I often have people ask me about playing a piano “by ear”. What
they are referring to of course is learning and being able to
play songs just by listening to them.
When I was quite young and still learning to play the piano I
remember hearing watching someone listen to a song on the radio
and then quickly walk over to the piano and play what was on the
radio. It was very impressive. I remember thinking how amazing
The thing that I’ve learned since then is that if you spend time
with music – listening to it, playing it, paying attention to it,
that things start to stick out.
By this I mean certain chords start to become familiar, certain
melodies that then go along with those chords. Probably the most
important one of these aspects is that chord progressions that
start to stick out. These are the fundamental parts to playing by
One thing that happens quite often with piano is that when someone
starts their piano education they are usually taught how to read
music first, then to play off sheet music. So when it comes time
to play something that isn’t written down they have great trouble.
I know this was how it was for me in the beginning.
To really learn music by ear you need to have at least some
knowledge about chords and chord progressions. Once you know a
little more about chords (major and minor, and what they sound
like) you can start with learning by ear.
The first thing to do is find a song you really like
and would like to play. The second thing is to make sure it’s
an easy song. You will probably find out pretty quickly how
difficult it is to play. If you hear there are a lot of chord
changes then maybe pick another song.
The thing about learning by ear is that when you first start
out, it will take a while and you need to be patient. When I
first started it took me quite some time and I had to work
through quite a lot of frustrating moments but it’s much more
Some people will be able to pick up music from their ear with
much more ease than others. This is just a fact of life. Some
people’s ears are just more tuned to music than others. Quite
often though, these people are the ones who listen to the most
The key is to experiment with playing along with music and give
yourself the time it will take to learn by ear. You will find
that the more you do the better at it you will be come and after
a while it will come naturally and you will be able to play with
whatever is on the radio.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alex, The Rapid Piano Expert
Please note: This article is copyright and protected. You may publish this article on your website providing you leave the article “as is” and retain the author’s biography box. All contents Copyright © 2008-2020. All rights reserved. Graham Howard, author of The Digital Piano Bible (a buyer’s guide) and The Howard Score (piano rating system).