Have you ever encountered someone who heard a song on the radio and then just sat down and played that song on a piano? Doesn’t that just piss you off? Some people are just gifted, what can you do! What most people don’t realize is that it’s a skill, not talent. You CAN actually learn to play piano by ear. I’m going to briefly explain in this article how you can start.
Master your cords
Not to throw too much theory your way, all you need to know is that music has structure. Cords 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 cords.
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 disencouraged 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.