Saturday, February 1, 2014

How to Learn to Play the Piano By Ear--(Perhaps) All You Need to Know in Six Minutes

Update: This video wasn't originally in this post but a reader asked me to create one, so I've added it here and in a separate post I've just posted.

Many people take piano lessons with the goal of easily playing songs by ear, for example, at a party.

Yet the way they're taught, that rarely happens. They're taught mainly to read music. That doesn't develop your ear because you're translating what you see on the page to what you play with your fingers. Your ear is left out of the process.

If you aren't tone deaf, I'm guessing that the following is an efficient way to learn to play by ear. It's how I learned to.

Any keyboard will do but this Yamaha, for $249, is a good choice for a beginner.

The video above demonstrates the method. Here's that method in text: 

1. Using trial and error, try to, by ear,  with your right index finger, plunk out Mary Had a Little Lamb. Stay with it it until you can play it at the standard tempo. Each time you guess a note right or wrong, you're getting feedback on what the interval between two piano keys sounds like. Your ear, your ability to pick the right note to play, is thus constantly getting better.

2. After you can reliably plunk out Mary Had a Little Lamb with one finger, with the index finger of your left hand, try, again using trial and error, to play a note that sounds harmonious with the note you're playing in the right hand. Play one note on every beat. I show the beats in red CAPS:  
MAry HAD a LIttle LAMB, LIttle LAMB, LIttle LAMB,  
MAry HAD a LIttle LAMB,

3. When you can reliably do that, add a harmony note to the RIGHT hand on each beat. Again, trial and error. Each error and each success builds your ear's ability to predict what will likely sound good.  

4. Repeat steps 1-3 with other easy songs you can easily hum. It's best to start with songs with a short distance between most notes. Examples:  Do-Re-Mi, Jingle Bells, Yankee Doodle.

If I'm right, with far less practice than is required with traditional lessons, you'll be able to play, with harmony and rhythm, anything you can hum. 

This method could take you quite far. I learned piano playing this way and playing purely by ear, without reading music, I played over 2,000 union-professional gigs (including in brand-name orchestras like Lester Lanin, Peter Duchin, and Dwight Howard) in New York City between ages 12 and 22.  

At age 50, I  developed a hand condition, which rendered me a seven-fingered pianist but HERE is what I sound like with seven fingers. Of course, I'm playing by ear. The beginning isn't much but you might want to listen to all 3 1/2 minutes. 

Feel free to write a comment letting me know how well this method is working for you or if you have any questions.


Anonymous said...

For us might be rudimentary, but it would be great to see a video demonstration of how this is done.

Marty Nemko said...

Good idea. I will do it.


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