"Playing Music By Ear Is
Pretty Sweet Soundin' Stuff!"

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If playing music by ear is a goal of yours, you're at the right place because it's an important topic here. Nothing can match the pleasure derived from being able to sit at the piano and play your favorite music by ear on demand.

This particular lesson gets you started by providing a very important first step for playing your favorite songs by ear.

Have a song in mind? If not, pick one and apply this highly effective strategy...

The first thing you want to be able to do is duplicate the melody of that song on the piano keyboard. Sing, hum, or whistle a little of the melody of your particular song.

Start by playing a note on the piano, making that the first note of the song - then sing, hum, or whistle from that point. Now, match the melody you are singing with notes (keys) on the piano. At this point, you're already playing music by ear using relative pitch ! ( I explain the difference between relative pitch and perfect pitch here )

IMPORTANT POINT: as you do this, approach it as a game - don't be overly serious about it . While making efforts to improve your capacity to play music by ear, your ears will work best for you while you play in a relaxed fashion, while remaining receptive to your results. Never put yourself down or judge yourself for playing "wrong notes!"

Look at it this way... there are no "wrong notes" - just different note choices. If they don't match the ones you are singing, perhaps what you play instead will sound good and you'll want to play it again later! Taking on this perspective is actually a wonderful strategy for improving your skills when it comes to playing music by ear.

Just keep playing until the notes you are playing match the melody of the song. I'll mention it one more time - just start with a little piece of the song, like a measure, two, or three, or four...

Okay, now that you can play that piece of the melody, you want to determine what scale these notes belong to - that will likely be the key you are playing in.

The video below shows my example being in the key of C major, since the notes I play clearly coincide with the C Major scale. Determining the scale you are using will be a good review of what you know already, and give you a good idea of what you'll want to learn. An initial stage to playing music by ear involves becoming familiar with a few major scales

Helpful hint: if your knowledge of major scales is currently limited to just a few and it appears that your melody involves a lot of black keys, then change your melody's starting point - keep doing this, until the notes you are playing coincide with a scale you are familiar with.

Also, it's quite common for the melody to include notes that are out of the context of a particular scale... you want to stay focused on the majority of notes in that melody. Please keep this in mind.

Okay, once you have determined what key you are in, you want to know what the three primary chords are in that particular key. For example, in the key of C Major, the three primary chords (just thinking in terms of triads here) are C Major, F Major, and G Major. Yes, they are all major chords.

The three primary chords are based on chords formed on roots using the I (one), IV (four), and V (five) of the scale that you are in. In the key of C Major, the I is C, the IV is F, and the V is G (just look at the scale and this is easy to see.

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Again, in any major key, the three primary chords are always major chords - if you feel you need some help with playing major chords, simply visit here

This is important: the three primary chords are certainly not the only chords in music, nor will they likely be the only ones in your song (depending on your choice of songs), but they will serve as a good foundation for this initial step in learning to play music by ear. .

By all means, make it a point to become familiar with the three primary chords of any key you start getting involved with .

Even if you find that none of these chords sounds "perfect" with your melody, there will usually be one that will sound better than the other two. Please remember this.

What you want to do next is start playing your melody while playing one of these three primary chords, until you have selected the one that sounds better than the other two. Continue playing your melody and allow your ears to determine when it might be time for a different chord to be played. Then play one of the other two that you have not played yet.

Continue this process, playing the melody and experimenting with one of the three primary chords as you proceed. Make a game of this. No judging - just listen, and make attempts at matching the right chord to the different parts of your melody. You will see how it can be quite helpful to start with just a small piece of the melody to start with.