"You hum it, I'll play it" is the classic response of the bar-room pianist to an unknown song; but why is it that some people seem to have an innate ability to instantly play anything they have heard while most of us struggle?
Virtuoso musicians like Mozart or Jaco Pastorius gained fame for being able to recall hours of complex music after a single listen, but for the average musician that's only a pipe dream.
Like 'Perfect Pitch', playing by ear is often talked about as if it's some kind of innate gift which only some people possess (and it's true that some people seem to develop this skill without really trying) but as with all aspects of music, hard work usually beats talent in the end.
If you want to develop some serious playing by ear skills nothing beats time spent with a CD player or iPod, wearing out the rewind key while working out your favourite tracks. Working on your aural skills with dedicated play by ear training will give you a serious advantage and speed the process up considerably though!
Ear training skills which can help you play by ear include:
- Strong absolute pitch can allow you to hear the key of a song
- Relative Pitch skills will help you to pinpoint the hard to find the notes in riffs and melodies
- Chord ear training will make identifying progressions much easier
- Rhythm ear training will help de-mystify strange phrasing and syncopation
Using ear training exercises to develop each of these key listening skills can help your overall play by ear training and make it faster and easier to play music by ear.
Playing by ear is a wonderful skill to develop and one which is often neglected in the classical tradition, where players can become reliant on having the sheet music in front of them. With a bit of ear training under your belt, a limitless repertoire of music opens up to you.
Ear Training Resources for Playing By Ear
Many musicians assume that playing by ear is a gift you have to be born with. This is simply not true.
"Start Playing By Ear" explains how you can learn this most impressive and satisfying of musical skills.
Thousands upon thousands of songs use the same 3 or 4 chords - knowing about this makes learning to play them by ear much easier!
"3-Chord Songs and the 4-Chord Trick" is your all-in-one guide to these essential chord progressions.
The Learn to Play by Ear series explores the what, why and how of learning to play by ear, featuring a range of top guest experts to share their perspective on how to become a natural play-by-ear musician.