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How to Play Your Piano by Ear

Written By: Ashley Southam

I often have people ask me about playing a piano “by ear”. What they are referring to of course is learning and being able to play songs just by listening to them.

I remember when I was young, and still learning the piano, watching a person listen to a song on the radio and then quickly walk over to the piano and play what was on the radio. I was very impressed and remember thinking how amazing that was. What I’ve learned since then is that if you spend time with music, listening to it, playing it, paying attention to it, that things begin to stick out. By this I mean certain chords start to become familiar, certain melodies that then go along with those chords. Probably one of the most important aspects of this is that chord progressions start to become apparent. These are the essential parts to being able to play by ear.

Something that happens very frequently when someone starts their piano education is they are often taught how to read music first, then to play using sheet music. So when it comes time to play something that isn’t actually written down they have great trouble. I know, as this was how it was for me in the beginning.

To really learn how to play music by ear you need to have at least some basic knowledge about chords and chord progressions. Once you know a little more about chords (major and minor and what they sound like) you can begin learning to play by ear. What you can do first is find a song you really like and want to learn to play by ear. The second thing is to do is make sure it’s a relatively easy song. (You will most likely find out how difficult it is to play pretty quick!) If there are just too many different chord changes then it might be a good idea to pick another song. The thing about learning to play piano by ear, when you first start out, is that it will take a while and you will need to be patient. When I first started it took me quite some time and I had to work through quite a lot of frustrating moments but in the end it's much more rewarding.

There are those who will be able to pick up music by ear much easier than others. Though annoying, this is just a fact of life. Some people’s ears are just more tuned to music than others. Quite often though, these people are the ones who listen to the most music.

The key is to experiment with playing along with music and give yourself time to learn to play by ear, and don't be afraid to make mistakes. You will find that the more you do that, the better at it you will become, and after a while it will come naturally and you too will be able to play with whatever is on the radio.

About the Author: Ashley Southam the Piano Guy, Used by permission.

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