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How to Start Playing Music By Ear Quickly

Aug 17, 2007
Everyone can play music by ear. Some can go farther than others with that ability, but everyone can do it to some degree. Unfortunately, no one has ever attempted to teach serious music students to depend upon their ears as much as possible. Eventually the ear player reaches his limit and must use notation to study music further; but this limit is much broader than is generally supposed. Moreover, our musical horizon, our limit of comprehension, is not far beyond this point where the ear must yield to rational machinery for guidance.

Everyone can also learn to play by note. Some can go farther than others. In any event, musical comprehension is expected to accompany this note playing. But eventually the note player reaches his limit. He will do well to investigate what ear playing can contribute to his further progress.

How to Start Playing Music By Ear

Take the time to listen to your favorite songs and recordings. Then try to sing or whistle the melodies. The ability to do this is the first step, and a repertoire of tunes learned in this manner will serve as a storehouse of pieces to be played by ear at the piano.

Then, the student should play the tunes that he knows over and over again and in a variety of ways: use the left hand as well as the right; play the tunes with both hands together one octave apart; play them starting on different pitches or, in other words, in different keys.

Use a Piano

Any tune can be played beginning on any note on the keyboard; but it is easier to begin on some notes than on others. Try beginning on various notes, and you will find that there are three different notes with which you can begin which will not require you to use any black keys.

Do not expect, however, to play the tune right off. If you can do this, the piece is too easy for you. Play as far as you can and then try to find the next note. If you do not find it in a few tries, you will probably save time by going back to the beginning and thus come onto the difficulty with a running start. If it still does not come, play up to the note that you cannot find and then sing or whistle the correct pitch. You will then be able to match the tone you are singing. If it still does not come, lay it aside until tomorrow or some other day. Try some other piece and you may find that you can play this piece another time without any difficulty.

Criticisms for Learning to Play Music By Ear

Many people criticize the learning of music when it is done by ear. The chief criticism of the approach to playing the piano by ear is based on the contention that students using this approach never learn to read music with facility, even when they begin the study of notes. The opposite result is true, however. The note reader tends to play note by note, while the approach through the ear nurtures a grasp of the entire phrase and clusters of notes. When this skill is transferred to the visual sense, it will facilitate faster reading of music.
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