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    I am currently a student undertaking a grade 8 trinity examination for the saxophone which is due to occur in roughly 2 months time. I don't study music, I know little complex theory and have been brought up to sight-read (through these examinations) since i started the instrument.

    This is where my problem comes in - I can sight-read, but I can't play by ear. This makes things extremely hard for me because when I am with my band a friend of mine has to help me so I can play along with them. I'd like to get to a level where I can jam, play melodies in any key from simply listening to a song. I would also like to hone in on improvisation skills and begin to improve that.

    So my question is this: What is the best way for a beginner (not to saxophone but playing by ear) learn? Generally, what I have begun doing is simple tunes: Nursery Rhymes, some pop music etc. Is there anything else I need to be doing. Or is it more of trial and error? I have looked into intervals etc and from what my teacher tells me, she believes I can pick it up simply from attempting to have a go at songs I don't have sheet music for.
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    Learn your blues scales and pentatonics and what not, its just about recognising the intervals, you'd be surprised by how common some patterns are in music, especially pop.

    Initially, for me at least, there was a lot of trial and error until I got used to recognising intervals and the chord progressions going through. If its just improv the first thing I usually used to do was find out what key the song was in by trial and error (playing notes till one sounded good) and messing around in the blues scales.

    You're proficiency is much better than mine when I started improvisation so it shouldn't be too hard. One thing that may help is get the chord progressions for a bunch of sings you like and playing through them in a way you like. Another thing you could try is just when you're normally listening to music, try identify intervals in that, just on the bus or wherever, try listen deeper into music to see what exactly the instrumentalist is doing.

    Also if you've got some music theory knowledge do you know much about modes, they can be really fun for improvisation, if you think about it scales and modes are just a bunch of notes that sound good together so let your creativity run wild as long as you play the notes in that scale it'll sound good, and there are masses of different types of scale out there so have fun, feel free to shamelessly lift riffs and licks from other songs you've learnt into your improv, I mean if it sounds good alls well that ends well right?

    I know this is a bit long and I don't want to come off as if I think I'm some expert in the subject (I'm really not) but I hope I helped
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    (Original post by QuantumSnowy)
    Learn your blues scales and pentatonics and what not, its just about recognising the intervals, you'd be surprised by how common some patterns are in music, especially pop.

    Initially, for me at least, there was a lot of trial and error until I got used to recognising intervals and the chord progressions going through. If its just improv the first thing I usually used to do was find out what key the song was in by trial and error (playing notes till one sounded good) and messing around in the blues scales.

    You're proficiency is much better than mine when I started improvisation so it shouldn't be too hard. One thing that may help is get the chord progressions for a bunch of sings you like and playing through them in a way you like. Another thing you could try is just when you're normally listening to music, try identify intervals in that, just on the bus or wherever, try listen deeper into music to see what exactly the instrumentalist is doing.

    Also if you've got some music theory knowledge do you know much about modes, they can be really fun for improvisation, if you think about it scales and modes are just a bunch of notes that sound good together so let your creativity run wild as long as you play the notes in that scale it'll sound good, and there are masses of different types of scale out there so have fun, feel free to shamelessly lift riffs and licks from other songs you've learnt into your improv, I mean if it sounds good alls well that ends well right?

    I know this is a bit long and I don't want to come off as if I think I'm some expert in the subject (I'm really not) but I hope I helped
    Thank you for your detailed reply.

    Honestly, it means a lot to have someone offer some advice. My problem is I just haven't a clue where to start. Will I recognize the intervals just from trial and error? I probably even over-exaggerated my music theory knowledge in the OP, but I know the basics of music (such as what makes keys, sharps and flats in keys etc). I'm assuming playing by ear comes naturally the more you attempt to play songs without music. Also, are you at a level whereby you hear the song once or twice and get bang out the melody no mistake (if you're not it certainly isn't a problem, you're likely a lot better than me).? If so, how long did it take you to kind of tune your ear like that.

    With regard to hearing intervals in music. I can sing intervals. Sometimes I remind myself in my head the sound between a minor second and a minor third etc, but I don't think I am even at a level to try and identify the gaps in a song without at least singing ' la la la' to the tune.
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    I started playing drums about 2 years ago. The way I did it for playing by ear was just to listen to simple songs, as my technical skills improved, so did my ability to pick up on subtle parts of the song. Also make sure you revisit old songs that you think you've learnt, you'll find that as you improve, you pick up more from a song. My advice is just play something simple to start off, then progress to more technical songs. That's how I went about it with my drumming- hope that helps
 
 
 
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