Develop Your Ear
Learn to Play the Piano by Ear
Did you hear that?!
Well, if not… you will soon!
When you learn to play piano by ear, you can stop relying on dots on a page (notation/sheet music) to tell you exactly what to do.
As you delve into these lessons, we will work together on developing your ear so you can learn to play the things you hear.
Everything you learn on this site can improve your ear. Every style, lick, or chord you learn is increasing your ability to reproduce things you hear.
Keep working hard and have fun!
Finding the Key
Find Chords and Licks
What does it mean to play by ear?
I remember when I was a little kid and my mom would play games with me on the piano. She would have me turn around and look the other direction, play a note on the piano, then I would turn back around and try to find it.
I loved it!
I got pretty good at it after a while, and it would only take me pressing a note or two before I would play the correct one. I didn’t know this, and I don’t think Mom did either (although moms are pretty smart), that this game we played was the beginning process of me “filling up my bag”.
It seems that the majority of people see those that can “play by ear” as specially ordained creatures that possess a magical power. To be fair, it is pretty cool to watch someone simply listen to something and be able to recreate it quickly. *Spoiler alert* The truth is, the same way a magician doesn’t really pull a goose out of thin air, a musician doesn’t just make up everything on the spot.
There is a great story about an artist that sat down and drew a picture of a lady that was so perfect it looked like a photograph. The lady asked how much it would be to purchase the picture, and, to her surprise, he asked for a lot of money. She told him: “But sir, it only took you ten minutes to create the picture.” The artist’s reply was: “No, it actually took me a lifetime!” He had built up a big bag of skills.
Let’s take a great sight reader (someone who reads notation), for example, and analyze how in the world they are able to look at all of those little dots and turn them into music in the blink of an eye. Are they really that good, or are they just using a big bag of tools they have developed over time?
The truth is, it’s the tools that give them the ability. They are reading things that have been read before in some way or another. The more they practice and read, the more tools will accumulate in their bag. After a while there is almost nothing that can trip them up. They see the notes with their eyes, their brain sends a message to their hands, and then playing the correct notes and rhythms appears instantaneous.
How about an Ear Player? Same thing. I have played a lot of blues piano in my lifetime. I can hear someone play a cool blues lick (pattern) and just play it back with no problem. Was I always like that? Nope. I remember spending a lot of time trying to figure out what in the heck they were doing. But, one tool at a time, I started filling up my bag. Now I have a pretty nice collection of skills that I can use with ease and precision.
MENTAL TIP: Keep reminding yourself that you are “filling up your bag” each time you accomplish a new thing. It doesn’t matter how small. Remember, it takes a lot of nails to build a house!
Note Readers v. Ear Players
There is an old story about a famous guitar player being asked if he knew how to read music. To which he responded, “Yeah, but not enough to hurt my pickin’!” (FYI – Pickin’ is what stringed instrument players call it when they strike a string with their pick.) Many people take offense to this story because it makes notation reading look as though it’s a bad thing, but it does shine light on something that is very common in the musical world. Most people are either great ear players or great readers. There are a blessed few that can do both at a professional level. The comical thing about this is that both sides are typically astonished at what the other can do.
The Piano Chops method is designed to help you learn piano by ear, but we can also work with anyone who prefers a different learning style.