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Forum » Music Forum » Composing » Is the term "by ear" being misused in composition?
Is the term "by ear" being misused in composition?
Dankk Date: Wednesday, 21.10.2009, 14:59 | Message # 1

I have said it... most all of us have at some point. It is used mainly as a way to say that one hasn't learned the theory, etc., etc... behind the music that has been composed. But upon my own further analysis of the subject; Is it really "by ear" for only some of us , or is it "by ear" that ALL of us actually compose music.

We all use our ears to receive tones (among other things like balance and spacial positioning - which is not part of this topic please) and then through a set of conditions set by what we have listened to in the past and other parameters not fully understood, we compose what we like to call "music." Many many different genres, styles, and such are available for all of us to enjoy.

I have seen over the last 6 months or more that people (including myself) say they compose music "by ear." Don't all composers do that? Beethoven after losing his hearing is the only person I know of that composed music that well without it being strictly "by ear."

Guest Date: Wednesday, 21.10.2009, 14:59 | Message # 2

Interesting question Dankk, because I would be willing to place a bet that of all the composers on this forum I probably have the least 'ear' ability that you could possibly find. Nonetheless, I have enough musical innateness that I am willing to put myself on the line to 'critique' the music of others and of course, I actually have music on my page that proves I have 'composed.' Strictly speaking, of course I have had to use my ears to put the notes together and to actually form something that could be called a composition. However, if you were to ask me 'can I play by ear?', the answer would emphatically be "NO." Can I write by ear? Well, put a pencil and paper in front of me without an instrument and I am sure the results would be amusing. Put the instrument there and give me lots of quiet, reflective time and I will write a piece of music. In fact, I cannot wait until I can do this again. It has been awhile. smile Oh, and training and theoretical knowledge, I can tell you that without it, I would never have composed, not ever.
Guest Date: Wednesday, 21.10.2009, 15:00 | Message # 3

So when I write a piano piece I basically improvise a tune. I do write it down though, I'm aware of the key it's in, and an awarness of such features gives me a mental option for the next stage. So I might think - perhaps I want this A minor tune to move E major. Or "perhaps these eigth notes should move to the bass next bar".

You will compose in such a way too and make such decisions. I suppose that for people that use music notation the options for progression are more clearly laid out due to a greater theoretical awareness of what's happening in the music. Having said all of that, sometimes the best ideas, eg key changes are arrived at purely by accident and experimentation. But there is no doubt that classical combination involves both rational and intuitive (by ear alone) decision making.

Ray Date: Wednesday, 21.10.2009, 15:00 | Message # 4

It's simples! when composing.
If one can use notation to score a piece of music that has never been played then that is definitely not done by ear.
Whereas if one records the notes, phrases, etc after playing them then that is composing by ear.

"by ear" is by definition connected to performance.
If not performing when writing but imagining the sound in ones head, that has nothing to do with ears. (at the time of writing)

My conclusion is partly drawn from the fact that many obviously highly educated music scholars here in the forum praise a piece of music where the recording is terrible because they aren't really listening to it as a recording but rather dissecting the music by shape, form and influences. They are imagining what the piece could or should sound like not the reality of "does" sound like. I am not saying one way is better than the other, they're just different.
Relying on ear as I do can be a curse.

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Forum » Music Forum » Composing » Is the term "by ear" being misused in composition?
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