The Sound Method
This section of the Play by Ear, Write by Heart series may seem like the strangest, and may give you the impression that I have a bit of a mental disorder, but if you will take it seriously, and try it out, I’m sure you will find these tools as useful for you as they have been for me. These methods are certainly not necessary, but they can be a bit of fun, and might even help you in creating original music.
Your mental ear is quite powerful. It is also very sensitive, and can be easily manipulated. If you have ever been in a situation where you have been surrounded by a continuous and solid noise, such as a loud motor or fan, you may have noticed that any sound that you hear in the distance may be distorted and misunderstood. If someone speaks to you while you are next to a loud motor, for example, you may hear something different than what they actually said. This can be frustrating in terms of communication, but if you are trying to learn to write music by heart, a loud and constant sound can be a great tool.
I should clarify that I am not speaking of loud music or loud rhythm. Those will prevent the very thing you are trying to accomplish. I am speaking of a constant sound, such as the hum of a vacuum cleaner or the crashing of falling water.
As you listen to the sound, listen carefully. Listen intently and try to hear more in the hum than what is really there. When you feel as though you might be able to hear echoes of other sounds emanating from the hum, let your mental ear play with it. Imagine that you can hear music in the hum. Imagine it with as detailed as you can.
As your mind begins developing a tune, repeat it over and over, until you feel confident that you won’t easily forget it. Then, go to a piano and try to play it. This may or may not work, but when it does work, it can be a fun way of inventing a piece of music.
Don’t allow yourself to get discouraged when your attempt at playing your imagined music on the piano doesn’t sound nearly as good as you remember hearing it.
Your mental ear has much more skill than your hands do. Your mind can play entire orchestras with every little detail. After all, consider a piece of music that you’ve heard dozens of times. Can’t you hear the tune in your mind with all the little instrumental details? That is your mental ear playing back a piece of music. This same format can be used to write a whole new piece of music that has never been heard before by anyone.
If you can come up with a basic tune this way, allow yourself time to learn to play it.
You’ll also find that a tune is MUCH easier to remember once you’ve played it on the piano (however inadequately), because sometimes when you come back to a piece you can remember the fingering better than the tune. That’s all right, since as soon as your fingers do their work, your mind will recall the feelings and notes of your original music.