Theory Player vs Ear Player

Discussion in 'The Sound Hound Lounge' started by Dr. Tinnitus, Oct 18, 2019.

  1. Dr. Tinnitus

    Dr. Tinnitus Member

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    I've always been an ear player. I knew I had a musical ear when I was young and maybe I relied on it too much. When I've worked with a few people on theory based guitar, they questioned if I should move to theory.

    Anyway, it seems that the two sometimes are at odds with each other. I've given up on theory, simply because I want to feel free and let my ear dictate my playing. I probably know more theory than I can describe, so maybe either approach just ends up going to the same place. But at least with theory you can describe it and apply it immediately with other players.

    Okay, I'll shut up now. Good night...
     
  2. 27sauce

    27sauce Member

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    Like you said, you know more than you can understand/verbalize. That is, unless you are playing totally outside of conventional western or otherwise norms/tonality.

    I don’t know how understanding more, or learning the language would hinder your instinct/creativity. I’m not sure how it would have anything but a positive impact on your playing?

    You can still play by ear and know what you’re doing. You don’t lose one skill to gain the other.
     
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  3. amstrtatnut

    amstrtatnut Member

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    I learned theory early on and am more concerned with being an ear player.

    Its handy for sure. Not a bunch of guess work on what works and all.
     
  4. Wyatt Martin

    Wyatt Martin Member

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    I'm primarily an ear player but I got that way through the help of theory.

    For what I do and through the familiarity of my choice of music along with the familiarity of my band members it's all ear.

    When working with others and their music I'm not familiar with then I apply theory primarily. My theory is not as quick to come to me and my playing generally becomes safe until I do become familiar with the people and their music.
     
  5. Steve1216

    Steve1216 Supporting Member

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    I’ve been an ear player most of my life. Been concentrating on theory for the last few year. What little I know has increased my ability, for sure. Mainly, it informs you as to options you didn’t know were available. Both in improvising and in writing. But I do still think the ear is more important in the scheme of things. Equally, so is phrase training. Bending, sliding, vibrato and landing on proper notes and purposefully.
     
  6. Trebor Renkluaf

    Trebor Renkluaf I was hit by a parked car, what's your excuse? Silver Supporting Member

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    The ear came before the theory.
     
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  7. Losov

    Losov Member

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    I am self taught by ear. I employ both approaches, having learned theory over the years.

    Having worked with both types of players, I prefer to work with an ear player if given the choice.
     
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  8. russ6100

    russ6100 Member

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    It's 2019 and the tired false dichotomy of "theory vs ear" is still floating around?
     
  9. Laurence

    Laurence Silver Supporting Member

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    I really don't know what I am. I started with both, it's how I learned how to play guitar and play music. Listening, watching, learning and applying theory as I caught up with all of them. The theory portion makes it difficult to communicate with others who know nothing of it. I'm not a schooled player, more ear, but just enough to be dangerous.

    I'd like to understand what the "tired false dichotomy" is. I really would (no fooling).
     
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2019
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  10. twotone

    twotone Member

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    I learned by ear and I know a little bit about theory, but I cannot play by sight reading musical notation.
     
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  11. PaulHudgins

    PaulHudgins Member

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    They are not at all at odds with one another. They go hand in hand. Theory simply lays out the definition for the sound you are hearing. Players who know theory still play by ear, the difference is they can name what a sound is or tell you how to create a certain sound. The primary advantage of knowing theory mainly comes when communicating to other musicians in an ensemble. The other payoff to learning theory is discovering sounds that your mind or ear wouldn't have naturally gravitated towards.
     
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  12. PaulHudgins

    PaulHudgins Member

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    Knowing how to sight read doesn't mean you know theory. Plus it should be noted there is a difference from reading music and sight reading music. Sight reading means I throw a piece of music in front of you and you can instantly play it. Reading music means you can work your way through it and play it but not necessarily the second I hand it to you.
     
  13. teleman55

    teleman55 Member

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    Both. Theory illuminates the ear.
     
  14. wire-n-wood

    wire-n-wood Supporting Member

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    They are the same. Does anyone imagine that JS Bach didn't have an ear for music?

    *Standard* music theory is one way to map out the music we hear (one freakin' complex, asymmetrical, weirdly beautiful way). And likely, we've all got our own unique way which partly incorporates standard music theory to varying degrees.

    But theory DOES NOT limit your freedom. That is a complete misunderstanding. That's like saying a map limits where you can go. No it doesn't, it just helps you to understand where you are.
     
  15. wire-n-wood

    wire-n-wood Supporting Member

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    ^ this
     
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  16. joebloggs13

    joebloggs13 Member

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    :munch
     
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  17. tubedude

    tubedude Member

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    The more you know about music the better. I'm primarily an ear player, but theory has certainly helped me.
    If I was to give advice to a serious deticated kid starting out I would tell them to learn as much about music as they can. This would include staff, tab reading, theory ect. Writing charts on staff would be a great benefit in some situations.
    Honestly, at the club level I play at a good ear is invaluable, but theory is a great equalizer.
     
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  18. ivers

    ivers Member

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    Learning theory has never caused any problems for letting my ear dictate the playing. Not doing enough work with transcribing, and otherwise developing the ear has held me back at times, but I don't find that this lack of work correlates with lots of time and energy spent on theory books.

    It rather seems that I've had some of the most productive practice periods in my life when I've both read theory and done a lot of transcribing. I'd even argue that learning theory concepts and trying to internalize the sounds of different harmonic devices, scales, chords and modes has helped my ear developing.

    I'm probably mostly an ear player in reality now, because I base my playing on hearing stuff in my head before playing it, but I think still the theory informs where my ear wants to go, and it's always in the background processing somewhere.
     
  19. tubedude

    tubedude Member

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    Exactly. Theory is in a subconscious state while you perform. It just becomes a beacon of creativity.
    It's kinda like speech. It comes out without thinking about it.
     
  20. mcknigs

    mcknigs Supporting Member

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    Put me down as another believer that they're the same thing.
     

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