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Todd C. brought up a very interesting point in another post that read and I think it might make good conversation on its own.

His point was that it's easier, faster and therefore closer to instant gratification to learn music and improvise with your eyes instead of the ears. However, the real fun and art is when you choose your music with your ears. It might take a little more time to get there(sometimes) but in order to find the real music, it's the only way. I'm sure everyone here probably agrees with that in theory but we've all traveled the other path on many an occasion; probably out of impatience. It's just another example of "slow and steady is eventually faster". I'm interested in hearing some new, basic and perhaps innovative approaches to this.


tonymiceli Thu, 01/13/2011 - 09:23

i didn't see tom's post. but ears are the way i think. the eyes are a short term solution for a long term goal! and they will leave you short. not that you can't use them, but the goal is to train your ears right? i think we are all better off taking to longer to get where we want to get to and working on hearing and getting our ears in some kind of shape.

Babu Sun, 01/16/2011 - 11:23

In reply to by tonymiceli

I agree. If you start to play another instrument (piano-horn, guitar-vibes...), you discover the second is easier to learn. At first you just have to assimilate the specific technique, you already have the music in you, you know the notes you have to play - you hear them.
After a while, your new instrument makes you hear new things, because of its different possibilities. And then your work is to assimilate this new amount of music. Reading can be nothing more than the first step to reach the final goal. Very good tool, but a tool. (Did i preach ? sorry if so...)

IndianaGlen Fri, 01/14/2011 - 13:07

I agree with JMP, there is no instant pudding to vibe playing excellence.

I used to work with a group of really smart cognitive psychologists. – Wow what a line… The general consensus (and oversimplification) is that we all look at the world (and learn) in a combination of three basic areas: Visual, Feeling, and audio (sound). Not many of us are only one, we are a combination but we all have our preferred sense. My guess is most of us on this site are heavy audio learners just by the fact we love and/or play music. But some people are more visual and they can learn that way as well, it’s not an either-or kind of thing as it can also help them on the audio (making better music). It’s interesting that vibes also is a more visual instrument than say trumpet since we have all those bars that we have to hit. The feel; The mallet grips how we hit the bars etc.

This is the BS that books are made of, but bottom line, different learning techniques work for different people. The best teachers either by instinct or by training learn to recognize their student’s preferred sense. What makes one person an excellent player may not necessarily make another one better. There’s a vibe player I know and I admire his work immensely. He says “sometimes the Bars ‘Light up’ as I am playing in different patterns during a gig.

For example I used to think all this music stuff, especially performance, is about the ears only. I don’t give a rat’s --- what the person is wearing or what my eyes “say” just as long as I like the music. Many of the people who make a good living performing realize that for listeners, looking a certain way, or behaving in a certain way can distract from the music.

OK one more thing that I think is kind of cool. Often by language you can get a hint of what preferred sense a person has. If say “I can see your point” or something of the like, they may be visual. If they say “I hear you”, then audio. If they say “I feel you”, then either you are going through airport security or they tend to be tactile (feeling) learners. Have you ever played an awesome solo or gig and someone after said something like “Wow you sure made a funny face”. That may be someone who is visual where it 'blocked' his ears.

To me an innovative approach is one that takes all three learning modes into consideration, centers on the prefered sense, and ultimetly makes it out as good music.

Yeah all this coming from a guy who is more of a vibe dreamer than a vibe player right now, give me a year or so and we'll see if I'm full of it... :)

tonymiceli Fri, 01/14/2011 - 13:29

In reply to by IndianaGlen

that's a funny and great line. i think it's a line to take 'inventory' with!

i get it about the visual part. and the instrument IS visual and learning for some is visual. teaching someone to play the instrument can easily incorporate the visual side of things, right? a lot of what we teach is improv and that gets tricky. i try as hard as i can to avoid teaching visually when teaching improv, mainly because there are many many visual ways already out there.

for the improv part of vibes it just comes down to this, i think. someone plays something and you have to know what that thing is and respond to it. ultimately it's not visual unless you're looking at the other persons hands. either you're accompanying them or playing a solo on their accompaniment. when you're there it's not visual. so i try and avoid teaching that in a visual way although i have some things that i do do that are visual.

when i check out the 'cats' and hear there stories, many times the visual side of things never comes up. they sat at the piano and banged out chords (maybe visual?), they transcribed solos (maybe visual, most of the time not) and they memorized tunes. great players rarely read tunes out of the real book, they know them. they've heard them, they know all the variations and the lineage. i don't think much of this is visual. maybe i'm wrong?

i guess it's also up to you to know how you learn and to pursue music in that fashion. it's your path. if you think it's to be visual, and you believe strongly in that then go for it. or whatever mixture of the visual/audio thing you think makes up you.

in the end you'll play and say what you have to say made up with what you've learned and worked out on the instrument, right?

Piper Sat, 01/15/2011 - 08:01

Very interesting replies! I think I didn't state my point well though. What I'm talking about is similar to when we first start to learn to play... (very beginner level). We memorize visually on the keyboard because our ears are not developed yet. Remember back when you learned the sequence of that first melody? You learned that this note follows this one and so on. As time goes by, (hopefully) as we grow and tackle more difficult aspects of music such as improvisation, we (should) develop our ears to take over... or not. It's the "or not" part that I'm addressing. The impatience and desire to reach our short term goal often times gets in the way of meticulous advancement toward our long term objective - our own music. Schools and colleges have designed entire courses and degrees around “short cuts” to music; theory, arranging, harmony and many other "intellectual" studies are all initially created by ears and sounds. Then, someone studied it and found similarities between things that worked and things that didn't and designed music theory around that. The science of hearing, listening, and analyzing music falls under the “visual intellect” column. They are excellent tools to use in a correct balance of "playing by ear" but each can overstep their degree of importance and overshadow the “playing by ear” that we all must conquer in order to become artists.

I see many people (especially college students) leaning on scales (visually), patterns and other visual methods at the expense of "playing by ear" in an attempt to speed up their process. In actuality, if not very careful, this concept slows down the real progress of becoming an artist to the point that it could eventually block the path to artistry entirely.

I’m toying with a concept of practicing by ear starting by singing a simple melody and “blindly” creating a harmony to it (like bobby mcfarren). As I get better at it, I try to explore more “outside” harmony notes and taking it further and more creatively to different places by ear. Then taking it to the vibes and playing it that way. Never choosing a key but finding the key I’m singing it in. It’s pretty cool and it is helping me to eliminate the past habit of relying on intellect too much.
Does any of this make since?

Babu Sun, 01/16/2011 - 11:00

In reply to by Piper

That would be interesting to know the feelings of a blind musician about that all. Did they feel frustrated not to be able to read music ? Or maybe they feel more freedom playing music without notation, do they think theyre career was slowed down because they can't read music ?
Is it interwiews of Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder on that topic avalaible ?

IndianaGlen Sat, 01/15/2011 - 11:32

We all may agree more than my posting implies. JMP, well put regarding the scales against the chord symbols. Blowing or playing up and down the ‘correct’ scale often times ain’t music. I am sure Tony agrees with that as well. It does seem like current day main streem jazz education programs don't put an emphasis on ears and commincating musically, which to me is the foundation and fun of jazz.

My point was more that we tend to sit in one camp and we can limit ourselves if we don’t use all the tools at hand or one to the exclusion of another. There’s a distinction with learning how a tool works and the application of making something, or learning new words and then using them well in conversation.

I am the most moved when Jazz is a conversation and a song, and that is an ear centric thing. One must also get the vocabulary in his/her head somehow and that differs from person to person. There are no short cuts, but there’s nothing wrong with knowing a formula or a short-cut as long as considered a spice rather than the whole meal.

I wonder if Milt would have been impressed if someone came up to him after a concert and said, “wow I loved how you moved to the D dorian scale off of the Gsus in the previous bar of your last tune in the set, do you always do that?”

tonymiceli Sat, 01/15/2011 - 11:36

In reply to by IndianaGlen

i had a VERY VERY VERY great musician come in and do my improv class. we were doing modes, i asked him to talk about modes. he didn't REALLY even know what they were. he knew a couple but that was it. and this guy is one of the heaviest cats around.

soooo.......I wonder what Milt knew and didn't know.... and it really doesn't matter, huh?

Piper Sun, 01/16/2011 - 09:52

In reply to by tonymiceli

My post wasn't an attempt to preach something that we all know to be true already. I'm just looking for new insights and ideas (outside the box) that other's may have thought up to reach this objective in practice and performance. People like Milt, Bill Evans, Bach and many others just support our point about music originating from inspired creations of the ears. However, then their innovative creations are studied and analyzed by "music scientists" and turned into methods for study to try and teach others to be able to use the information. Colleges base entire programs and degrees around the study of music theory extracted from the creations of the great composers and improvisers.

I believe that music and all things could have progressed in different directions in their paths of evolution if a different "way" would have caught on and I often try to imagine what some of those optional evolutionary ways might have been.

One of the curiosities is; what if instead of the evolution of scales being taught on paper or by visualizing them on a keyboard, music was taught predominantly by the teacher humming the first three notes of a melody and the student humming it back and then finding it on their instrument. (I realize that some teachers do this but it is not the norm.) Continue that until the student knows the piece. Then, exploring from there some of the similarities between melodies (by ear). What if notes only had "sounds" and no letter, number or other human-spawned identity was given to them? The teacher would have to say, this note and then hum it or play it. On paper, the notes on the staff, representing the sounds by composers would have to be played or sung or they could not be identified on music's terms. Could the addition of adding letters and identifying music on a human term have actually slowed the evolution due to the "Pop culture's" influence to try and speed it up?

These are just the type of silly things that my pea brain is always questioning. I hope I didn't sound like I was preaching "you have to use your ears" because this implies that I believe that someone thinks otherwise. We all know that for the most part, we have to play by ear. I just think the balance is tipped to the side of intellectualizing and viewing patterns on the keyboard more than it is helpful at times. In fact, I think in my case, it hindered my progression and now I'm trying to back track and dump a bunch of it so I can find music. Sometimes I don't write what I'm trying to actually say very well either so please forgive me if I sounded like I was preaching.

angelo (not verified) Sat, 01/15/2011 - 12:25

John, I like your thinking! As I compose new original tunes for the patrons of the restaurant that I play in, I will start jotting down some notes and place them on the staff in accordance with rules. But then, after a few measures, I will always go back and play the notes/chords, that I had written. Well, my "Ear" says, "Angelo, you are on track, keep going" or the message is, "Angelo, you are 'off base'. No matter what the book says, there is always and 'outsider' subject, listening and looking in, like your "Ear".

I am going to tell you a story that will explain the power of the "Ear" over "Vision".

No matter where I am playing a gig, youngsters always hang around an watch my maneuvering on the vibes, so I invite them up to play a few notes. A couple of years ago, at the restaurant, a family came in with two boys, ages 7 and 14, plus a girl of 12 years. I should them how to play the scale and the 7 year old didn't show anything bright. The 14 year old, didn't care much, but, the 12 year old girl, played the scale perfectly so I said to her, "Great, now I want you to go in this direction............". The father yelled out, Angelo, you cannot say that to her!". I was astounded when he said, " because she is blind!".

I will say no more!


toddc Sun, 01/16/2011 - 01:30

Lets look at this in a way that might be unusual but possibly insightful.

If we look at ourselves as a system and even more specifically a music production system, we can approach this from a constraints management perspective.

In the Theory of Constraints there are a small number of basic assumptions regarding systems.

1. Every system is made of interdependent entities.
2. Most systems have no more than one constraint. (At any given time)
3. Exploiting the constraint will improve the whole system.
4. Exploiting anything but the constraint causes sub-optimization. (waste)

By "exploit" I mean to remove the constraint.

The analogy is a chain with several links(entities). To improve the chains ability to hold weight(performance) you must increase the strength(skill)of the weakest link. Improving any other link does nothing for the output(desired results/goal) of the chain and is a waste of resources.

Now consider that as a musician (the chain) you are told to use every tool possible to improve your skill(desired result). You are told you can start anywhere and still get to where you want to go.

I think under scrutiny this will not hold to be true. There are so many hidden false assumptions in this notion that we can't even approach the problem from that perspective.

If your goal is to be able to hear what you're going to play; any action taken that does not remove the constraint, keeping you from reaching that goal, is a waste of time.

I'll stop here for now and see if people are interested in this approach or not.


toddc Sun, 01/16/2011 - 15:27

In reply to by DrBobM55

I can't tell you what the constraint is for your system.
But I can point you in the right direction.

Here are some "possible" false assumptions.
In order to play by ear:
1. I have to know the scales.
2. I have to know theory.
3. I need a high level of technique.
4. I must be able to hear all the notes in complex chords
5. I have to know all the standards.
6. I need to be able to hear each bar on the vibraphone and know how it sounds.
7. I need to be able to identify any four notes played in series.

By identifying false assumptions, you can determine the constraint.
You can find false assumptions from the other direction by listing what is undesired.
You put your undesired list through a regimen of legitimate reservations.
(If you're really interested in this we can do it offline. It's a lot for a forum post)

Important is to clearly state the goal. A single declarative statement is best.
In a for profit business the goal is usually:
To make more money now and in the future.

In a not for profit business it might be:
To globally save lives now and in the future.

Many people know what the constraint is intuitively.
They just seem to ignore it or complicate it beyond recognition.

Hope that helps?

Piper Sun, 01/16/2011 - 15:39

In reply to by toddc

Very cool. Excellent information. Yes, I think one of the most important things that make some musicians great is their intuitive ability to do this without thinking about it. Also, sometimes, it's the best students who suffer the most from this because they are trying to do everything "correctly" and when the book says to do "this", they do it.... and sometimes they do it to a fault.

toddc Sun, 01/16/2011 - 16:23

In reply to by Piper

Yes John,
And what kills me is few people take the time to be clear about their goal and identifying their constraint. Myself included.

So we waste years working on stuff that may have just come naturally had we focused on the constraint.

It would be awesome to be able to change this.
There are three knowledge domains used in the business world that could help do that:

1. TRIZ - creative solutions
2. Theory of Constraints - process of ongoing improvement
3. System Dynamics - predictive modeling of behavioral impact over longer time periods


Piper Sun, 01/16/2011 - 10:18

In reply to by toddc

I get it. Sure, take your weak areas, isolate them and work on them until they are your strengths. Then take the next weak area and continue this and your playing will continue to get better and better. Is that oversimplified version of what you're saying?

There's something else in your reply here that caught my attention and is most important to me because it's exactly my point and why I'm backing up and starting all over on a lot of my playing.

You said, "If your goal is to be able to hear what you're going to play"....

Well, that's easy to do and will come no matter what - especially if you play the same licks, patterns, and cliché's with the same approach to every song over and over. The real goal is to turn that around and create something first in your head and then put it on the instrument - almost simultaneously. That might be what you meant but what you said is exactly what most of us do and we don't know it.
We practice until we know what we're going to do and we can "hear it before we play it" but did we create it before we heard it specifically for that moment and song or was it something that we knew was going to happen because that's what our vocabulary through theory and harmony will allow? There's a difference and though it's only a millisecond of time involved, it's a huge difference in concept and artistry.

Consider this: Take a simple melody like Amazing Grace (single line) and sing it. Then embellish it (still singing) and try to embellish it more and more each time singing. Do it for days, weeks or months always looking for other notes to embellish it and express a different phrase all the while looking for new and different notes from the harmony you're creating as you go. Then, go to the instrument and try to do the same. Play the melody and then find those notes that you found in your search for music when you were singing. Don't begin with a pre-plan for the harmony - just the melody. It's hard (for me ) but it's changing the way I look at improvisation and helping me to get rid of the old habit of "hearing what I'm about to play" and actually expressing the music of that melody and at that moment in time. Does any of that make sense to anyone other than me?

toddc Sun, 01/16/2011 - 14:54

In reply to by Piper

I get it. Sure, take your weak areas, isolate them and work on them until they are your strengths. Then take the next weak area and continue this and your playing will continue to get better and better. Is that oversimplified version of what you're saying?

I'm not sure if over simplification is right but the point is missed.
Identifying the constraint is key. Not the "weak areas" but the constraint.
There will in most cases be only be one! That's a key point to fast progress.
Identifying the constraint to reaching the goal of the system.

That might be what you meant but what you said is exactly what most of us do and we don't know it.

You're right. I didn't say it well. Thanks for the clarification.


IndianaGlen Thu, 01/20/2011 - 19:28

I can't help but slip this in. A deep topic, really interesting viewpoints, passionate and respectful, nobody getting upset or ranting. This place is amazing!