothy42b
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Re: Listening and learning by ear, alto

Post by timothy42b » Fri Jun 15, 2018 6:01 am

brtnats wrote:
Thu Jun 14, 2018 2:09 pm

In short, it works really really well. Playing by ear makes your intonation better, frees you from visual paralysis, and helps you connect what you hear in your head with what your hands/arms/lips are doing.

Matt
Yes but. What I'm getting at is partly the mental process. I suspect mine is overly intellectual.

If I sing a common tune, like danny boy, I can start on any pitch. I don't care what the notes are. That's the kind of reflexive execution that I suspect the people who learned an instrument by ear have - could be wrong. (and I guess for people with perfect pitch it doesn't apply) But I don't have it at all. I have to think: I'm in D, so start on sol, that would be A, make sure I remember C#, etc.

So the question maybe is once having started as a sheet music reader, and having done that 50 years or so, is it useful to attempt learning a new instrument solely by ear?
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BGuttman
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Re: Listening and learning by ear, alto

Post by BGuttman » Fri Jun 15, 2018 7:08 am

Learning "by ear" involves learning the intervals that different partials and slide positions do relative to each other. I think you may do better than you think. Result: if you anchor one or two notes on the instrument you may find reading alto clef on the thing is easy.
Bruce Guttman
Merrimack Valley Philharmonic Orchestra
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Arrowhead
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Re: Listening and learning by ear, alto

Post by Arrowhead » Sat Jun 16, 2018 11:45 am

Random thought, if you'e trying to play Alto Trombone by ear, and interested in transcribing jazz, you could transcribe solos by Alto Sax players, instead of just Tenor Bone players. The pitch register should work out quite well :wink:
Namibiantrombone
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Re: Listening and learning by ear, alto

Post by Namibiantrombone » Tue Jun 19, 2018 2:37 am

I'm also a beginner and include playing by ear in every practice session. If I know the song or can sing in my head I can simply use my bone to export the pitches I anticipate. While being mindful of the scale positions, which comes naturally. However at one point I was using songs to recall pitch, but I found that to be challenging though I use that when sightreading songs to have the correct pitch before starting to play. I found that the middle c between the bass and treble clef are important for my playing by ear. Maybe because I play tenor, but I find that note to be sort of the base for upon which I build to higher or lower notes. What helps to improve my playing is to play along to different songs everytime (without sheet) while also testing out the instrument with improvisation. Guessing the interval for me is not so easy, but pitch and muscle memory helps.
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