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Piano Advice: Playing by Ear

Updated on August 15, 2012

Piano Playing by Ear

In retrospect, ever since I was six, I knew how to play by ear. Although, at the time, I didn't know that playing songs by ear was that useful until now.

Every time I hear a song, I can pick apart every element of the sound - from the pitch of notes to dynamics, and even the emotion of the lyrics. Pop songs, in particular, are relatively easy to play by ear because they use repetitive chord progressions throughout the entire song, as opposed to classical music that is usually not based on chords, but individual notes.

Nevertheless, playing pop songs on the piano by ear is rather enjoyable. There's no reading sheet music involved, just the imagination at work. Here are the basic steps to playing a pop song by ear:

1. Key and Chord Progression (Left Hand)

Songs are in a specific key, and finding the key of a song, unfortunately, does take some musical skill and talent. If you have take music theory, you would know that scales have key signatures. The sharps and flats of each key need to be memorized in order to play be ear properly.

Then, figure out the chords. For the typical pop song, the chord progression usually consists of I, V, vi, and V referring to the beginning note of each chord in a key e.g. in the key of C Major, the typical chord progression would be C major, G Major, A minor, and F Major. C is the easiest key to play in because it consists of all white keys; there's no need to worry about the black keys. The chords are played by the left hand. Of course, the chord progression is not always C, G, Am, F. There are other progressions like Am, F, C, G, which is the progression in "Wedding Dress" by Taeyang.

And if you can't figure out the chords yourself, try Google and find chords. I am almost certain they are out there.

2. Playing the right-hand Melody

Once you have the chords, practice the melody. By comparing the pitch of the singing to hitting the keys, you will be able to figure out the melody. This process is often one of trial and error. Don't worry if you can't get it right immediately. Just keep comparing what you play to what you hear in the song and match up the notes.

3. Play with both hands.

Now that you know the chords and the melody, play both parts together. Often times, the left hand sets the rhythm as well. Like the strumming of a guitar, playing chords in the left hand act as the rhythm of the song and takes much practice to perfect.

4. Practice with almost every song you hear

Without practice, you won't be able to master playing by ear. That's a fact. Practice playing by ear with your favorite songs and practice each hand separately if you are having trouble playing both hands at the same time.

5. Sounding Good doesn't equal Complex

Sure, fast classical pieces sound amazing and it takes a lot of technique to master. But slow and simple pieces can sound amazing too. Although the chords may be repeated in a loop, and the melody is replayed over again for the chorus, what makes the difference between a dull performance and a brilliant one is dynamics. In pop songs, the volume is not at the same level all the time. In the chorus, the volume usually increases - this should be reflected in your piano playing as well.

Maybe by Sunye (Dream High OST)

Sheet music:

Download Cody Simpson - On My Mind [SHEET MUSIC]

Safe and Sound Sheet Music Download

Taylor Swift - We Are Never Getting Back Together

Watch Piano cover of "Mistletoe" by Justin Bieber

Can you play pop songs by ear?

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      Denise 6 years ago

      I wish to know how!