Play Without Written Music- Part 3

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Let’s jump right into it! If you want to cover the first two parts of this post, just use the buttons below. They cover important steps that are essential for your success.

Play Without Written Music: Part 1

Learn about the skill you use every day that will help you learn music by ear!

Play Without Written Music: Part 2

Get started with the first three steps of learning how to play by ear!

Copy (Step 3)

Last week we ended with Step 3. There’s more to share about copying and we’ll refer to the 5 points mentioned last week. We’ll start with the first one: Learning the Notes.

When starting, this can be the most difficult part. It can be intimidating to learn every note just by using your ear. But it can be a lot of fun too! Remember, the ear will improve, so over time it will become easier and easier to learn by ear. Don’t give up and be consistent. Here are some tips to help:

Tip 1: Start with a few notes at a time.

When starting a song, just learn the first 2-3 notes to get started. Once you have the first 3 notes, then add the 4th note. Once you have the 4th note, then add the 5th note. Follow this process and take “small bites”, and soon you’ll have the first line/phrase of the song. If you try to do too much, it can become confusing and discouraging.

Tip 2: Pause on the first note

Having trouble with the first few notes? No worries, this is completely normal. Here’s how you can get things going.

As soon as the first note sounds, push pause on your device. If you can do this, the last sound you’ll hear will be the note you want to play (this removes all the sounds you’re not focusing on). So instead of confusing your ear with multiple notes, just stop your device on the first one (or your goal note), and the note will be much easier to find.

Tip 3: Sing or use the piano

Once you hear the note from tip 2, then go ahead and sing the note. It’s much easier to find the note on your saxophone when you are able to sing it. It saves you from having to discover the note all over again if you forget the pitch. Forgetting the pitch happens often, so singing will save you time, frustration, and it will speed up the process.

Not good at singing? You can also use a piano. For some reason, it’s easier to find the right note on the piano than it is on the saxophone. When you find it on the piano, you also have the benefit of visually seeing it. If your ear forgets the pitch, you won’t need to go back to the recording because you can see where it is on piano.

Don’t have a piano? Just use one of the many free keyboards online.

Tip 4: YouTube

Is it still too difficult to tell what the note is? YouTube is here to help! Most likely the song you want to learn is on YouTube. As you may know, YouTube added a new feature to their video player: a slowdown function. The great thing is that when you slow down the music, the pitch does not change. However, if you slow it down too much, the sound distorts. There are instructions attached to the image below.

First, click on the settings icon outlined in yellow. Next, click on the word “speed” (outlined in green) to display speed options (not shown in this image). Note: this is just an image. You’ll find these settings on the song of your choice on the YouTube website.

Tip 5: Skip It

If you’ve already tried the tips above, and you’re still having issues with a specific part of the song, just skip it. You can always come back later, and by then, your ear will be even better at picking out notes. This means that finding the correct notes will be easier to do. No need to stress or become frustrated. Just have fun and skip the measures that drive you crazy (and come back later).

Tip 6: Quit

When I say quit, what I really mean is take a break. This exercise will probably wear out your brain in a short amount of time. If more harm is being done than good, take a break. Even if you’re really motivated to push forward, we sometimes need a break. Luckily, our brain recovers quickly and a 5-10 minutes break will do. You may not even need to stop practicing if you prefer not to. Just focus on another part of your playing and then come back to the song later.

Next Step

If you have any questions about these steps, please feel free to ask in the comment section at the bottom of this page. If you have any tricks or tips that have helped you, please share those too!

As you learn to play without written music (learning by ear) you will receive many benefits. Your ears will become fine-tuned, your skill level will improve, your tone will improve, and you’ll learn to play in different styles. You don’t need to do everything in one day, either. Just be consistent and you’ll obtain these benefits.

Next week we’ll discuss retaining the songs you’ve learned. This will help build your library of songs allowing you to play a fun song anytime you want. This builds confidence for the times when someone makes a request. You’ll love it, and they will too!

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