Playing by ear is a divisive topic in music.
In one camp you have the “serious” musicians. These are the ones who take instrument lessons, study their theory, and play from sheet music. They perform carefully, practise their scales and get their exam pieces note-perfect.
In the other camp you have the self-taught “Play By Ear” musicians. They can’t read sheet music but they’ve learned several instruments and can play anything they hear.
Most musicians will tend to classify themselves as one or the other. Maybe not 100%, but they will see themselves either as someone who plays by ear, or someone who doesn’t.
Both camps are slightly suspicious of the other – because we fear what we don’t understand.
This often comes out in derisive statements like:
“Well yeah, she can perform that Chopin stuff…
but ask her for a decent rock song and she’s got no clue!”
This kind of thing is understandable, but absolutely unnecessary – and unhelpful to everyone involved.
It perpetuates some play-by-ear myths which have gone on for far too long…
A False and Frustrating Dichotomy
It all boils down to two misconceptions:
- People think playing by ear is all or nothing – you’ve got it or you don’t.
- People think playing by ear is a “natural gift” – not something you learn.
Neither of these things are true!
It is an aspect of music which comes more easily to some people than others, which gives the impression you’ve got to be “a natural” to do it.
It develops gradually (like any other skill).
If you start learning to play by ear, you’ll be a bit better at it tomorrow than you are today.
And next week you’ll be even better than that.
Commit to learning to play by ear and make it part of your regular music practice and you can be just as “talented” at it as any other musician out there.
It is challenging to begin with (like any other skill).
When you first try playing by ear, you’ll make a lot of mistakes.
You won’t get it right first time.
If you’re used to reading from music, this can be scary and frustrating. But stick with it, and your mistakes will reduce, and you’ll be able to play more and more complex music by ear.
Many musicians, operating under the two misunderstandings above, will:
- Try playing by ear
- Find they’re not immediately good at it
- Get frustrated
- Decide they don’t have that “talent”
- Give up.
Considering that playing by ear can one of the most fun parts of being a musician, this is a bit of a disaster!
So what can be done to prevent this?
- Reject the two misunderstandings and approach playing by ear as something to be learned gradually.
- Start learning to play by ear.
- Use the best tools and techniques to learn as fast as possible.
You might have noticed that when naming products here at Easy Ear Training we tend to go for the simple, direct names – and our latest Greatest Hits eBook is no exception:
“Start Playing By Ear” is an audio-enhanced eBook to help you start playing by ear.
It starts from the absolute basics, making sure to clear up all those myths that surround playing by ear.
It explains the various aspects of playing by ear and leads you through assessing your own abilities, so you know what you can do and what you want to do.
Then, to make sure you’ll improve as quickly as possible as you learn to play by ear, it introduces a wide range of recommended resources to accelerate and further your learning.
Like our other audio-enhanced eBooks there are plenty of musical examples throughout the book to bring the material to life and help you understand by listening.
Some early feedback on the book:
“Start Playing By Ear” is available in our ear training store now!
If you’ve never really tried learning to play by ear, then whether or not you decide to check out the new eBook I hope you will try learning it now. It’s easier than you think!
If you tried to learn and gave up… Try again! If you need some help, maybe the eBook can give you the boost you need.
I’ll leave you with two thoughts I wish I’d taken to heart much sooner:
You can learn to play by ear.
You can learn to play by ear.
So what are you waiting for? Go – play by ear!
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