I wrote this post something like ten times. That’s because I thought it would have been an easy work, about something I know very well, and then I discover it wasn’t so simple and I was risking to give many things for granted. Even worse, I was concentrating mostly on common mistakes rather than giving correct advices about what you should do instead.
This topic means a lot to me, because through years I’ve met many people that couldn’t figure out why they weren’t making progress although they played every day. It was because they weren’t learning anything but only copying: they used to look for the song they wanted to learn on the internet and read tabs or watch video tutorials. But this approach is exactly like when you write notes on piano’s keys and push them in order but you have no idea what you’re actually doing.
That’s why, when students come to me for their first lesson, the first thing I say to them is to avoid these kind of stuff.
I mean, if you want to have some relax after work or school and play your favorite song on the bass there’s nothing wrong with that. But if your goal is to learn how to play a musical instrument, that could not be the right way.
So, if you ask me how you can learn a song, my answer will be: listen.
Listening is the most important skill for a musician. Unfortunately it’s often the most underrated too, because even if a good ear can be an innate quality, it’s a skill that needs to be trained anyway. If your ear is lazy even your playing will be, and it will always be hard for you to learn things that have not been prepared for you by someone else, like for example music for other instruments.
But what does it mean to learn a song by ear?
It means you have to listen to the song, pay attention to the bass line, listen to every note and look for them on your bass. That’s all. There are no secrets or special tricks.
If you never did it you better start with an easy song, with few instruments so you can clearly hear the bass. The best would be a song you know very well:it will be easier to recognise if you’re making mistakes.
The first time it’s gonna be hard if you’re not accustomed to it, but it’s important to not give up: every musician was in your shoes at the beginning, trust me.
Sometimes it can be really hard to identify each note, because of the mix or in case of complex bass lines. A trick could be to boost low frequencies on your speakers.
I remember when I was a teenager I used to push headphones into my ear to get a kind of subwoofer effect.
As you become more confident with your instrument you’ll learn to know which note you’re gonna play before you do it, and you’ll be able to play a song without listening note by note: that’s because intervals between notes sound the same no matter the tone. Once you get how a third minor interval sounds like you’ll hear it in any song, and that’s the same for every interval.
Thanks to this, once you’ve learnt a song, you can play it in the tone you prefer and it will sound exactly the same, that is convenient if you play with a singer who can’t sing in the original tone for any reason.
Remember there are different ways to play the same song and they depend, among others, by your instrument and your music taste. Explore your instrument and find how many ways there are to play the same note on it and how they differ in sound. In the download zone you can find two PDFs named Basic Scales that will help you in this:they contain all the main scales in two tones and with variations in fingering and position on the neck, so you can listen to the differences playing them yourself.
And be creative! If you can’t hear a note in the song you’re learning, try to imagine which one can be. Try to play it and listen if it sounds good or not.
Once you’re able to play by ear you can recognise if a song is well played or not, in case of videos, or if the fingering is good, in case of tabs, and you won’t risk to learn something by someone who doesn’t know what he’s doing.
This is because internet is not always a bad thing, there are many qualified musicians who share bass lessons and courses online, amazing means if you can’t take lessons in person for any reason, but there are also a lot of people who just play in front of a camera and you need to see the difference before to trust anyone of them, and the best way to do that is to use your ears.
To stay on the same topic this week I prepared for you some ear training exercises in the download zone.
It’s an audio file that contains some bass lines you have to listen to and try to play on your bass.
Let me know if you found it useful!
As usual I hope this short guide helps you a little bit to understand the bass world, if it does leave a feedback here in comments!
See you next week!