Some people are more gifted than others. They can listen to a song on the radio once and play the melody on a piano right away. What sorcerer is that? I used to be so jealous of people like that. But my piano journey has taken me to a level that I realized that play piano by ear is a skill rather than a talent. You can definitely learn it.
It’s not easy though. A strong foundation of music theory and tons of practice is needed. In this article, I hope to introduce you to the idea and show you some methods that you can start learning to play piano by ear.
Master your cords
Not to throw too much theory your way, all you need to know is that music has structure. Chords are the fundamental one. If you want to quickly play a song that you just heard on radio, you have to master all your cords, MAJOR & MINOR.
By master, I mean not just the root formation of all the cords. You need to be able to quickly identify any variation of the chords.
Listen Listen Listen
Do I even need to mention this? You want to play a song by ear, you gotta listen!
Start with the melody, hum along and try to hum the melody without the song playing. If you know the lyrics, learn to sing it. Putting words to notes really helps memorize the melody.
Once you nail the melody, now listen to the cords. Identify which cord it is and in what formation. Understand the progression of the cord. Also, try to associate the cord with the melody; how they interact with each other; how they complement each other.
Finally, listen to the highlights of the song. What makes it pop, what is the signature of the song.
Now, sit down in front of your piano and start trying. Playing by ear is all about trying and correcting. Don’t be discouraged if you can get it right in the beginning.
Start with only the right hand on the melody while you are singing along. Go back to the listening part if you need to. Do that only with the first section.
Try the same with the cord on your left hand, only for the first section as well.
Put the hands together. Keep trying and tweaking until you master the first section.
Move one to the rest of the song section by section.
Really, that’s it. Playing piano by ear is not complicated. But it does take a lot of time to try and tweak. Also, if you are just starting learning piano, you really need to first get your cords sorted out.
I said you can do it, I didn’t say it’ll be easy. But if it’s a song you like, the process is fun and can often spark creativity in you.