Award winning nu-folk singer songwriter and ukulele fanatic Zoë Bestel is making a name for herself on the Scottish music scene. With her first single reaching No. 3 in the folk chart (Amazon download) and her debut album awarded... (See the YT video notes)
I guess my philosophy toward music is I use an instrument to whistle or sing. What I mean is I'm just trying to find those instrumental melody notes that I would otherwise be whistling on the instrument. I'm not too concerned with improvisation - just getting to the heart of the melody and then departing from there if necessary.
I understand theory, and for several years I relied on tab to learn tunes and thought I had zero ear skills. But I noticed people who whistle their favorite tune and groups who sing "happy birthday" in unison and how they automatically know to go higher or lower with their singing. They aren't utilizing theory in a literal sense to do this; they aren't thinking about chords, et cetera. So I try to learn and then "forget" while playing a melody and approach it the same way a layperson would when whistling or singing along with the radio.
Ear training really started to click for me when I learned the names of all the different intervals - "perfect fifth", "minor third" and so on. By matching the definition with the sound it's kind of like learning the difference between the colors red and orange. By knowing the words red and orange it makes it easier to distinguish those colors.
There are only 12 notes and 7 of them are used in the major scale. Rather than use the solfege terms (do, re, mi, et cetera) I came up with my own terms for those syllables, the 7 notes in a major scale - one, two, three, four, five, six, sev. Of course not all melodies use the major scale, but all scales or modes have a "one" and that one is the same one as the "one" in the major scale. Any departures from the major scale are going to happen on notes other than the "one", so first you identify what the one or tonal center of the melody is. This is usually obvious but if not just choose the most likely note. After that, if the melody requires are sharpened or Raised note (a note other than the major scale), I put an "r" sound (for raise) in front of that syllable - one, two, roo, three, four, ror, five, rive, six, rix, sev. If I need to flatten or Diminish any of the notes in a major scale, I put a "d" sound (for diminish) in front of that syllable - one, doo, two, dee, three, four, dive, five, dix, six, dev, sev.
What this does is it puts any note in the melody in context both chromatically and diatonically. I am never at any point thinking about chords or the changes. I'm just thinking about the melody.
At this point in my development, I am trying to NOT look at sheet music notation at all and just learn a melody by listening. I'm not too concerned if what I'm playing is exactly the tune or not. All I'm trying to do is approximate it and then continually get closer and closer to it. If I don't get close to it and accidentally write a new melody by mistake then that's fine too. Once I have the melody it's always fun to try and play that melody in different keys (all 12 keys) and in different places on the neck using different fingerings.
I use the Amazing Slow Downer app to slow down the song as slow as necessary so that I can hear the notes. Then I try and find those notes on the instrument. Just take it note by note, phrase by phrase until it falls into place.
I don't really believe in genres or labels or styles of music. When I'm playing my mandolin, banjo or baritone uke the only genre of music is the genre of me making music on my instrument at that moment. So if I'm learning a Greek tune I might notice similarities to an Appalachian tune. I try to make sense of the tune's structure and phrasing in some way. When you take a tune in D and play it in a different key such as G, for example, you might notice similarities to another tune in G that you didn't notice before. There are many more similarities in music than there are differences, especially at the individual level of making sounds on your instrument of choice.
Does that help?