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Play by Ear, Write by Heart: Part 11
The Heart: the Basis of the Musical Ear
I think there is a reason that the word “ear” is encompassed in the word “heart”. When it comes to music, the heart is the key to success, and to ignore the heart is to take the spirit from the body of the music.
When I speak of the heart, I am referring to the emotions and feeling. If a piece of music is full of spectacular technique and skill, but lacks emotion, it is essentially dead. The key to learning to play a piece of music by ear is to capture the feeling of it. It has been said that whatever a musician is feeling as they play, that same emotion will be felt by all who are listening to to the piece. This being the case, in order to hear and reproduce a piece of music, it is essential that you duplicate not only the notes, but the feeling of the music.
Not only is emotion essential to playing the music right, but emotion is also key to finding the right notes. As you learn a piece, and start the cycle of playing, rewinding, and replaying a CD, notice how the music, and even the individual chords make you feel. Note the effect the chord has on you. Then, as you stop the CD and try to duplicate what you hear, continue to notice your feelings. Does the sound coming from your hands give you the same emotional response as the music on the CD, or does it change your feelings? If it changes your feelings, even slightly, then something is missing, and you’ve got to try again.
Sometimes your ears can deceive you a bit. You may have the correct right hand, but the left hand is playing the wrong chord. Perhaps your mistake still sounds good, which may give your ears the impression that you have it right. But what do your emotions say? After playing the chord on the CD, and then trying to duplicate it with your hands, if you feel even slightly different, your heart is telling you that something’s not right.
Perhaps the lowest left hand note is right, and the right hand notes are right, but are the other left hand notes correct? If your ears are hearing a 1 chord (1, 3, and 5), but your heart is hearing a 4 chord (4, 6, higher 1), then perhaps the real chord is a variation of a 4 chord, such as 1, 4, and 6. This is a common mistake, since when you play the 1 chord, it doesn’t feel right, but when you play the 4 chord, it still doesn’t sound quite right!
Strange, isn’t it, to think that your ears and your heart can argue about what you are hearing? In such a case, both may be right about what they hear, but until both are satisfied, you still don’t quite have it. Ideally, it is best to get the ear and the heart in agreement. If, however, you just can’t seem to come to an agreement, always follow the heart. It’s better to feel right but sound wrong than to sound right but feel wrong.