Starting Piano Lessons By Ear
If you can’t pick up songs instinctively, then you need piano lessons by ear. People born with that talent can play any song, but probably couldn’t explain to you the process they use. They simply listen to a well known song repeatedly, and slowly pick out the notes as they go along. You too can learn to play without reading notes by following these simple steps.
Before you start any piano lessons by ear, you need to learn some basic music concepts. If you understand how scales are formed and how chords and chord progressions come from scales, playing by ear will be a lot easier. This knowledge will also save you time because you’ll understand exactly why certain chords are played at certain points in songs.
Here are some definitions to help you understand these music elements better:
Scales – Are a series of seven specific notes played in sequence, one after the other. A song or “melody” is made up of notes within a particular scale.
Chords – They consist of 3 or more notes played at the same time and usually played with the left hand. They’re also known as “harmony”.
Chord Progression – A series of chords played one after another.
Rhythm – Is the arrangement (or pattern) of sounds and silences with accents on certain beats. (i.e. rock, waltz, etc.) If you’re like most people, you “feel” the beat.
3 Steps to Your Piano Lessons by Ear
There are 3 basic elements in music: melody, harmony, and rhythm. These are also the 3 basic steps you’re going to apply to play piano by ear.
1.- Melody. The notes within a song, either move up (higher pitch), down (lower pitch), or repeat (same pitch). So focus on each note of a tune and determine whether it’s moving up, down, or it’s repeated. Then you can begin to find and hit each note on your piano or keyboard.
One of the easiest songs to start piano lessons by ear is “Mary Had a Little Lamb“. It starts moving down in consecutive notes, then up, down, up, up, and up again skipping one note. Then starts moving down gradually, up, down, up, down, and finally down. (EDCDEEE, DDD, EGG, EDCDEEE, DDEDC). Try using the C, G, or F chord (below) and see which one sounds better against different parts of this melody.
2. Harmony. Now try to harmonize the melody by finding the chords that match it. The main 3 chords for the C scale are the C chord (CEG), F chord (FAC), and G chord (GBD). Melodies spell out chords. In the first 7 notes in this song, all except one match the C chord. The next 3 (DDD) are part of the G chord, and the next 3 go with the C chord.
The following 7 notes again spell out the C chord, the next 4 except one match the G chord, and the last note goes with the C chord. Let your ear guide you and listen how one chord sounds better against the melody than other chords.
3. Rhythm. Look for rhythmic patterns in the melody and observe if, or when they repeat. When you start piano lessons by ear, you’ll notice that melodies are divided into phrases which have similar patterns. For example: short, short, long / short, short, long. Or short, short, long, pause / short, short, long, pause, etc.
This song starts with 6 short notes but the 7th note (E) is longer. In the next phrase, then you have two short notes and a long one (D). The pattern repeats for the next seven notes, the following four notes are short and the very last one is long.
Taking piano lessons by ear can be a great asset for you, especially if you understand the basic structure of a song and if you have an easy and effective system. After a few piano lessons by ear and with enough practice, eventually you’ll develop your own style and maybe even create your own music.