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<br/> <b>Strict Standards</b>: Non-static method BP_Options::get() should not be called statically in <b>/home/actidemann/</b> on line <b>9</b><br/> Ear or Scales? ( Deep Topic ) « The Kurt Rosenwinkel Forum

Ear or Scales? ( Deep Topic )

(26 posts)
  1. Hi,

    A friend of mine whose been playing jazz only for over 10 years told me learning scales and 'modes' were Biggest Mistake.

    He could not believe that he spent hours for practicing modes and scales when he could developed his ears.

    Now, he is trying to forget scales (harmonic minor, melodic minor, symmetrical diminished etc...) and modes (dorian, lydian etc...).

    And he is trying to play everything by Ear ONLY.

    He told me no matter what I do, if I'm thinking scale patterns or modes when I improvise,

    I'm locking myself in Patterns...

    Scale and mode is a easy way out to make my improv sounds like improv but he said it's Not ME!


    I love Peter bernstein's music and I have a friend who took a lesson from him.

    He said Peter Bernstein mentioned the same thing.

    "Play by ear...NO Scales NO Modes"


    I'm a little bit confused. I see scales and modes in books, recordings, transcriptions,,,everywhere.

    What's your opinion?

    I'd love to hear Kurt's opinion on this too!

    Thanks! ; )

  2. andyjazz

    why not do both?

  3. Hi Andy. I am doing both now. I know scales and modes well and I'm using them a lot. ; )

    My friend said it took him 10 years to realized it. And what he is telling me kinda make sense...but I'm not sure.

    I'm pretty sure there are other people who went though this and I'd like to hear more opinion about it! Thanks

  4. Eps

    I personally feel like it isn't about "forgetting" the scales as much as it is them becoming ingrained in your brain as sounds that your ear recognizes and can pull out on command, either consciously or unconsciously. Most people do not analyze the sentence structure they are utilizing in real time as they speak, but someone well versed in a language is able to express themselves and follow the "rules" with quite a bit of freedom. They would also be able to go back and analyze the written word without a problem. I don't think learning a musical language is a whole lot different.

    If you are practicing scales without learning the aural relationships that help you identify the sound, then I agree that practicing scales and modes is a bit of a waste, but scales and modes are an excellent way to identify and categorize sounds so that you have a tangible word to describe a certain set of notes. If you are concerned consciously with using a certain scale/pattern when you are improvising then that is when you start to get into the trouble of not sounding like yourself and not really improvising in a way that leads to fresh creation.

    It is difficult to improvise freely and attempt to think about heavy theoretical concepts at the same time. That is why it is beneficial to have a very disciplined practice routine and then when you go play a gig or whatever you can just let loose and play. It is all about learning new relationships between sounds and practicing them until they become second nature. You practice to gain control of the material so that you can then be free to make music when you are performing. You can call a collection of notes whatever you want to in your brain in order for you to be able to catalog that sound and know it when you hear it, as well as be able to get that sound out on your instrument.

    As long as you are training your ears, what you choose to call the sounds is irrelevant assuming you don't have to relay that information verbally to another person. Scales and modes are a common written language that complement reading the musical notation that most musicians understand, but not knowing the information in that way isn't going to hinder your musicality or understanding of how to create the sounds you want. The beautiful thing about improvisation is that everyone pursues it from a different angle, yet you can understand what others are creating through your lens, even though you might call it something entirely different in your head.

    As long as the "scales and modes" don't rule your creative thought process when you are in the act of improvising, then I think it is a worthy endeavor to learn them and have command of them. But if you are stuck in a rut of playing things in a "dorian" position or some train of thought such as that then I'd say dropping the scales for a while and focusing purely on intervallic ear training would be useful. As I said before, it all depends on how you work as an individual, and that is a beautiful thing.

  5. this is how i think about it. learning scales and modes and theory in general is a map so we can start to deal with the SOUND in an organized fashion.
    the more we use this map the more our ear starts to remember the paths(sounds) we prefer to take over others (hopefully :). the more we can rely on our ear then the theoretical intellectual stuff can fall by the wayside and we can then swim in the sound using our ear and intuition.

    theory should be ear training. not just theory.

  6. Thank you for great advices! I'm still curious about Wes Montgomery. Wes didn't know anything about scales and modes and my friend is trying to walk the same path of Wes. Was Wes just a special genius person with amazing ears?

  7. Quintricacy

    The Wes thing is a myth. Check out the video's of him in holland doing a quick rehearsal with the band, he seems to know his stuff. The only thing that I can contribute is a quote from Steve Coleman. He said at a work shop that he never learned the modes, a student asked him "don't you have to learn your scales and modes?" to which he replied "The only thing you have to do is die. Everything else is optional."

  8. [+] Embed the video | Video DownloadGet the Video Player

    that was great to watch

  9. animitta

    First: Wes Montgomery is God....I have never seen that video before but i always enjoyed so much Wes. I think to have heard almost everything he played on pubblished records....And i love that...Now, after this video, i enjoy more his music, if this is humanly possible.

    Second:someone before said to do both: ear training and theory training. the best is to make them together. In which way? Playing tunes and applying yourself to that: phisically, mentally, spiritually... What you play inside the tunes is up to you, who cares? Just play.

    Third ( a little joking ): From a "Zen point of view" you are not yet ready to learn, if you are questioning so much about what is better to make. Again...Just make it...Find what works for you, to help you to grow, will find what you need to know...

    All the Best

  10. david6strings

    when someone tell you about not to practice scales be sure he have trained them. always the same. scales are the purgatory, then you go to heaven

  11. Maybe I wasn't clear enough.

    He was talking about whole tone, harmonic minor, melodic minor, symmetrical diminished scales etc... NOT Major and Minor scale.

    I've been studying scales, modes, ear training, theory , arpeggios, voice leading, sight reading,,etc...for years. I know them pretty well.
    and my friend also thinks every single of them is very important. Especially arpeggios. But We just don't agree with scales and modes.
    He is saying it because when he thinks about modes, he thinks it's limiting himself.
    When I first heard that, it was pretty shocking, especially from Peter Bernstein.

    I asked because I do think that knowing more is better just like everyone but I've been hearing it from different people made me wonder why.

    So, there's no one thinks learning scales and modes are wasting time? if you do, please tell us why. : )

  12. JorgeRubiales

    Modes are for modal jazz. Period. I get shivers when I hear someone analyze a II-V progression as dorian-mixolidian. If you aren't going to play, or aren't interested in modal jazz, don't study them. Is that easy.

    For the rest of the theory, if you want to play great you have to learn.

    In that video, I can see Wes know the fretboard. He plays with the circle of fifths (he plays out of key signatures, "modifying" C major with flats or sharps). But the one doing the harmony and understading what wes wants is the piano player.

    So, if you want to be like Wes and having to depend of a piano player who understands what you are hearing or playing, don't study theory and play by ear. If you want to be like the piano player, then study.

    I took a lesson with Bernstein too, and he knows is changes. What he meant with that sentence is that you study at home, but when it's time to play you have to use your ears.

  13. Matt

    as jorge pointed out, it's not a waste of time to learn modes and scales, but it is a waste of time to use them. :)

  14. Sandemose

    lim: "He is saying it because when he thinks about modes, he thinks it's limiting himself." (Man, Id love a qoute function on this board, wonder if its possible? :)

    Either way, Stravinsky once said that if he didnt limit himself, his creativity would just not appear. I agree with that, and I work with music in a similar way. When it comes to this discussion, ears or scales I see it like this: when I practice scales, I listen to them, and by doing that my ears get trained. Sometimes just listening to a scale played up and down can sound so beautiful in itself, a closed system, a little universe of notes talking to eachother, creating expectations and resolving into eachother. I still think all roads lead to Rome. You just need to do what you need to do to get your imagination going...

    my two cents...


  15. c0ltrane

    I think it's possible to improvise purely by ear, but only to a certain extent. Nobody could improvise a solo in the style of Rosenwinkel, Coltrane, etc without any knowledge of scales and modes - BUT guys like Rosenwinkel do it in a way that has lots of feeling attached even though immense knowledge of scales is necessary. The trick is to learn the scales and then let feeling take over. You should use them as a tool to get your musical thoughts out, but not sit at home and practice running scales over and over again if you already have them memorized.

    I don't agree with your friend about trying to forget scales. If he didn't learn all the scales, he might be lost on the fretboard for all he knows, so I think "forgetting" scales is kind of extreme, and not possible once you've learned them. Training your ears to help you play meaningful stuff with them is the key.

  16. jimjazz

    Surely the goal is to study and internalise everything and practise it to the point where improvisation becomes a subconscious process, much like a language.

    When speaking in your first language you probably do not think about the spelling or the dictionary definition of each word as you say it, that would get in the way of you speaking, yet we all go to school and learn how to spell and what the meanings and sounds of the words are. The more vocabulary you learn the more sophisticated your topics and conversations become, over time you internalise it and it becomes natural.

    You have your topic of conversation (analogy for a chord progression) and you talk about it (improvise) others listen , they engage with you (interact/comp) and the end result is a debate (a piece of music). When ensconced in the conversation you do not think about minor details (spelling/syntax) you just speak, but you studied a lot to get to that point.

    I guess its drawing a distinction between the practise room and a performance environment (again), study and analyse at home, just speak/listen when your on the gig.

  17. jbroad

    a scale is just an available pool of notes. you can do whatever you want with them.

  18. mwtzzz

    Playing by ear only is just as bad advice as using scales only. The proper way to learn is both together - in tandem. As you learn harmony you train your ear. As your ear gets better, so do your improvisational skills. It's not just one or the other.

  19. gleepglop

    I think there can be confusion about "studying" something versus "learning" it. Bill Evans can illuminate: he said he never studied scales, he learned them by playing music (meaning written music, primarily Bach and Chopin).

    When someone says "don't learn scales" what they often mean (whether they know it or not) is "don't use your practice time to study scales" mixed with "don't use scale theory as a substitute for listening and learning sounds". In other words, you should learn them by learning music. But you still need to, in one form or another, learn them.

    I do think that from a purely technical standpoint on the guitar, you do need to spend some time investigating the peculiarities of fingering presented by different scale options.

    I also think that everyone is different and it's a good idea to try to find what works for you.

  20. patfarlow

    I wonder what Kurt would say. On one hand he obviously practices basic harmony very hard and very efficiently. Yet he also mentions metaphysical ideas like catching a comet and riding to the altar of music.....So I have no idea..

  21. docbop

    Scales and ears go together one is the way to practice the other. I would say scales aren't the problem its how people practice scales that is the problem. Once you have a scale under you fingers you need to focus on making music with the scale, playing the scale in a musical way. Also sing what you play to get that scale/ear connection going. Long term it's about ear and playing what you hear in your head, but practicing scales and other things are part of getting those sounds into your ear and cataloged in your brain.

  22. sireel

    I'm glad I learned my scales and modes thoroughly. I wish I didn't spend as much time practicing them as I used to, but I think you should learn them and then develop your playing around what you hear. Learning your scales can open up all the doors to chords and harmony.

    Singing what you play is certainly helpful, and it keeps you from just running scales when you improvise. I'm not sure if anyone here knows about Hal Galper and his concept of forward motion. It outlines how to aim for certain notes on certain beats. Possibly this is a topic for another thread, but the idea is that your lines can have an inner melody based on chord tones that land on the strong beats, one and three, and this indicates the harmony regardless of what scales you may be drawing from at the time. In other words, there's an inner logic to good sounding lines and it's not based on scales..

    Didn't Charlie Parker say to learn all your theory and then forget it? Even if you don't know your scales and modes, you need to have an understanding of harmony to be able to communicate with other musicians.

  23. M.L-13

    hal galper is a badass.his concepts on syncopation and rubato playing definitely worth looking into.scales are a vehicle to get you to places.but like hal would say quoting dizzy "think o f rhythm and the rhythm will pick the right notes for you"

  24. silverwater

    Some great explanations on this thread (as always on this forum), not much need to elaborate.

    Personally, I think this "don't play scales" idea is an inarticulate way for someone to say either "don't rely on fingering patterns" and/or "you should choose notes based on how they sit harmonically" instead of just thinking "I've got the 7 note scales of this scale I can play over this chord", which is limiting and bland.

    Then, I feel like more experienced players just like to freak out younger players by saying "I don't play scales, I just play by ear". Mythification of legends like Wes as savants who "knew nothing" doesn't help...people still say Louis Armstrong didn't "know anything", which simply isn't true. Learning scales and shit is the natural way to learn how to get to where you're playing by ear, despite what anyone might say.

    Personally I still like to learn a lot of scales, but I think of them more as sounds to be ingrained (ex. Harmonic major down a M3, or lyd. pentatonic up a M3). Knowledge of the scales helps to transfer the sound to different keys when practicing.

  25. egav

    As others have said, do both.
    Pete might say that, but he says it cause he has all his shit down. Hes been playing for years, and in this day and age, how could he not?
    Hes an ear guy, thats for sure, but just by the way he plays, you know he studied his scales like crazy until he could hear it. There's no way he can play like he does if he didn't study his modes, he alters pretty much every single chord he plays over haha.
    And just like pete, theres guys who advocate more the use of scales, but the end approach is the same. Learning scales so you can hear the sound.

  26. jorgemg1984

    As in most jazz discussion this is in the "one or another" league... why not both?


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