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LJS 139: Learning Jazz by Ear or Sheet Music (Which One is Better?)

Welcome to episode 139 of the LJS Podcast where today we are talking about learning jazz by ear and with sheet music. Which one is better and what are the benefits of each? Listen in!

Listen to episode 139

In today’s episode, I talk about learning jazz by ear and with sheet music and ask the question: which one is better?

If you’re familiar with me and the content I come out with on Learn Jazz Standards, you probably already know what I think. I won’t leave you in suspense.

I believe that learning jazz by ear is the best place to start and the best way to truly learn jazz language.

That’s not to say that using sheet music to learn doesn’t have its place. It certainly does, and it has its only sets of benefits for aiding the learning process.

Learning musical information by ear is something that I have my 30 Steps to Better Jazz Playing students doing constantly. The report I get back is that it is opening up doors in their playing and I want it to do the same for you as well.

Here’s what I talk about in today’s episode:

1. Learning by ear or sheet music- which one?

2. The benefits of each approach.

3. 3 primary reasons to learn jazz by ear over sheet music.

My challenge for you is to start learning something by ear if you haven’t been already. It could be a solo, a lick, or even an entire song.

What do you think? Which one is better for you? Leave a comment below.

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Brent Vaartstra
Brent Vaartstra is a professional jazz guitarist and educator living in New York City. He is the head blogger and podcast host for which he owns and operates. He actively performs around the New York metropolitan area and is the author of the Hal Leonard publication "Visual Improvisation for Jazz Guitar." He's also the host of the music entrepreneurship podcast "Passive Income Musician."


  1. PC 139. Good to hear your three specific reasons for learning by ear. I agree with you about the benefits. Some people learn best visually, some aurally, some experientially, etc. For me its a mixture now. When I first stated learning jazz I was overwhelmed and had to have something written down to follow every time. Now I like to do both. I think I might have the confidence to start by ear and learning that way but only just. I'll certainly listen to a few versions first now (always), and then look at a range of learning aids after that, including sheet music. But there is no doubt that "by ear" is probably the most critical skill of all. Then perhaps transcribing from ear. My thoughts on a great podcast. Dewey

  2. You've definitely made me a believer that listening is better than just reading. What's your opinion on software that slows down solos? I have done some transcribing of entire solos but if there is a particularly fast part I can't get all of the notes if I just listen to them at full speed.


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