Ah, yes. One of my favorite topics. Why learn bluegrass by ear? While this subject is surely old hat to long-time Murphy Method students (True Believers) and those of you who have read my book of collected Banjo Newsletter columns (where I ranted about the subject ad nauseum, some thought), those of you who are just discovering the Murphy Method might be curious about the whole “by ear” concept. Our web friends over at Banjo Hangout frequently bat this topic around and, in fact, have been doing so lately with gusto. (Thanks, folks!) (Here's one example.)
There are many good reasons for learning by ear but I will confine my remarks here to the main three:
It will enable you to play with other people.
It leads to improvising.
Okay. Now to expostulate. (I’m gonna skip over about how much easier it is to learn this way. That’s a bit self evident.)
I assume that everyone who is interested in learning to play bluegrass wants to eventually play with somebody else, perhaps just in a small group of friends. Or maybe you’d like to jam with other people in the parking lot. You see, Bluegrass is a friendly music. It wants to be played with other people.
Okay. Now, think about the nature of Bluegrass Music. Bluegrass musicians do not perform looking at music. You do not see music stands on a bluegrass stage. (Okay, Ralph Stanley sometimes has to have the words in front of him now. But he’s Ralph. He can do whatever he likes!) Bluegrass music is, by its very nature, a “by ear” music. If you were wanting to play in a symphony you’d have to read music. If you were wanting to play church piano or organ, you’d have to read music. Many types of musics call for note reading. But not bluegrass. It calls for playing by ear.
But I can’t learn by ear, I hear you saying. (Whining?) I’m not that talented. I don’t have a music background. I’m too old. I’m a visual learner, I learn better from paper. Phooey to all that. Almost anyone can learn by ear if you just take it slow, a few notes at a time. Which is exactly what we do on all our DVDs. We teach it S-L-O-W. ...continue reading