Learning to Play By Ear : Advantages and Disadvantages
There is a school of thought of many bassists and guitarists that the best method to learn to play an instrument is by listening to music and learning to play by ear. Coincidently, these are often the same people that believe you shouldn’t learn music theory because it limits playing without understanding that music theory isn’t actually a set of rules about how to write and play music.
Learning to play by ear is a useful and important skill to learn, which is why it is almost always a pretty major part of even informal training. It is important to realize this is not an either or situation, where you either learn by ear or sit around reading books about music theory, which is why there are a variety of pros and cons of learning to play by ear.
Disadvantages of Learning to Play by Ear
Most of the disadvantages have to do with learning to play by ear without any type of bass guitar lessons dvd, book or instructor aren’t necessarily inherent to the technique. The simplest, most basic, and actually most devastating aspect of only learning to play by ear is that the skill is by definition imitation.
A bassist that learns to play by ear can get really good at technique and playing other people’s bass lines, but without the foundation of understanding music, when it comes to creating bass lines, those bassists generally get stuck and are forced to imitate the same bass lines and techniques they learned by ear, without being able to cross those techniques into trying new things.
Now a bassist that learns to imitate a wide variety of genres and techniques may develop enough of a range to be able to at least not sound like a carbon copy, bassists that focus on a narrow range of one particular band or even just a group of bassists in the same style, they are probably going to have trouble sounding different from any of those bassists. This won’t be true for every single bassist that learns by ears, but those that learn by ear and are still exceptionally original should be considered the exception not the rule.
Another flaw is simply that a beginner bassist with no ear training might simply learn songs by ear incorrectly, choose the wrong notes, bass scales, and techniques, but be under the delusion they are right and simply just waste a lot of time without learning to play anything properly, which may not even become an issue until they decide to audition for bands. In addition, playing all the correct notes in a particular fashion may not be the best way, but without understanding the instrument, it can be hard to spot some very inefficient and sometimes counterintuitive ways to play certain bass lines.
Advantages of Learning to Play by Ear
Most of the advantages of learning to play by ear are more pronounced for people with some understanding of the bass as an instrument and music theory, but even untrained bassists that only learn by ear do get some of the same benefits. The best example is simply that people can get ideas and techniques learning to play by ear, which can be used in often quite different ways.
Slap and pop bass guitar playing comes primarily from people listening to Sly and the Family Stone and imitating that technique, but then a lot of bassists took that technique and applied it outside of funk music, creating a whole, quite diverse style. It is the difference between musical influences and imitation, being able to take something from another bassist and use it in your own way, which really makes this a useful technique to have.