How to play piano by ear

Play it by Ear

Some people seem to be able to sit down at the piano and play any song they’ve heard, just like magic. But it isn’t magic. People who can play by ear had to learn to do it, and that takes time and effort. Playing by ear is a fantastic skill to have, and you can start today to help your child develop it.

4 Ways Parents Can Encourage Playing By Ear

  • Listen to Music: The first step in learning to play by ear is to learn to listen to music. This isn’t just casually listening to music going in the background, but really focusing on the sound. What’s happening in the music? Are notes repeating? Moving up or down? What’s the rhythm?
  • Hear it in your Head: Once you’ve heard a piece of music, can you hear it again in your head? With the music off, can you walk through the tune in your mind? This skill is called audiation, and it’s an important step not only in playing by ear, but also in singing, composing, and other music skills.
  • Sing: When you sing you HAVE to sing by ear. There’s no other way! Most children have already developed the ability to learn and sing melodies by ear, and if they can sing by ear, they can learn to play by ear too. Practice listening to a short section of new music, then singing along, then singing alone to strengthen this skill. For a great resource of children’s song collections, check out the Wee Sing series, which include both music books and audio CD’s. These little books make great sight reading practice too.
  • Tap Out Some Tunes: Have your child pick a simple song that they like, one they know well enough to sing, and try playing just a little bit of it on the piano. You can even try some holiday favorites, like “Jingle Bells” or “Jolly Old St. Nicholas.” Most of the time, once they start picking out a tune they like, they won’t want to stop. Keep this fun and no pressure, and if it starts to get frustrating for them, just take a break and the next day encourage them to try again.

Learning to play by ear takes a lot of trial and error, so be patient and encourage your child to be patient too. As your child continues to learn and grow as a piano student, they’ll be able to play more complex melodies by ear, and will eventually learn how to hear and add chords and accompaniment patterns. If they keep working at this important musical skill, what once seemed impossible or magical can be something that happens whenever they sit down to play.
Playing by ear and reading music go hand in hand to open up the entire world of music learning, performance, and enjoyment for your child. Make sure to take some time to develop both of these essential skills.
Happy Playing,
Joseph Hoffman

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