Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Roadmap to Playing By Ear

When playing the piano by ear, the science of music organizes your musical mind and controls how you get around.  It’s the plan.  It’s what all musicians that play by ear have in common; they all  know how to get around.

While many get lost in the notion that “getting around” is some mysterious skill, it’s not.  The system is the same for everyone who wants to learn it.  It's simple and is based on first knowing the basic major and minor chords (Command) and thinking numbers over tones.   It’s a combination of set, minimum proficiency skills and a focused way of thinking.

Become The Smartest Beginner In The World

You can become the smartest, inexperienced musician in the world with specific training and direction.  Finding your way around the key is a numerical roadmap but that understanding is served up raw.  It only documents how to get from one place to another.

However, it doesn’t convey any style whatsoever to your playing (but that’s a small price to pay for learning the basic chords quickly).  When you reach Command, you are years ahead of others who’ve never even thought about it.  So what if you aren't playing with style after 4 months of concentrated learning?  At the start, giving yourself the tools to go forward is far more important. 

Before You Can Play With Style You Must First Play Without It

Putting yourself in a position where you analyze the chords, their similar fingerings and places on the keyboard, puts you in a different league altogether than other piano students.  When you reach Command you’ll feel great independence knowing chords as a reflex.  At that point you will be able to take it to the next level.

Many neo-piano-methods attempt to teach you to play with style before you are ready.  Often the tips and tricks you learn are out of context to your level of ability.  Though tips and tricks are good, they are most often the mask of being a faker. 

Standard And Faker Lessons Are The Same

You either understand what you are doing or you don’t.  It all starts with learning the positions and recognizing the chords.  If you do that, you will become a diamond in the rough; an inexperienced expert. 

Otherwise, your training is just rote memorization out of context to your  musicianship.  There’s no difference between sight-reading (following) classical music or blues licks when you don’t know what you are doing.

Take time in the beginning to study the roadmap.  Learn how to read it and you'll go directly to where you want to go.  

Treading Water

You need to get to a point where you can tread water in just a few keys and understand how to read the roadmap. That doesn’t make you an Olympic swimmer and likewise, Command alone doesn’t make you a great pianist.  However, it does give you independence and teaches self-reliance (which is the only way of a true musician). 

All you have to do is learn those 24 chords, follow the roadmap and TRY.


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

© 2011 Keyed Up Inc

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Gift of Playing By Ear


When it comes to playing by ear and playing the piano in general, there are always people that play better than you.  Just like any skill, some people just have natural abilities but the deck is stacked against you if you don’t have at least one “gift.”

You might have more than one if you are lucky.  What are they?

The Gifts 

1.    The desire to express one’s self musically.

Your motivation to play music is at focus.  If you want to get good you have to have strong desire.  There has to be a spark because without it, music is not a priority.  In the beginning it is the desire to learn the instrument.  After that it is the desire to master music.  Desire is a gift.

2.    Superior, natural-dexterity skills.

Some have long skinny fingers that are controlled with piston-like motion and have a knack for accuracy.  It goes beyond being well-practiced (but that is much of it as well).  Their fingers just know what to do. 

3.    A natural understanding for music.

My young son loves gymnastics unlike anything else.  Put him in a matted room with apparatus and something clicks.  Gymnastics captivates him and he always wants to do it.  If you feel that same way about music then that is an important gift. 

“Playing By Ear” ISN’T a Gift

“Playing by ear” is a term that means everything to everyone which is far too broad a definition to be valid.  It is totally misunderstood by those that can’t do it, and those that can have misconceptions as well.

Playing by ear is a combination of proficiency, knowledge, experience and exposure to mass quantities of music.  All come together to create a musician that possesses an independent ability to play the piano.  It’s a self-made thing that builds on skills and understandings from the beginning, not just tips and tricks.

You Have To Be Able To At Least Swing The Bat

On the most basic level, playing by ear is hearing a song in your head and picking it out on the piano?  Some say this is a gift.  Maybe so because not everyone can do this (and even some experienced musicians are lost).  That stands in the way of playing by ear and akin to tone-deafness.

Staying on key is another problem.  When singing accapella, some people start singing in one key and wind up somewhere else.  Again, no help there.  This wandering of melody tends to carry over to the piano.

I always have hope for everyone.  You can only get better.


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

© 2011 Keyed Up Inc