Play by Ear, Write by Heart

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Introduction

Part 1

Often when I am speaking with someone about music, I mention the fact that I play piano by ear. Almost inevitably, their response is the same. In some form, they say: “That’s so cool! I wish I could do that, but there’s no way. A person has to have a special gift in order to be able to do that.” They speak of playing by ear as some incredible, mystical talent that must be granted or inherited, rather than developed like other talents.
Admittedly, I do believe it is a gift. But it is a gift that is given to nearly every person on earth, and must be developed more than discovered. There are also some who suppose the work and practice required developing this talent would take so much time and effort that it wouldn’t be worth it. That is simply not so. Most people who give it a sincere try find it is easier than learning to read music, and it for most, it doesn’t take as long.impressionist-playing-piano.JPG

Many people have come to believe that learning to play piano by ear is not possible unless you are some sort of genius. Because this misconception is so widely spread, most people never even try. There are relatively few who realize that an ordinary, unmusically inclined person can develop this talent, and it may even take them less time and effort to learn to play by ear than it would take them to learn to read sheet music. Some may try once, for a few minutes, find it difficult, and then put it away forever. This is a tragedy.

Let me say up front that I am no expert in the field. I have little if any credentials besides my own experience. I have no teaching experience other than little bits of advice I’ve given to a few who have desired to learn to play by ear. I have only had a small taste of traditional piano lessons (probably less experience than most of the piano players you know). So let me tell you why I decided to write this series. I have great faith in the ordinary person to become a great musician. I believe that anyone – anyone who truly desires it, can become a great piano player. I have seen ordinary people who consider themselves completely “un-musically inclined” become so proficient at the piano that people ask them when they are going to publish a CD. People are surprised to hear that they have only been playing for a year or two.

Over the years, I have tried to notice things that could help me introduce others to the field, and to hopefully help them to know what to look for, so that they will not have to take as long as I did to learn what I have learned. As a matter of fact, it has taken me longer to learn to play by ear than it does for most people. I have been learning to play by ear for about 13 years, and there are a few things that, if I had known them earlier, would have gotten me further faster. I would like to share these things with you so you can learn in a short time what took me many years to figure out.

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