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play by ear absolute basics #2703611
01/10/18 06:15 AM
01/10/18 06:15 AM
Joined: Jan 2015
Posts: 31
Ireland
dmcgeown Offline OP
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dmcgeown  Offline OP
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Ireland
I have been trying to learn playing by ear and I have bought a few books and looked up ideas online but none of this really helps me bacause I get lost, distracted.

I'm just wondering does anyone have an idea for small bite sized tasks I could do to begin this. I have read somewhere that if I try to play the melody to a song in the right hand and forget about chords to begin with, this will help me identify single notes.

Is anyone aware of if this is helpful or not.

I can read music up to grade 4 level


Piano beginner since november 2014, taking it slowly, one step at a time. Working towards grade 1 exams.
Completed grade 1 - June 2015. Onwards to grade 2
Completed grade 2 - June 2016. Let go for grade 3...
Completed Grade 3 - December 2017. Let's be having you grade 4
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Re: play by ear absolute basics [Re: dmcgeown] #2703616
01/10/18 06:45 AM
01/10/18 06:45 AM
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London, UK
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kevinb Offline
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Is the problem that you can't pick out a melody by ear, or that you can't play a melody with accompaniment by ear? Or that you can't play a four-voice fugue by ear ?

So far as melody is concerned, I don't know any way to master this except to practice, starting with Three Blind Mice and working upwards. It's perhaps worth trying simple melodies in different keys, before progressing to more complicated things.

As for accompaniment, I think it's necessary to have an understanding of the conventions of harmony to pull this off. In particular, it's necessary to understand the most-used chords in the key(s) you are using. Again, you can start with Three Blind Mice and similar -- tunes that can be accompanied using only two or three chords. It's necessary to develop a facility to form chord shapes in different inversions, so that they flow nicely from one to another. All of this takes practice -- years of practice. I'm not sure that it's something that can really be taught, although a good grasp of the theory of harmony certainly helps.

When it comes to playing four-voice fugues by ear -- you're on your own smile

Re: play by ear absolute basics [Re: dmcgeown] #2703631
01/10/18 08:22 AM
01/10/18 08:22 AM
Joined: Jan 2018
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lilystem2609 Offline
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I agree with everything kevinb said. Picking out the melody of a song with the right hand is definitely helpful. I'm pretty terrible at playing by ear, but once I've played the melody through a few times I'll figure out what the chords are by trial and error, and use them to fill in the right hand and to make up a simple left-hand accompaniment. It helps to know what some of the common chord progressions are, too.

Best of luck!

Re: play by ear absolute basics [Re: dmcgeown] #2703662
01/10/18 10:49 AM
01/10/18 10:49 AM
Joined: Apr 2009
Posts: 3,832
Pennsylvania
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dmd Offline
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Here is the best method I am aware of to help you with this ....

https://www.pianomagic.com/

It is not free but (I think) money well spent.


Don

Current: ES8, SennHeiser HD598 Phones, Spacestation v.3 Powered Stereo Monitor, Focal CMS 40 Powered Monitors (as Subwoofer).
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Re: play by ear absolute basics [Re: dmcgeown] #2703668
01/10/18 11:32 AM
01/10/18 11:32 AM
Joined: May 2012
Posts: 2,346
Toronto, Canada
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Greener Offline

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Agree, agree with everything suggested so far.

It can seem overwhelming at first until you can start to realize some small wins. The frustration is usually when trying to do too much at once. The melody is the component of the piece that can be picked out the easiest. Not suggesting easy, but is the part you sing and how you remember a tune going so will easier then other components. It is a good place to start and just work on one section of the piece for picking it out like perhaps one of the A sections. It will be trial and error, but you can do it. Secure it well before moving on.

Next is the harmony, which is where it gets tougher. As mentioned above you want to start with very basic pieces. When listening or singing along to the tune, if the harmony seems to go more or less where you would expect it to go next, this would be a good indication of a suitable piece.

Next try to find the bass line. There will be more trial and error again here, but with persistence you can find the bass line more readily than going for the chords. Even if it is not the exact bass line, if it sounds ok for the piece it is ok. Chord substitutions are often made and even preferred, so you may have just come up with a better arrangement.

If you now have success with the bass line you have made it a whole lot easier to get the chords. The possibilities are not nearly as great now as they were. The bass line is a big indicator of the chords. The obvious chord that has a G bass is a G chord, but if that doesn't seem right, try a Gm for example. Even with simple pieces though you can sometimes have inversions like C over G. Even this small thing can throw a wrench into it that we are trying to avoid at this stage. Watch out for it though. If you have the bass and the melody yet none of the chords you try with a G bass seem to fit, this may be why. There will be other complications to watch out for too and why in the beginning we want basic pieces with basic harmony without these issues.

When you have a bass line that is working with your melody line, already the piece is starting to sound like a piece. So, another win. Then you can work on filling up the harmony a little more. But again, just a little at a time. If your bass is on G and your melody is Bb, good chance for a Gm. If it works, try adding an F below the melody and see how that sounds. If yes, it is a Gm7 and on to your next chord. Just one additional note from the chord in RH is all you need. You can always work out a fancy accompaniment for it later, but now is not the time.

There is a lot of trial and error for sure, but the idea is to break it down into small pieces and experience small successes along the way. The above will be much easier then going for full on melody and harmony and a fancy arrangement all at once. That will come in your future, but is no place to start if it just ends with frustration.

Re: play by ear absolute basics [Re: dmcgeown] #2703677
01/10/18 11:52 AM
01/10/18 11:52 AM
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Moscow, Russia
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Iaroslav Vasiliev Offline
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Going the traditional way to learn to play by ear, you, first of all, need to learn to identify scale degrees. There is a free "Functional Ear Trainer" mobile application that, I think, is very good to begin with.

When you're good at identifying scale degrees, it's time to start playing by ear like that: firstly you play a tonic chord, then you sing the first note of a melody, trying to identify it's scale degree, then you play that note on a keyboard. Then sing the next note, mentally identify it's scale degree and play it on the keyboard. Repeat the tonic chord from time to time if needed. Certainly it's better to choose very simple melodies to start with.

At the next stage, when you're good at singing and playing melodies like that, you can proceed to identifying and adding more chords in accompaniment. Someone told me about free mobile application that helps with chord identification training, but unfortunately I have forgotten it's name. May be someone else will mention it here in this thread.

Edit: And if you like experimenting, I know one absolutely brilliant piano improvisation teacher who states that the correct way is to learn to identify chords first, and then the melody. I think it's actually a very good idea. You could give it a try. Or just stick to conventional way.

Good luck!

Last edited by Iaroslav Vasiliev; 01/10/18 12:07 PM.
Re: play by ear absolute basics [Re: dmcgeown] #2703701
01/10/18 02:27 PM
01/10/18 02:27 PM
Joined: Feb 2014
Posts: 1,264
Belgium
johan d Offline
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chordprog?

Re: play by ear absolute basics [Re: dmcgeown] #2703714
01/10/18 03:22 PM
01/10/18 03:22 PM
Joined: Oct 2010
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bennevis Offline
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Originally Posted by dmcgeown
I have read somewhere that if I try to play the melody to a song in the right hand and forget about chords to begin with, this will help me identify single notes.

Is anyone aware of if this is helpful or not.

Definitely - get the hang of simple melodies in C major first.

I got into playing by ear as a kid (while learning piano by the traditional ABRSM exam route, which of course includes ear training) because I wanted to play pop songs, and at that time, all you could get were songbooks with the lyrics and guitar chords. And in any case, I couldn't afford them on my meagre pocket money.

So, when I heard a pop tune I liked, I tried to reproduce it on the piano - always in C major (most pop songs are in major keys), so I don't have to worry about accidentals. Just RH playing the tune. Then I started adding LH chords. From my music theory and aural training (helped later when I joined my school choir), I could already 'hear' the basic harmonies: I, ii, IV, V, vi. With that lot, I could put chords to tunes.

No inversions, no 'added notes' - just those basic chords in C major. You could even just start with I, IV and V (which are major key chords; ii and vi are minor chords). Don't start complicating things until you've got the basic stuff sorted. It would help a lot if you know some theory, but even if you don't, you can still play by ear.

If you can (by trial & error initially - that's perfectly fine) get the tune in RH, then learn to 'hear' the harmonies by playing first the tonic chord (I) and dominant chord (V): in C major, that's the chord of C major and G major respectively - and see how often they fit the tune. You'll be amazed at how often they get used.

Then go on from there..........


"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."
Re: play by ear absolute basics [Re: johan d] #2703821
01/10/18 10:52 PM
01/10/18 10:52 PM
Joined: May 2016
Posts: 645
Moscow, Russia
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Iaroslav Vasiliev Offline
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Originally Posted by johan d
chordprog?

I'm not sure, sorry, can't remember now.

Re: play by ear absolute basics [Re: dmcgeown] #2703824
01/10/18 11:01 PM
01/10/18 11:01 PM
Joined: Apr 2013
Posts: 3,382
western MA, USA
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hreichgott Offline
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western MA, USA
Many great suggestions above. I'll add that picking out a tune by ear also involves practicing. Once you've found a phrase or two through trial and error, don't forget to practice that phrase or two a couple of times before moving on, so you're more likely to remember it the next day. And practice it every day until it's mastered and no longer trial-and-error.
As with music we learn by reading: the better we learn to play the easy tunes, the easier it is to learn slightly more complicated tunes.


Heather W. Reichgott, piano http://heatherwreichgott.blogspot.com

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Re: play by ear absolute basics [Re: dmcgeown] #2704177
01/12/18 06:40 AM
01/12/18 06:40 AM
Joined: Jan 2015
Posts: 1,266
Groove On Offline
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Originally Posted by dmcgeown
... I'm just wondering does anyone have an idea for small bite sized tasks I could do ...

The fundamental principle my blues/jazz teacher stresses all the time - always know what you're playing so the Theory and the Sound of it are the same thing. That way when you identify a sound in real music, you know what it is and how to play it. Do this all the time - every time and pretty soon you'll be recognizing all sorts of funky things in real music. Most importantly - you'll actually be 'Playing By Ear'.

Some Things to Note:
1. Start with the simplest music, the simpler the better. Blues is really good because it uses so many fundamental musical concepts. Even the simplest blues rhythms, riffs, progressions, bass lines etc. can be easily identified in every day Spotify blues playlists. Pop/Rock/Latin/Gospel can also be good - but Blues is just excellent in this regard. So are Christmas and simple folk tunes. But stay away from Classical and Jazz until you've gotten better at it.

2. Use the pieces you've already learned - go through each piece and identify one-by-one the phrases, riffs, bass lines, chords, rhythms (and most importantly the notes of the key it's in) etc. play them individually and mindfully so you really get them into your ear. Then listen to a recording of the music away from the piano - and with your ear - identify those same musical concepts in the recording. If you can't find a recording ... make one yourself!

There are a lot of different skills involved with learning to play by ear, but if you can just start there, it will go a long way towards improving your ears.

N.B. if you're coming from the traditional 'classical' approach, you may have found yourself in the trap where you're always learning music as muscle memory. The 'play by ear' principle I mentioned above will help to combat that - but it's important to recognize it as a different approach to the music - it requires a different set of habits and most importantly different musical priorities.

One last caveat - and one that my teacher is very strict about. 'Playing by Ear' means you heard something in music and clearly identified the musical idea/concept so that you can play it back. When you figure out a song by 'trial and error' --- it is not Playing By Ear! The trap with learning by 'trial and error' is that you can end up bypassing the Ear and going straight to muscle memory! So the original principle still applies - always know what you're playing so the Theory and the Sound of it are the same thing.


We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams.
Re: play by ear absolute basics [Re: Iaroslav Vasiliev] #2704197
01/12/18 09:35 AM
01/12/18 09:35 AM
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gingko2 Offline
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Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
Originally Posted by johan d
chordprog?

I'm not sure, sorry, can't remember now.


Better Ears for Beginners

I'm not sure if this is the one you were referring to, Iaroslav, but it does quiz chord progressions.

(Good reminder for me to use it too.)


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