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 and 

© 2011 Keyed Up Inc

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