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#2115872 - 07/10/13 10:24 PM learning to play by ear
exquisitemelody24 Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 06/19/13
Posts: 6
So I've just recently gotten back into piano (I took lessons for several years), and I'd really like to learn how to play by ear, but I don't know where to start. I was a horrible piano student and never paid any attention to my theory homework, so I probably need to start with the basics (like...chords...I can play them if I read the notes, but I don't actually know names and stuff).

Is it possible to learn how to play by ear or is it just natural talent? I'd appreciate any guidance! Like books or youtube vids or methods I could look up. I have heard of the chord method, but I don't know much about it.

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#2115876 - 07/10/13 10:32 PM Re: learning to play by ear [Re: exquisitemelody24]
jazzyprof Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/30/04
Posts: 2749
Loc: Ann Arbor, MI
You'll probably get better answers to this question if you post it in the Pianist Corner-Non Classical.
"Playing the piano is my greatest joy...period."......JP

#2115880 - 07/10/13 10:40 PM Re: learning to play by ear [Re: exquisitemelody24]
Sand Tiger Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/25/12
Posts: 1353
Loc: Southern California
Yes, most folks can learn to play by ear. Yes, some have a natural aptitude for it, some will take more time than others. The more a person practices and drills the better they will get.

I use an Android app on my tablet (the name escapes for the moment) for ear training. There are four levels:
* higher or lower, listen to two notes and decide
* identify the note being sounded by pressing the matching key on the screen piano keyboard
* intervals, listen to two notes and discern the distance between the two notes
* chord identification, chord is sounded, identify the chord by name

Some folks like to sound out simple melodies for songs they know on the piano. Sometimes looking up the key that the song is in, is a big helpful hint if a person can not find the first note. Some move on to identifying the bass notes and the chords, and transcribing recordings. However, I would not suggest those exercises for a beginner. Matching a melody is plenty to start with.

my piano uploads

#2115883 - 07/10/13 11:00 PM Re: learning to play by ear [Re: exquisitemelody24]
JoelW Online   content
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/25/12
Posts: 5801
Loc: USA
There are different levels of talent.

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#2115902 - 07/10/13 11:51 PM Re: learning to play by ear [Re: JoelW]
Derulux Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/06/05
Posts: 5446
Loc: Philadelphia
Originally Posted By: JoelW
There are different levels of talent.

Or, of course, there's no such thing. grin
Every day we are afforded a new chance. The problem with life is not that you run out of chances. In the end, what you run out of are days.

#2115908 - 07/11/13 12:40 AM Re: learning to play by ear [Re: Derulux]
ando Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/23/10
Posts: 4988
Loc: Melbourne, Australia
Originally Posted By: Derulux
Originally Posted By: JoelW
There are different levels of talent.

Or, of course, there's no such thing. grin

Oh god no! Please not this again! whome

#2115930 - 07/11/13 02:03 AM Re: learning to play by ear [Re: exquisitemelody24]
Roland The Beagle Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/17/12
Posts: 268
Loc: California
What exactly do you mean by "play by ear"? Do you mean to be able to sit and play something that's in your mind? Do you mean being able to improvise on the piano? Do you mean acquiring perfect pitch abilities?

I guess I'll elaborate a bit on answers to these questions from my experience (which is not that expansive).

Being able to sit and play something that is in your mind requires a combination of talents and skills, and is really not something that anybody can do naturally. You need to be able to clearly hear music in your head both melodically and harmonically, and you need a degree of control of your instrument to execute it in real time. For anything that is at all complicated, this is not very practical.

Instead, there is the more familiar territory of improvisation, where you have a 'system' you work with and raw materials, and then use knowledge of harmonies, scales, and intuition to build something spontaneous. Improvisers are not really constantly playing what is in their head (necessarily), but rather are going back and forth between relying on a memory bank of patterns and ideas already learned, using knowledge of music theory and harmony to know what will work, and just letting go and playing whatever comes naturally. This means by rote or muscle memory - once you've got a musical idea in mind, let those fingers rip and something spontaneous will come out. But really, it's not true spontaneity - it's a controlled form of spontaneity that is possible by creating a system to work within and constantly expanding on that system as you grow as a musician. A good metaphor is 'bag of tricks'.

Improvisation is something anyone can learn, but it takes mastery of your instrument, knowledge of music theory on paper, knowledge of music theory in practice and hearing (ear training), and lots of practice, trial and error, and experience.

For the final question, in my experience it is possible to acquire absolute pitch without having had it. I did just this with my own method and now I can identify tones with extreme confidence. It's not 'perfect' yet. I've only been working on it two semesters. To give you an idea though, I can identify a new tone every 3 to 5 seconds, identify the key of a piece of music, sometimes pick out the harmony of a particular musical section I am hearing, and vocalize any pitch on cue. My only problem right now is I seem to have a slight weakness in the tone cluster of Eb, E, and F, but I could do absolutely nothing at all prior to two semesters ago and every problem has been resolved so far with practice so I am sure with some more work I will be up in the 99% confidence range. Finally there are extreme registers (very low and high notes) but as I understand, even individuals with classic 'perfect pitch' make mistakes on these notes.

Edited by Roland The Beagle (07/11/13 02:16 AM)
Danzas Argentinas, Alberto Ginastera
Piano Sonata Hob. XVI: 34 in E Minor, Franz Joseph Haydn
Nocturne, Op. 15 No. 1 in F Major, Frédéric Chopin
Prelude, Op. 11 No. 4 in E Minor, Alexander Scriabin
Prelude and Fugue in G Major, Well-Tempered Clavier Vol. 2, Johann Sebastian Bach

#2115969 - 07/11/13 05:10 AM Re: learning to play by ear [Re: exquisitemelody24]
Dave Horne Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/07/04
Posts: 5934
Loc: Vught, The Netherlands
Start by listening to the radio and try to play along.

Take a tune that you really like and transcribe to paper. The more you do this the easier it gets.

This isn't rocket science. I bet if you stop and think about this you can come up with your own approach.

It also helps to play with other musicians.

website | mp3\wav files | Yamaha AvantGrand N3 | Roland RD 2000 | Sennheiser HD 598 headphones

#2116014 - 07/11/13 07:47 AM Re: learning to play by ear [Re: exquisitemelody24]
bennevis Online   content
8000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/14/10
Posts: 8986
Start with the basics, picking out tunes you know on the piano - just the tune. Anyone can pick out 'Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star' and 'Happy Birthday' on the piano. (If you can't, you've got problems proceeding.....).

Then add the harmony, which, in pop songs, easy listening, hymn tunes etc is almost always based on just four chords: I, IV, V, VI. Play them in C major and get a good idea of how they sound. V-I sounds very final; IV-I too, but more 'religious-sounding' (like 'Amen'). Those are perfect and plagal cadences respectively. V-VI (interrupted cadence) sounds like you want to go somewhere else; IV-V-I (or II-V-I) will sound like many conclusions you know. Try harmonizing the above tunes with just these chords.

Once you get the hang of these, you can already play by ear lots of stuff. And you can usually tell what the harmony is just by listening to the tune (- I've vamped on the piano to accompany friends in pop songs, without ever having heard the songs before, as long as they sing or hum the tune for me first).
"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."

#2116069 - 07/11/13 10:28 AM Re: learning to play by ear [Re: exquisitemelody24]
exquisitemelody24 Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 06/19/13
Posts: 6
Thanks for all the replies! I guess my first steps will be to sit down and learn some theory...get to actually know my chords.

I'd like to learn to play by ear so I can take popular songs or church songs and try to play them without sheet music.

#2116081 - 07/11/13 11:13 AM Re: learning to play by ear [Re: exquisitemelody24]
rada Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/07/06
Posts: 1124
Loc: pagosa springs,co
If you can sing a section of a song find the keys that match your voice. Learn a basic chord progression like 'heart and soul'.....everybody that doesn't know anything about the piano can usually play that song.

If you left hand plays a c chord[ c-e-g] there's a high probability that your right hand will be playing one of those notes for the melody.

Everyone can learn.



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