Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Black Hole in the Music Galaxy

Being able to play piano by ear is more than just playing the piano.  It is a science of numbers that lets you keep track of where you are and where you are going.  You play intelligently because you understand chords and how to put them together.

It really is that easy.  Knowing the basic 24 chords (Command) and how to build establishes a very high degree of proficiency way over and above 95% of all pianists.

When you know the chords, you’re good and you know it.  It's really not such a long ways off with a little focus.  What then?

Improvement is totally up to you.  Command of basic chords is the springboard that you base any improvements.  Command is a high degree of proficiency and knowledge, but really just the beginning of learning advanced skills. 

Chords Are The Great Equalizers

The path to learning chords paves the way to playing by ear; they're one in the same.  No matter how good you are, it's very difficult to play independently if you don't know chords.  Chords are the great equalizers that let all musicians operate on the same plane to create independently. From there, it's all practice and talent.

The Basic Chords Are The Starting Point

This is an absolute truth.  There is no other equivalent starting point to excellence for the masses to aspire to. You don't have to be a concert pianist to be good in the way you want to be good. 

When you concentrate on chords, learning piano seems more natural and makes more sense.  Chords are the most important factor to playing piano, PERIOD!  They are the foundations of all melody and a leading skill that unfortunately, many advanced sight-readers do not possess.

You Have a Lifetime To Learn Theory

You’ll spend your lifetime putting the music theory puzzle together.  It’s a black-hole puzzle that is infinite.  It will never be complete and in itself is the beginning and the end.  Imagine the black-hole puzzle as one that contains the entire universe of music (all melody and sound) and absorbing it into it’s infinite center.   This is a very apt metaphorical picture.

Music Is Infinite But The Border Is Defined

You’ll spend 25 years of searching on your own in the right places to define the border before you can see the Hidden Universe.  As sure as the nose on your face, it is there.

It is the wisdom of the master’s vantage point.

Chances are you can’t see it because it hasn’t yet sunk in.  Once you reach Command over your fingering, the next stop is to discover for yourself the Hidden Universe as quickly as you can.

To do that you must fast-track defining the border (that will otherwise take you 25 years to assemble).  The pros, over time analyze things and sometimes put it together immediately.  Some people instinctively know what the puzzle looks like and how to put it together from the start.  There's an X-Factor here for some.  But most of us need help in defining the puzzle border because we don’t know what it looks like.

However, you've got one great advantage; a picture of the puzzle on the box.  That's a great advantage but you’re still going to have to put it together.  When the border pieces are in place, music makes a lot more sense as you fill in the middle.

Music Is More Than Pitch, Tempo and Meter

We tend to define music as pitch, tempo, rhythm and meter but those are only the outcome of a  musical process; the sound-product of banging a drum or singing a song.  Music is a lot more than what you hear.

Under the surface, all the theories work in concert to put structure to the creation of music expression.  Conscious or unconscious, these interactions occur every time a song is played or written.

Theory is finite but music is infinite!  It is this gray area between the two concepts where the “Hidden Universe” lies.  Take a moment and think about this.  Ask yourself if you can believe there is something more to music than meets the ear. 

The Mind-Set

The“Hidden Universe” defines the Play By Ear Discovery mind-set.  You are seeking an encompassing awareness of musical insights that are years beyond your experience.  If you think it seems complicated, then put things in perspective.  Musical creation is complicated but managing it is simple in the Hidden Universe. 

Do you believe me?  If not, then come and see me again in 25 years. 


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 

© 2012 Keyed Up Inc


  1. Couldn't agree more, Joe. Music is an abstract matrix of mathematical relationships...yet it is simultaneously an art form capable of expressing complex, deep and surprising emotions. How could that be? As a Buddhist, I may not believe in the existential reality of a Deity, but the power of Mystery (something like a black hole? ultimate Emptiness?) feels revelatory and seeps into what happens when you sit at the piano knowing how chords work.

  2. Yes, a strong mental picture of the concept puts order to complexity. Those who realize the infinite reach of the of the 8-note concept are enlightened.

    My "Aha" moment swept me into a musical-river current so fast I couldn't believe it. I realized that 8-concept thinking was like a raft to navigate the vast musical waters.