Thursday, August 25, 2005

3 Quick & Easy Steps To Playing Music by Ear

By: Duane Shinn

Playing by ear is the ability to play a piece of music (or,
eventually, learn an instrument) by simply listening to it
repeatedly. The majority of self-taught musicians began their
education this way; they picked up their instrument and began
playing an easy melody from a well-known song, slowly picking
out the notes as they went along. And even after these musicians
master their instruments or a particular song, playing by ear
still plays a large role. Many pop and rock bands don't play or
write their songs based on sheet music, they figure the songs
out by playing by ear. It's even common among non-musicians.
Ever sit down a piano and mindlessly pick out the tune to "Mary
Had a Little Lamb"? What about grabbing a guitar and suddenly
finding yourself playing the opening licks to "Smoke on the
Water"? That's playing by ear. You're able to play part of the
song just because you've heard it so often.

Since music is basically composed of 3 elements - melody,
rhythm, and harmony, it is logical that there are also 3 basic
steps to learning to play music by ear:

1.Charting the contour of the melody. Tunes move higher and
lower - up and down - as the song progresses. Being aware of
that movement is the first step. Once you mentally define the
parameters of the melody, you can then begin to hone in on
picking it out on your instrument. As an example, think of "Joy
To The World". We've all sung it a zillion times, but have you
ever noticed that the melody moves down exactly 8 steps (an
octave), then gradually moves back up in increments, then
repeats the down movement, etc. The entire melody is contained
within those 8 notes, so you now know the parameters of the song
and can begin to pick out the melody intelligently.

2.Harmonizing the melody with matching chords. The second
element of music is harmony, and you can harmonize any melody
just by matching the supporting chords to that melody. For
example, if the melody is a "G", you can harmonize that melody
by using a chord with G in it, such as the G chord (G, B, D),
the C chord (C, E, G), or the Em chord (E, G, B), or the Eb
chord (Eb, G, Bb) and so forth. By using your ear to guide you,
you can learn to harmonize the melody of most any song using
matching chords.

3.Using an appropriate rhythm that matches the feel of the song.
This is usually the easiest part, since most people "feel" the
beat and don't have to do any mental gymnastics to come up with
an appropriate rhythm for a song. But for those of us that might
be "rhythmically challenged", just by knowing that there are
basically two meters available - duple meter and triple meter --
that can be combined in infinite combinations, we can give the
song either a "3" feeling (like a waltz or a jazz waltz) or a
"4" feeling (like swing or a march or a ballad).

Playing by ear is a valuable technique for many musicians;
learning songs based solely on hearing them is a great way to
understand song and chord structure. In fact, a great number of
rock and pop musicians learned to play their instruments this
way. Instead of picking up a book or taking lessons, they
concentrated on figuring out the notes and rhythms to a song
until it was mastered. Then they moved on to another song. And

Gradually, they learned their instrument just by playing by ear
-- and in the process learned how to effectively structure a
song in that particular genre. Playing by ear is also beneficial
in helping a musician develop his or her own style; sure,
they'll at first mimic the style of the song they're imitating,
but the amalgamation of the music that they're playing by ear
will help them create something distinctive, something
indicative of them only.

About the author:
Duane Shinn is the author of over 500 music courses for adults.
His book-CD-DVD course titled "How To Play Piano By Ear Using
Chords!" at has sold over 30,000
copies around the world. He is the author of the popular free
101-week online e-mail newsletter titled "Amazing Secrets Of
Exciting Piano Chords & Sizzling Chord Progressions" available

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