Monday, February 7, 2011

The Ultimate Endgame In Music

What’s the ultimate endgame of playing the piano by ear?  When do you know that you’ve arrived?  What represents the plateau level that defines all musicians of different styles and abilities as being “up there?” 

I think it is the ability to easily read on paper (and play) a song you have never heard before.  To take in the time and key signatures, and interpret the rhythm and tempo to produce the song as it is meant to be played.  Not necessarily complicated arrangements, but rather intuitive interpretation of just a one-note melody line and chords. 

“Sounds more like sight-reading, what’s this got to do with playing by ear?” you ask.  A lot. 

Too many musicians live in a vacuum of familiarity.  The only way they can play a song is by first hearing the recording.  That’s following your ear and of course, encouraged.  But you can’t stay there forever.  To grow, you must reach beyond your comfort zone of familiarity and start exploring. 

There are billions of songs on paper and just one little-old-you to explore them.  If you limit your playing only to songs that are familiar, you miss out on one of the great hidden joys of playing music.  It is the realization that the best songs you want to play are those that you do not know

To find those songs -those rarest euphoric rides of beauty and genius- you’ve got to be able to quickly size up and play by ear most anything that is set in front of you.  I think that’s the ultimate endgame. 


Joseph Pingel is a pianist, teacher and musicologist.  Click here to get the free companion book to this blog.  See his other sites at and 

© 2011 Keyed Up Inc

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