At a recent musical get-together, I realized that I don’t know Beatles tunes (on trumpet) as well as I thought, so I’ve added learning them to my practice list. Covering somebody else’s song is a great way to learn. If you play jazz, pop, folk, or more informal music knows this so deeply, you probably shouted, “Duh!” after that last sentence.
But many who learn via written music–the usual approach in band, choir, and orchestra–don’t usually get that kind of advice. Learning by ear and imitation allows you to bypass all of the theory, note-reading, etc. and get right to the meat of the music: making meaningful sound. Here’s a great example, because these Led Zeppelin tunes have some tricky rhythms that these kids nail. I don’t know if they learned by ear (probably not), but you can bet they listened to the tunes many times. Check it out.
Learning by ear is (in my opinion) the best way to go about it, but reading the music is fine, too, as long as you’re constantly referring to a recording, preferably the definitive one. Strive to imitate the notes, tone, and emotion so completely that your sound dissolves into the other sound. That can be a challenge if, say, you’re playing a trumpet with The Beatles. Challenge accepted!
The 2014-15 Louisville Leopard Percussionists rehearsing Kashmir, The Ocean, and Immigrant Song by Led Zeppelin.
The Louisville Leopard Percussionists began in 1993. They are a performing ensemble of approximately 55 student musicians, ages 7-12, living in and around Louisville, Kentucky. Each student learns and acquires proficiency on several instruments, such as marimbas, xylophone, vibraphone, drum set, timbales, congas, bongos and piano.
And the original version of Kashmir: