Monday, September 24, 2012

How I Learned to Play the Piano by Ear

Many people take piano lessons in hopes of being able to entertain folks with a song, perhaps a sing-a-long, maybe even take requests.

Key to that is being able to play by ear, to play, in full arrangement, any song you can hum. I can do that. Here's how I learned.

Ironically, it's because I can't read music well at all. You see, when you play from sheet music, it goes from your eyes to your fingers, no ears required. Your ear never develops.

Instead of learning a song by reading music, I started, by trial and error, trying to plunk out, with one finger, a tune I could hum: Chopsticks. That trial-and-error process developed my ear. Each note I played gave me feedback: "Whoops, that's not what that note should sound like" or "Yes, that's what it should sound like." After learning to plunk a very few songs, I developed a sense of how far up or down on the keyboard the next note should be.

When that got a little boring, I added one harmony note to the melody, again by trial and error. I induced how far away the note from the melody would likely make a nice harmony note.

I simply kept building on that, adding more notes to the harmony of those songs and adding new songs. That constantly developed my ear further until I was able to play any song I can hum in full arrangement. It really was as simple as that.

Here's me playing a few things, all by ear. I've never seen the sheet music for any of it..


Monty said...

Hi Marty.I am no expert but this is excellent playing.I am a piano beginner who plays by ear and I think you should be able to clarify some of my doubts.

#I am learning keyboards and can play the melody(with few errors)with right hand.
How do I get my left hand to accompany my playing?

#Are you playing chords or notes with your left hand?

#Is it possible to play the first note of any song correctly at first go?It happens to me that to get the first note,I have to do trial and error a bit,but after that I can play rest of song more easily.

Marty Nemko said...

Start by playing the left hand with just one finger--think of it as a bass player. Trial and error, what sounds good. Your ear will get better and soon you won't have to do so much trial and error.

When I play, it's notes or chords as I see fit but more often, it's a note or octave.

The first note automatically is correct--it just determines what key you'll be playing in. The second note is your first chance to make an error--you must correctly intuit the right distance up or down from the first note. As I said in the video, that too comes with practice.

Monty said...

Thanks for replying.
By the way I never knew much about you when I posted my previous comment, but after reading some of your articles,I must say I am sort of feeling embarrassed for asking so basic questions from a person so highly qualified !
And yes,When I said playing first note correctly ,I actually meant getting the original key used in the song(or a tune in your mind) correctly.


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