Does age play into playing by ear?

Discussion in 'Trumpet Discussion' started by eisprl, Apr 30, 2006.

  1. eisprl

    eisprl Mezzo Piano User

    Sep 26, 2004
    Halifax, NS CANADA
    Hey everyone.

    I have been playing for about 12 years now and I just graduated my degree in music. I am 23 years old (some would still call that young but I am very serious about making a career out of my playing).

    My question is this:
    I LOVE jazz. I got the feeling down and the style. However my improvising is a little weak. But staying away from 'jazz' in general, I was wondering if age played a role in playing by ear. Is playing by ear something I should have been doing at a younger trumpet age? If I were to attempt it now would I have more difficulty? I know that there would need to be some practice involved like anything. But could I get it eventually? I have a good ear and I can normally figure some easier stuff out when I listen to it and play it back a couple times. But when it comes to complex jazz licks, should I be able to comrehend them at some point or am I too old? (again some would say that 23 is young but I have been playing for 12 years and am very close to getting a profesisonal job).

    Thanks and I look forward to your input and anecdotes :-)

  2. Manny Laureano

    Manny Laureano Utimate User

    Sep 29, 2004
    I believe music is just like language and the earlier you learn to speak a language the more a part of your ability to communicate it becomes. I started improvising in jazz late in high school and have never really been any good at it when you compare it to real jazz musicians. I listened to expressive, classical transriptions of all types and that's what I do best, interpret classical styles from vocal to orchestral.

    I believe you can learn to do what you want, Eric, but it'll take a lot of effort and expanding your innate ability to hear before you play. There isn't a lick I play at work that I don't "pre-hear". The best jazz players hear each and every note they play in melodic improvising (as opposed to the occasional super technical stuff that goes by in a blur. There, I think they hear the basic shape and outline before they play).

  3. beartrumpet74

    beartrumpet74 Pianissimo User

    Jan 17, 2006
    Mr. Laureano makes several great points.
    As a jazz player, I have seen and I am sure will continue to see, improvment on "natural" hearing ability in players from all walks of life and all ages. That's why they call it Ear Training. My suggestion.....

    1. Sing every day. Sing all major and minor scales. in Jazz we only use the ascending form of melodic minor, so just concentrate on that and the Dorian scale spelled this way...12b3456b7.... Sing these scales in more than one key!!!! this I can't stress enough.
    2. Sing along with's not enough to listen...I can't stress that enough either!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! sing licks and check yourself at the piano for accuracy.
    3. Buy Harry Pickens book called ear training for the jazz musician. Aebersold carries it and it only costs $1.50 Really! I'm not joking, it's that cheap. I play lots with Harry and his suggestions are the best I've come across.

    When you can sing will hear..... then you can play
    Disclaimer... all of this is meaningless if you have no idea about chords and scales and transcribed solos. It is best to strive for a wholistic approach. A little bit of everything everyday.
    As far as Mr. Laureno's comment about fast jazz licks... He's right one the money, with the exception of a VERY FEW people like Coltrane for example, most of us hear shape and contour in overly fast lines... One guys who hears EVERY note regardless is Tom Harrell... check his stuff out... hands down my favorite player in any genre ever! If you can sing some of his solos.... you will be golden!!!!
    Best wishes
    Matt Lawson
  4. NickD

    NickD Forte User

    Some good points and some disagreements..

    Some fine points already made, but I must disagree on one.

    I absolutely do not buy into the age thing - the old "you can't teach an old dog new tricks," etc.

    EXPERIENCE is a different point. One can begin amassing that any time.

    I have heard young players do amazing things. I have heard more seasoned indaviduals begin new chapters in their lives and achieve brilliantly.

    Frankly, I just see and hear performers.

    I want want to learn how to play jazz, just do it! Forget about how old you are.

    Just my humble opinion.


  5. the8thchef

    the8thchef New Friend

    Sep 4, 2005
    don't let anyone fool you. it doesn't matter how long you've been listening to jazz, if you have any listenable ability on the horn, and if you are of perceptive and intelligent mind, and you are capable of expressing that intelligence in your own voice in a variety of methods and forums, then you can improvise in jazz. if you can enter a spoken conversation with anyone on any topic and be understood (even if not agreed with), and you are able to play the machinery, then you can improvise in jazz.

    even with the keenest of planning, each step in life is improvised. life is improvisation. jazz is improvisation. jazz is life. miles listened to mostly classical at home, and then rarely practiced his horn alone; his constant growth and excellence in jazz comes from the fact that he lived jazz. not the way young people "live" hiphop. the essential energy that gives jazz music life, noticable in trane and diz and brownie and dolphy, and epitomized in bird; this energy was carried throughout all actions in miles's life. jazz is less about music than it is about everything else.

    jazz is less about music than it is about everything else. so, if you listen to pop all day, everyday; even if all you listen to is souza marches; but you are aware of the world around you, and are capable of expressing your mind and heart through whatever means (speaking, painting, jumping up and down), and-of course-you are able to play your instrument, then you can improvise and play this thing we call jazz. all the theory and scales dont mean much compared to life and living, and an intelligent perceptive mind/spirit.
  6. Deecy

    Deecy Pianissimo User

    Aug 8, 2005
    I learned how successful jazz players approach soloing from my brother, (and from Lee Konitz but that's another story) who, after playing a stunning version of "Round Midnight" (he plays piano), told me he'd been working on it "for about three years".
    I know that's true from my own experience. "Spontaneous improvisation" is anything but spontaneous. We work out the changes, add, subtract, like what we've done, hate it and alter it, discover beauty, realize it's corn, re-discover it elsewhere, refine, simplify, eliminate chaff, and in the end, hope that we've stumbled on the heart of the tune. And in the process, truth.
    And - it does not matter how old you are when you start. That's complete bull. You can be 70 and finally come to it, or with luck, discover it when your 20. And in the end, what's the difference? Isn't it worth it in either extreme?
    If you don't believe what I've said here, just listen to 2 versions of a tune by any good jazz artist (Miles, Coltrane, De Franco, Konitz, etc.) recorded years apart. Jazz by professionals is not about going out on a limb night after night - it's about applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair day after day and working out tunes one by one.

  7. trpt2345

    trpt2345 Mezzo Forte User

    May 21, 2006
    Morelia, Mexico
    It's basically a process of ear training. Sight singing is really good too. I'm from the Lenny Tristano school sort of (via Lee Konitz and Marc Copland) where the goal is to build up a circuit between the ears and fingers so that whatever one hears one plays without having to cogitate on the whole process. This comes from learning solos by ear first, scat singing them. Then and only then playing them on your instrument. Then and only then writing them down. YOU CAN'T LEARN SOLOS FROM BOOKS OF TRANSCRIPTIONS. YOU HAVE TO DO THE TRANSCRIPTIONS YOURSELF! If you learn solos by ear you will never forget them. If you learn solos by eye you will never remember them.

    Michael McLaughlin

    "For my part, I travel not to go anywherebut to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move." Robert Louis Stevenson
  8. Vulgano Brother

    Vulgano Brother Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 23, 2006
    Parts Unknown
    The difficulty we have learning a new language at an older age is not so much one of theory (grammer, vocabulary) but our ability to hear and pronounce the sounds. (Germans love it when Americans try to say Streichholzschachtel.) Those first attempts at vocalization babies make contain every sound needed for every language (my kids even buzzed) but we "forget" those that are unused as we get older, and the older we get, the more we lose.

    Being a classical trumpet player already, it is the grammer and vocabulary of jazz that we must learn, and getting fluent, having that stuff hard-wired in our brains can be about a two year process. (And even when we are fluent we still need to find something worth saying!)

    Bottom line: it is possible if you are excited enough to "work" at it. Have fun!
  9. Billy B

    Billy B Pianissimo User

    Nov 5, 2004
    Des Moines, IA
    How did you get a degree in music without being able to play by ear?
  10. Deecy

    Deecy Pianissimo User

    Aug 8, 2005
    "How did you get a degree in music without being able to play by ear?"

    You'd be surprised at all the working orchestral musicians who couldn't play a syncopated improvisation if their lives depended on it.

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