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The problem of ear to hand
#3041051 10/30/20 12:25 PM
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Though I can read music pretty proficiently on sight, I am quite the dunce when it comes to playing by ear. I have a good ear in some respects, for instance, can harmonize in interesting manners while singing with others from my own hearing of harmonies, and also can pick up quickly on written part singing.

But when I try to translate those things I hear in my ear to the piano, I am as if reaching in the dark for what I do not know nor feel. The instrument of the piano feels so remote that I cannot translate what I have within me to the keys. This seems like a barrier to playing musically on the piano. It's a problem I've had with me my entire piano career, including agonizing moments from being all but forced onto the piano bench for my high school jazz band all four years. Mostly my concern is with enhancing my classical playing however. My inability to connect what is within to what I play on the keyboard is in the way, and don't know how to get past this barrier.

Posting this with the wild hope that someone has had a similar experience to mind and has been able to find success in overcoming these ear challenges.

Re: The problem of ear to hand
John 656 #3041099 10/30/20 02:28 PM
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A bit of ear training to "join up the dots" is probably all you need. I find that I have a habit of playing ahead of my ear, which can get lazy. With ear training you have to focus in a way that can really help to make connections. You seem to have a lot of this in place already, so I'm sure you'll be very good at it.

Re: The problem of ear to hand
John 656 #3041109 10/30/20 02:48 PM
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From what you say, it sounds like "ear training" is what you should start with.

That is, translating what you hear with your ears, to either notation, or to piano-playing.


There's a different issue as well:

. . . translating what you imagine _in your head_ to notation or piano-playing.

I don't teach, and I won't try to tell you how to learn these things. There are online courses (which I haven't used). I found a live teacher (in-person, or Zoom/Skype) was _extremely_ useful.

There are two different threads:

. . . note / phrase recognition;

. . . chord recognition.

And a third one:

. . . rhythm recognition.

"Note/ phrase" recognition often uses interval-recognition training:

. . . teacher plays two notes, you name the interval.

. . . Teacher sings/plays a phrase, you sing/play the phrase

. . . Teacher sings/plays a note, says "Sing a major third higher", you do it.
And so on . . .

You can imagine what happens for chord recognition, and rhythm recognition.

This is a normal part of a musician's education. It may be a hole in yours:

. . . Fill it.


. Charles
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Re: The problem of ear to hand
John 656 #3041110 10/30/20 02:50 PM
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Originally Posted by John 656
I have a good ear in some respects, for instance, can harmonize in interesting manners while singing with others from my own hearing of harmonies, and also can pick up quickly on written part singing.

But when I try to translate those things I hear in my ear to the piano, I am as if reaching in the dark for what I do not know nor feel.

Mostly my concern is with enhancing my classical playing however. My inability to connect what is within to what I play on the keyboard is in the way, and don't know how to get past this barrier.
I assume you're talking purely about playing by ear rather than about playing a classical piece 'with connection' - as by definition, a classical piece is already notated, so you're not playing by ear (whether or not you're playing from memory).

Have you tried going back to basics? - just play the tune you've got in your head (or improvise one on the spot), then add the harmony using straightforward chords or arpeggios or Alberti bass. You can already 'hear' the harmony so that should be easy.

Then you can make it more interesting in any way you like.

When I was a kid, I played pop tunes by ear this way, then making them more elaborate by adding my now 'enhancements' and eventually improvising everything from scratch.


"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: The problem of ear to hand
John 656 #3041112 10/30/20 02:50 PM
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i have a question:

. . . Do you sing ?

If so:

. . . Can you sing what's in your head ?

. . . Would that help you to move it onto the keyboard?

If not:


. . . You might find that learning to sing _really_ develops your ear.

That was my experience, when I started singing lessons, and joined a choir.


. Charles
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Re: The problem of ear to hand
Charles Cohen #3041144 10/30/20 04:48 PM
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Originally Posted by Charles Cohen
You might find that learning to sing _really_ develops your ear.
+1. Singing and solfege are very efficient in that regard. Also a good exercise is to get some melodies and to sing every note before playing it on the piano.

Re: The problem of ear to hand
John 656 #3041309 10/31/20 09:47 AM
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Something simple I do, which I find a rather efficient use of time, and is something I can remember to do consistently, and its quite helpful:

Record an individual note on my phone.
When I get in the car to goto work, try to sing the note. Then, see how close it is. But I don't just quickly sing the note. I really think about it first. Once a day! It adds up over time.

And from there...
Record individual notes through the circle of fifths. Similarly, sing then play the recording. Or sing while playing. But, of course, knowing which note I am singing.

And,
etc...

Re: The problem of ear to hand
John 656 #3041380 10/31/20 01:01 PM
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Originally Posted by Charles Cohen
i have a question:

. . . Do you sing ?

If so:

. . . Can you sing what's in your head ?

. . . Would that help you to move it onto the keyboard?

ir.

It's so basic:
EAR - SINGING - HAND - KEYBOARD!


Re: The problem of ear to hand
Iaroslav Vasiliev #3041387 10/31/20 01:12 PM
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Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
Originally Posted by Charles Cohen
You might find that learning to sing _really_ develops your ear.
+1. Singing and solfege are very efficient in that regard. Also a good exercise is to get some melodies and to sing every note before playing it on the piano.

Which Solfege? There is the movable Do solfege which is relative, so that Do can be G or C or any other note that happens to be the Tonic. And then there is fixed Do Solfege where Do is always C, etc. Which do you mean?

My first go-to as a child was movable Do solfege. I self-taught piano as a child by singing my way into the music I saw in the score, and then playing "by ear" via what I heard. But I could easily end up playing music in the wrong key, which I'd notice since I'd have to hunt up more and more black keys.

Singing also had the disadvantage of sense of register ending up being weak, since even if your range is 3 octaves, as mine was, it doesn't match the range of piano music. Thus you have to slip up or down from the actual register, and that can mess up that part of your ear.

Hearing closed chords, played harmonically rather than melodically, also does not get developed by singing. I can sing you a diminished 7th chord, but if you play a dim7 I might mix it up with an augmented chord (this one got fixed recently btw), and I'm not sure I'd recognize a major7 chord. As soon as it's harmonic, you're dealing with a "quality" - a kind of texture to the sound which is different than do mi so ti (C(maj7) )

Re: The problem of ear to hand
John 656 #3041390 10/31/20 01:13 PM
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If when children learn to read words, they simultaneously also learn to write words, could the same bidirectionality apply to music? We're either playing by ear, or playing what is written down - but do we ever write out what we play - or practise this at all?

Re: The problem of ear to hand
keystring #3041412 10/31/20 02:08 PM
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Originally Posted by keystring
Hearing closed chords, played harmonically rather than melodically, also does not get developed by singing. I can sing you a diminished 7th chord, but if you play a dim7 I might mix it up with an augmented chord (this one got fixed recently btw), and I'm not sure I'd recognize a major7 chord. As soon as it's harmonic, you're dealing with a "quality" - a kind of texture to the sound which is different than do mi so ti (C(maj7) )

I find my ear doing a quick sweep through the chord, but I don't believe this happens if I'm not concentrating on the chord quality. Perhaps it's more of a check. The quality of the chord is its own thing of course.

Re: The problem of ear to hand
John 656 #3041566 10/31/20 09:44 PM
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I can think of a song and play the notes as long as the Key Signature doesn't exceed 3 sharps or flats. Otherwise I need to find the right piano keys and practice it a few times to get the muscle memory.

Re: The problem of ear to hand
johnstaf #3041576 10/31/20 10:21 PM
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Originally Posted by johnstaf
Originally Posted by keystring
Hearing closed chords, played harmonically rather than melodically, also does not get developed by singing. I can sing you a diminished 7th chord, but if you play a dim7 I might mix it up with an augmented chord (this one got fixed recently btw), and I'm not sure I'd recognize a major7 chord. As soon as it's harmonic, you're dealing with a "quality" - a kind of texture to the sound which is different than do mi so ti (C(maj7) )

I find my ear doing a quick sweep through the chord, but I don't believe this happens if I'm not concentrating on the chord quality. Perhaps it's more of a check. The quality of the chord is its own thing of course.
It's all very interesting. The more I learn, the more I discover I took for granted, and there are many ways of hearing and seeing.

Re: The problem of ear to hand
John 656 #3041587 10/31/20 11:49 PM
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Originally Posted by keystring
Which Solfege? There is the movable Do solfege which is relative, so that Do can be G or C or any other note that happens to be the Tonic. And then there is fixed Do Solfege where Do is always C, etc. Which do you mean?
For a pianist the fixed Do system is more appropriate, but essentially there is no difference in regard to ear training.

Originally Posted by keystring
Singing also had the disadvantage of sense of register ending up being weak, since even if your range is 3 octaves, as mine was, it doesn't match the range of piano music. Thus you have to slip up or down from the actual register, and that can mess up that part of your ear.
Well, I've never tried to sing Winter Wind etude. laugh
My voice span is rather short, still I didn't notice any mess up in the registers where I can't sing. Singing seems to train pitch in all registers somehow.

Originally Posted by keystring
Hearing closed chords, played harmonically rather than melodically, also does not get developed by singing. I can sing you a diminished 7th chord, but if you play a dim7 I might mix it up with an augmented chord (this one got fixed recently btw), and I'm not sure I'd recognize a major7 chord. As soon as it's harmonic, you're dealing with a "quality" - a kind of texture to the sound which is different than do mi so ti (C(maj7) )
When I was taught chords I was firstly taught to sing them. And nowadays if I have difficulty identifying a chord I first of all try to sing or arpeggiate it, too, so singing still helps.

Training of harmonic intervals identification is also necessary in order to learn chords well.

Re: The problem of ear to hand
John 656 #3042090 11/02/20 01:39 PM
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Thanks to all who responded out of your generosity.

After reading through the comments, I think I could use some experienced direction from some kind of a teacher who understands my goals and can guide me toward them. I studied music in college, many years ago now, along with the requisite (quite extensive) sight-signing/ear training coursework, which included pitch and rhythmic solfege. I excelled among my classmates in these, yet this never translated to an ability to express on the piano what I hear in my ear, nor did I sense that it was even leading me this way if I just kept working at it.

So I judge myself as having spent considerable time trying to improve in my playing-by-ear ability, but not getting any closer to my goal, or at least not being able to tell I was.

I'm sure I'm not unique in this, but I'm not afraid of working toward something, so long as I know I am pointed in the right direction, and not instead doing something useless in getting me to where I want to go, or worse, taking me in the wrong direction. Thus, I think it's probably best for me to seek an in-person guide.

FWIW, I have someone in mind who has offered to help me in this already. Accomplished organist, great improvisor in many different styles. He's said he has no doubt I could learn to play by ear, in spite of my assurances to him that I'm an 'old dog.'

Re: The problem of ear to hand
John 656 #3042092 11/02/20 01:46 PM
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One other thought. I also excelled in harmonic analysis/theory in college, and found it drew my interest a great deal. I often fancy that my mind, which inclines itself so easily to theory, gets hung up when trying to "just play" music. I experience almost an anxiety (that sounds serious, but I'm just trying to be descriptive) in trying to analyze what chord I am hearing in the song (I, ii, V, V/V, etc.) that the *music* is long gone by the time I've heard and identified the harmony I'd like to play with my hands. This doesn't even touch on melody, which is even worse for me - hunt and peck, miss, hunt and peck, etc.

Re: The problem of ear to hand
John 656 #3042109 11/02/20 02:24 PM
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Originally Posted by John 656
I often fancy that my mind, which inclines itself so easily to theory, gets hung up when trying to "just play" music. I experience almost an anxiety (that sounds serious, but I'm just trying to be descriptive) in trying to analyze what chord I am hearing in the song (I, ii, V, V/V, etc.) that the *music* is long gone by the time I've heard and identified the harmony I'd like to play with my hands. This doesn't even touch on melody, which is even worse for me - hunt and peck, miss, hunt and peck, etc.
It's not clear to me whether you actually started playing by ear from the bare elements, the same way a child might, after being taught do-re-mi (or listening to that song in The Sound of Music - which was how I started) and where the notes are in C major. He'd try to pick out a tune by trying different notes to see which 'fits' - all on white keys. Or did you, with all your experience, go diving straight in at the deep end, because anything else would be a 'failure'?

Even after years of lessons, when I was proficient in playing in keys with six sharps/flats, I'd still use C major/A minor when playing anything by ear, and I always started with picking out the melody with one finger. (I assume that you, like me, don't have perfect pitch: one key is much like another, except that C major is easier than D flat major to play by ear on the piano). OK, with the five fingers of my RH.....

What I've noticed is that adult 'beginners' frequently attempt to do everything all at once, just because they feel they 'should be able to' - after all, they are already performing Chopin Scherzi for audiences. So, instead of being satisfied with being able to 'hear' the tune Happy Birthday in their heads and knowing what the harmony is, they think they should be able to go straight to the piano and play it in any key with all the necessary elaboration that they want - like Gabriela Montero might.

Well, unfortunately, it doesn't work like that. You gotta start with very simple stuff, no matter how advanced you are technically, theoretically and musically: play the tune in C major, then simple diatonic chord accompaniment, and get used to doing that with more simple tunes: pop, folk etc. (BTW, I started doing that with hymns I heard during school assemblies when I was in high school: all had simple tunes and straightforward harmonies in SATB, and that was the way I tried to play them).

Start very small and very easy, and develop from there. That is, start with picking out simple tunes with single notes with RH, and don't even try to play any harmony notes until you've become experienced in playing any tune immediately on the keyboard, using do-re-mi ('moveable do' solf├Ęge) as reference.


"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: The problem of ear to hand
bennevis #3042114 11/02/20 02:40 PM
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Originally Posted by bennevis
What I've noticed is that adult 'beginners' frequently attempt to do everything all at once, just because they feel they 'should be able to' - after all, they are already performing Chopin Scherzi for audiences. So, instead of being satisfied with being able to 'hear' the tune Happy Birthday in their heads and knowing what the harmony is, they think they should be able to go straight to the piano and play it in any key with all the necessary elaboration that they want - like Gabriela Montero might.

Yes, I think you have me tagged with this, though I suppose I have reason to wonder why the playing by ear hasn't happened more naturally, or at least why the path to improvement in this skill is not more clearly laid out before me. After all, I've spent countless hours since childhood on the piano in many different venues.

Re: The problem of ear to hand
John 656 #3042120 11/02/20 02:58 PM
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Originally Posted by John 656
[Yes, I think you have me tagged with this, though I suppose I have reason to wonder why the playing by ear hasn't happened more naturally, or at least why the path to improvement in this skill is not more clearly laid out before me. After all, I've spent countless hours since childhood on the piano in many different venues.
That's basically it.

You are a beginner in playing by ear, even if you can throw off Gaspard like confetti. Lots of experienced pianists can't play by ear, because they never tried doing it (or tried it once or twice, found it too difficult to play Beethoven's Hammerklavier by ear, and gave up.......)

Try playing this by ear - tune only first, from beginning to end. (The key is G major):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kRq8eywc57I

Then, listen again to the video, and work out the harmony (not as straightforward as you might imagine, unless you're familiar with this particular harmonization) and play it with added harmony notes in LH - as slowly as you need to.

Then do the same with other Christmas hymns/carols, and you'll be able to impress everyone in six weeks' time.


"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: The problem of ear to hand
bennevis #3042126 11/02/20 03:31 PM
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bennevis, your insight is just the sort of thing I'm looking for, thanks much, and much gratitude for your attention to my request.


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