Playing by Ear

Playing by Ear

Music was with us long before we learnt how to read and write. Here’s my program for learning to play by ear:
Learning to Play by Ear:

A. Tonal Recognition

1. Student looks away from the keyboard; instructor plays two notes four intervals apart and asks student to identify which is the higher note. This is done until a best in five is achieved.
2. Repeat (1) at intervals of three, two and one with the same accuracy achievement.

B. Playing the Melody

1. Choose at least three simple songs that you like and know very well.
2. Sing the first line of the song three times.
3. Sing the first note of the song three times.
4. Find and play that first note on the keyboard three times.
5. Try playing the song starting with the first note without looking at the keyboard. This will take quite a lot of practice at first since you are teaching your brain a new skill of tonal recognition.

C. Chordal Harmony

There are three Primary Chords in every key. Do the following exercise with the primary chords in the key of C Major which are C, F and G in that order.
1. In half time, play the C chord twice, F once, G once and back to C twice.
2. Repeat this sequence ten times singing along to a constant beat for rhythm development.
Note: This exercise of chord sequence and harmony applies to all keys.

D. Playing the Chords

To play the chord accompaniment for any piece of music, you must first find the key of the piece of music. This should be easy if you have mastered the Chordal Harmony exercise. Here is how it’s done:
1. Play the first melody measure/phrase of the song and find the bass note that anchors the phrase. That note represents the key of the song. For example, if that note is C, then the key of the song is C Major for which the primary chords are C, F and G.
2. With your chordal harmony training you would be able to effect the necessary chord changes of the piece of music.

Re: Playing by Ear

Chords? Harmony? Keyboards? Instructor?

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Re: Playing by Ear

This is going to be good reading.

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This is too complex a technique to comprehensibly draw up in 4 small exercises.

However, if it works for you then great.

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Dan, I guess it must vary between individuals, but I personally never found playing by ear to be complex. It just came automatically to me as a kid and I can’t understand why anybody who can at least whistle can’t do it. Okay, ‘simple’ would be an understatement because you still have to learn to play the instrument well, but I wouldn’t call it a ‘complex technique’. Surely you just listen and play.

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I disagree with the entire OP.

There, I said it.

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So do I.

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Yup

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I agree with the first sentence, but that’s it.

Those who played before reading and writing didn’t need rules and exercises.

Listen to music. Play music. Practice. Simples.

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"1. Play the first melody measure/phrase of the song and find the bass note that anchors the phrase. That note represents the key of the song. For example, if that note is C, then the key of the song is C Major for which the primary chords are C, F and G."
What if the tune is in C Dorian?

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jeez.

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I keep trying to play my accordion by ear, but I keep hitting more than one button at once, and my nose keeps bumping into the side of it. Maybe I should try to play it by fingers…

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Maybe you should practice using just one ear at a time until you get used to it.

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"Maybe you should practice using just one ear at a time until you get used to it."

- Brilliant

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"There are three Primary Chords in every key."

It is sad how many guitarists actually believe this in relation to trad.

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…and even if there were three primary chords in every key, getting a (clueless) guitarist to play the right chord in the right spot seems nearly impossible.

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I never use my ears, fingers only.

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There’s no doubt that the chord hat is more helpful than the OP.

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Play the flute and then you don’t have to worry too much about playing all those chords. (Other than what you can hear others doing.)

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Gobby, you made me laugh and that’s not allowed on Sundays.

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Good one Gobby.

aaaand, nice one Ben. 😉

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I am quite happy to leave that to the few.

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What ever did all these people do before You Tube?

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You’ll always find me in the kitchen at parties.

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As for tonal recognition, I think the standard method of teaching music, using teacher, student, keyboard and printed music is just as quick and effective. The ‘dots’ show a spatial relationship between the notes, and the ear and fingers quickly make that spatial and aural connection between the note intervals when the notes are played.

I think the same applies to melodies and chords too.

Many will be OK with this, some won’t, and will rely on their ears only - with varying degrees of success.

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The trouble with the ‘standard method of teaching music, using teacher, student, keyboard and printed music’ is that it teaches and reinforces only one type of intonation — one that does not necessarily apply to Irish music.

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Re: Playing by Ear

[*The trouble with the ‘standard method of teaching music, using teacher, student, keyboard and printed music’ is that it teaches and reinforces only one type of intonation — one that does not necessarily apply to Irish music.*]

I think that’s fair comment, but to be fair to the OP-er , imo he was referring very much to beginners in any type of music : "identifying the higher of two notes which are 4 intervals apart" implies a very basic level of teaching and ear-training.

He mentions ‘keyboard’, which I would take to mean a piano, but it could also be a fretted instrument, where, like a piano, the intervals are fixed.

Playing microtones on a fretless instrument, getting the best compromise when playing with a fixed-pitch instrument - imo that’s at quite an advanced level of teaching, and yes that would specifically apply to some Irish music too.

Having said all that, the OP-er simply made several statements, and did not ask for a response 🙂

Re: Playing by Ear

"Having said all that, the OP-er simply made several statements, and did not ask for a response".
Yeah, as if that was going to happen! But anyhow, these are ‘discussion’ pages. A question, or at least a point to summarise the statements may have helped.

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The problem as I see it is that the OP started off with a blanket ‘written music is not a necessary or even useful tool’ statement (which could be argued against anyway) and then proceeds with a method based entirely on Western tonal music which has been inseparable from the written ‘dots’ for centuries. Somebody pointed out that the OP’s ‘I-IV-V-I’ idea doesn’t work in Irish trad. This is because Irish trad, while having some elements in common with Western tonal music, isn’t Western tonal music. The OP describes a (much simplified) ear training regimen which would be more appropriate for a beginning "classical" (how I hate that word…) musician than someone who would be primarily interested in playing Irish.

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Kid 1: "My da plays guitar without sheet music - he only plays using his ears"
Kid 2: "That’s nothin’ - my da likes to fiddle with his nose hair"

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Whilst this may have some validation as a teaching method it’s a little too structured for me.
ITM is fluid and open to interpretation rules don’t work with the free flowing ethos. If i hear a song i don’t know i listen to a couple of verses and choruses and before long i can sing along as i have the basic tune in my head, i use the same method for ITM if someone plays a tune i don’t know i listen to it once through then quietly !!!! pick some notes as i go along the 2nd time by 3rd time i have the bones of most of the tune by the time it’s finished, the next time the tune is played i already have the majority of notes and play along quietly until i can play it well before bringing up the volume of my instrument to the session level. i find this the best way to learn.