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How I Accidently Developed a Good Musical Ear and How You Can, Too

Playing bass by ear for me came as the result of simple adolescent ignorance. When I first started out on bass, I tried using books and using exercises from the Internet and in print. But for me, it seemed pretty boring and I wasn’t getting a lot out of it. Heck, I didn’t even really feel like I was learning bass – I felt like I was reading about how to get better at bass without actually getting better at bass. All the flash, but unfortunately no fire.

After putting the books down and instead turning on some Cream, or Phish, or Grateful Dead or even some of Joe Zawinul’s solo stuff (the video below was an early live piece he did that I always loved head section and Joe’s vocoder effect), without really knowing it at the time, I was actually putting myself through perhaps the greatest ear training course of all time: playing and listening. I distinctly remember eagerly waiting for school to let out so I could go home and play. I would have my iPod on the whole bus ride home and think to myself , “Oh! I gotta play to this! Oooh, I really love that part here” and going home and playing along and learning melodies that I really liked.

I did this for years and still do it. I didn’t use a book, there was no “ultimate guide” to ear training that I followed. I just played. A lot. And more importantly, I didn’t force myself to play. I wanted to play. Really, really bad. And learn those melodies because I absolutely loved the way they sounded.

For me playing a lot was the best guide to ear training. At first it was to other artist’s music with the mindset that I was being Jack Bruce, or I was filling the role of Phil Lesh in my mind, but as I got older (and had some money!) I purchased software that allowed me to make my own music to play with. To me, this is the way to develop an ear: love something and re-create it. Love something and play along to it.