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Play Piano - How to Play Piano By Ear

By Ronald Worthy

Training your ear is much the same as training your dog: you keep shouting orders at it until it recognizes what a certain sound means.

For example, if someone sat at your piano and kept playing major chords without interruption for two straight days, you would no doubt recognize a major chord any time one sounded during the remainder of your life!

Or you might have the same dedicated friend strike nothing but major thirds: C and E, D and F#, F and A, etc. And the next time you heard your car horn you would probably exclaim, "Hey! It's a major third." (Most car horns are "factory-tuned to a major third.)

Once your ear is trained to decipher certain sounds, you can pretty much drive all of those around you to a padded cell with your recognitions. "Hear that train whistle? It's a perfect fourth! Or when a car horn passes you on the highway producing the sliding Doppler effect: "That car just produced a tritone portamento descending!"

In spite of that, many of you have written requesting some tips on how to play piano by ear, so here it goes:

The first order of business is to find that friend who will sit and pound out the sounds for you. The best one that we can recommend is your tape recorder, or a cassette recorder. It should have a numerical counter on it so you can rewind to a specific spot accurately. (Thanks to the electronic age we live in, we can all become better musicians than would have been possible some years ago.) The tape recorder should be set up on a table close enough to your instrument so that you can operate it with the least amount of hassle.

You now must record a series of sounds, which you wish to learn. The question is whether to start learning melodic intervals, chords, rhythms, and chord progressions, whatever. Most teachers would recommend starting with melodic intervals such as skips of a major third, a perfect fifth, major sixth, etc.

For example, the first two notes of "Here Comes the Bride, is a perfect 4th. In the Key of C, the notes would be C to F! In the Key of F, the notes would be: F to Bb.

But I personally feel, you should start with chord progressions. It is a lot more fun, and gets you right into the "mix immediately.

You can train your ear in melody easily enough by continually picking out melodies of songs on the piano. The operative word is continually. And later on in your tape recorder exercises you can record easy melodies, which you will later take as musical dictation.

So if you want to start playing piano by ear, just practice and study very simple chord progressions. But before recording any progression, I advise you to record the tonic note. (The first note of the scale)

For example, if you are playing a progression in the Key of C, record the single note C followed immediately by the progression. This will orient you to a "home base and make things a lot easier.

Copyright 2005 RAW Productions

About The Author
Ronald Worthy offers additional instruction at:


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