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Thread: Teaching Brass Players to Play By Ear

  1. #1

    Default Teaching Brass Players to Play By Ear

    Over the past few months, I've been listening to some modern worship songs to see if I can come up with arrangements to include brass instruments, mainly trumpet. So far, I'm working with Desert Song, Holding Nothing Back, Holy Are You God, Our God, and We Are the Free. I'm finding that any song can use brass elements when arranged appropriately. However, I'm forced to play by ear since our team plays a variety of styles and in different keys due to multiple WLs.

    My husband is working with me so I can learn to play by ear. Admittedly, this is TOUGH on trumpet (for me, at least)! So, I'm wondering how many brass players out there know of any good exercises to learn to play by ear. Thoughts?
    Melanie Siewert, Christ's Servant
    BLOG: http://www.worshipvanguard.blogspot.com

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Feb 2012
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    6

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    My primary instrument is trumpet, although I play guitar in p&w bands.

    I was a jazz performance major & in simplistic terms, a good starting block would be to know the key & the notes in the scale. I find that the melodies that are used frequently stick largely to scale tones and do not employ many passing tones or non-scale tones. If you know the scale tones, you're in the ballpark.

    Aside from that, in my experience, playing by ear on trumpet just comes from lots & lots of playing trumpet and lots & lots of familiarity.

    Piano or guitar have easily observable scales and patterns, which can act as a guide to playing by ear. You hear a minor second interval, simply move your finger a minor second. You're right every time.

    Conversely the trumpet has no readily observable patterns to the valve combinations. Hear a minor second and the next valve combination could be anything! When I play by ear, my fingers simply have been conditioned over time to instinctively know what valve combination to press to reproduce the sound that I hear in my head. No thought required.

    So, start with scale tones. Practice playing by ear. It eventually begins to come around.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Apr 2012
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    Overland Park KS
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    I play saxophone and I was in the same spot when I started. I had the advantage of a great high school jazz band director who taught me how to improvise (many years ago), so that is what I have relied on. Our lead guitar / singer does not read music and we play from charts, so I just have to look at the key it is in, transpose it for my tenor sax (same as trumpet) and then I usually make some notes on the side of the chart to remind me what key to play in. From there I do a lot of echoing the melodies or sometimes the bass line and then look for chances to put in 'fills' between lines. The important thing is to not 'step on' the vocals. We want the message of the song to come across clearly and our part is to fill in the gaps and add flavor or fullness to the sound. What Brad said before is exactly right about the scales and just being able to play what you hear in your head. I often listen to the radio and try to hum a sax part that I might add to a song.
    What I am now trying to figure out is how to have a 'horn section' play with the band. I want to include our trumpet players and maybe the trombone too, but with no 'written music' and the way we play it different every time... it can be really tough to get a group of horns to all sound good together and play in harmony with each other. I don't know if we need to write out parts for everyone to learn and then try to put it in the song, or are there already arrangements out there that we could get? Should we just all get together and try to work something out by ear and then try to remember it next time we get together? I'm sure some one has done this before... anyone?

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Apr 2010
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    Panama City Beach, FL
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    The answer is scales, scales, and scales. When you've got those down next you"ll need to learn scales.

    Seriously, one way to get better developing melodies is to find one of those keyboards that will just sustain a chord, say a G, B ,D, and then just solo melodies over that using different chords.

  5. #5

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    Thanks, everyone! What I've found so far is that I can guesstimate the valve combinations depending on what key the song is in. For example, if the key is Ab, I know to aim for the 2nd and 3rd valves. If the key is C or D, the valve combinations are mostly 1st and 3rd, especially in the upper register. It's a slow process, for sure. I am working with scales, which is bringing me back to familiarization. My toughest part is simply playing the notes that come to my mind. Thinking of a melody or a fill is easy for me, it's playing the exact notes on the trumpet that I'm still struggling with.

    As for arrangements of these more modern songs, maybe some of us can post some arrangements here at TWC and bounce some ideas off of each other. I recorded a trumpet part to Holding Nothing Back (just a trumpet track along with the recording). So, I'm not exactly sure how this would sound with a full band until I'm in one (I'm not in a band at the time being). If anyone is interested, I can post it here to give an idea of what could be done. In the meantime, I'm spending more time listening to recordings and thinking of trumpet parts for them.
    Melanie Siewert, Christ's Servant
    BLOG: http://www.worshipvanguard.blogspot.com

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Apr 2010
    Location
    Panama City Beach, FL
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    http://www.freejamtracks.com/

    Here is a good link to find loops to play to. Mostly for guitar, bass, or drums but rules are meant to be broken!

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