Playing by ear on a musical instrument is something I think a lot of aspiring musicians find hard – I’d attribute this to an overemphasis placed on reading sheet music, certainly for classical students. It’s important though, and a skill that needs training, so I figured I’d finally pull my finger out and work on ear training.
Now, I’m a poor, impoverished and overworked student who can’t scrape together the money to get some tracks of backing musicians to improvise over. So, in the spirit of making do with the resources to hand, I figured a fun thing to do would be to play along to pop and rock songs I already knew, and then use that as a base for improvisation. Started off with some Crowded House – I’d learned some of their songs on the guitar, and so had a good idea of the chord progressions – and after figuring out the appropriate transpositions in each case, I had a lot of fun just playing along. Sting was another good candidate, since a lot of his songs already have jazz musicians in – a little harder to play along with, but still possible.
I then figured I could kill two birds with one stone by playing along to some Cantonese artists I liked. Cantonese exposure and saxophone practice at the same time? Double win. And thus it came to pass that Rubberband, Kay Tse and Eason Chan all were privy to an extra musician. Lucky them eh? Maybe I drowned out what they were singing with my own instrument, but uh… it felt like I was being productive :p
Whilst we’re on the subject, I’d like to reiterate something that has been said about a billion times before – listening to music is a great way towards learning a language. What hasn’t been elaborated on so much is why. As ever, there’s more than one reason. Firstly, it’s fun. Music is a social tool which most everyone can and does enjoy. Secondly, it doesn’t get old. There are songs that I’ve listened to literally hundreds of times, and I can still listen to them again. Why do children succeed at language acquisition? Because they just love to repeat the same shizzle over and over. Listening to music you like gives you a shot at that repetition without getting bored out of your skull.
Anyway, I’d like to hear what other [actual] jazz musicians think of playing along and improvising over pop songs (I have a sneaking suspicion it’s frowned upon). Language learners – what do you think of music as a learning tool?