Theory Player vs Ear Player

Dr. Tinnitus

Member
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2,680
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...
 

27sauce

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35,285
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.
 

Wyatt Martin

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2,121
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.
 

Steve1216

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1,161
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.
 

Losov

Member
Messages
538
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.
 

Laurence

Silver Supporting Member
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7,766
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.

It's 2019 and the tired false dichotomy of "theory vs ear" is still floating around?
I'd like to understand what the "tired false dichotomy" is. I really would (no fooling).
 
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PaulHudgins

Member
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496
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.
 

PaulHudgins

Member
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496
I learned by ear and I know a little bit about theory, but I cannot play by sight reading musical notation.
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.
 

wire-n-wood

Supporting Member
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4,293
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.
 

tubedude

Member
Messages
386
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.
 

ivers

Member
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3,867
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.
 




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