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Ear V reading?

Eminent Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 41
Topic starter  

I see there are a number of posts about playing by ear, can anyone, either experienced player or moderator, comment on the advantages/disadvantages of playing by ear versus from music? I realise there will be different opinions but it would be good for me, and hopefully other players to see what the rest of the world thinks!

I have "played" on and off for many years, but only by ear, I can think of a tune I heard maybe 10 or 20 years ago whilst driving home in the car and then pretty much be able to play it when I get home. I can't play chords or read music, I bought a book called "rudiments of music" many years ago, but couldn't understand it, so threw it away and just played my own style. I think I would really like to learn to play properly, but reading music seems so boring and I don't have much time. Also I seem to have good days and bad days, sometimes I just can't play and then other days it just seems as fluent as talking. If it makes any sense I seem to play from my heart, not from my head, it's a bit like driving a car, you don't think when you are going to change gear or brake or turn, you just do it automatically, well I play the same, I don't often work out were the notes are or memorise them, I just seem to be able to play the tune. Just thinking about it, the negro guitarists in the deep south, amongst other people, presumably just played by ear, I assume they had a "musical gift"?

Does any of this make sense, or am I mad!

Gary UK

Noble Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 2198

Both are valuable skills that a complete musician will develop.

Different people have different strengths and weaknesses, and some will find one easier than the other.

It's not a matter of trade-offs between exclussive options. Reading is important as is a well developed ear.

"The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side." -- HST

Estimable Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 229

As kingpatzer said, both skills are valuable.

But, if I were given the choice of only developing one skill I would rather be able to play by ear.

Interestingly, some of the best complete musicans in the world are blind.....

I may grow old, but I'll never grow up.

Illustrious Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 6353

most of my life Ive learned songs by ear. either cold alone or listening to an album or CD and playing along.
lately, Ive been delving into cowboy music; historical stuff. I bought a Cowboy song FakeBook.
I am relearning* how to read so I can 'get' the melody down with a song I never heard.
it would be a good thing to know how to interpret a chord chart.

* I was taught how to read a long time ago and have forgoten and relearned many times. now I want it to stick.

Illustrious Member
Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 8306

well, most classical music and a lot of stuff with multiple lines is written down, so you can learn that way. playing by ear is good because it helps you learn on a more instinctual level, and your music will be more natural. i guess with the car analogy, reading is like a map. you can get around your hometown without a map, but you wouldn't want to drive to alberquerque. or something. i'm mostly talking out of my arse.

Member Moderator
Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 5366

I've never actually managed to work a classical piece by ear, I've always headed straight to the shop to buy the score.

Solos from classic metal anthems? No problemo. Who needs the sheet music.

I don't know why it's this way. I'm just a humble lawyer who'd like to give it all up and play guitar


A :-)

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