How to Play a Song by Ear
How to Play a Song by Ear
Have you ever wondered how some musicians can hear a song melody and reproduce it on the spot? It almost makes you sick, doesn’t it? Those overachievers who can impress anybody with not only playing the melody but they can sit at a piano and reproduce the song complete with the harmonies. Maybe for you, if it isn’t written out as music, you don’t know what’s going on.
First, don’t feel inferior. Some people’s brains are wired to hear music in a way that allows them to instantly reproduce it. Others are wired to read it off the page and understand how to transform something that is written down into sound that is beautiful.
Although there are some people that can do both, you’ll likely find that most musicians you know can either do one or the other. If you’re the music reading type, the person that “hears” music would be just as lost in your world as you are in hers. Don’t compare yourself to others. Cultivate your talents.
But what if you want to learn to hear music the way that other person does? The good news is, you can. Let’s concentrate on hearing melodies. Learning to hear and play melodies comes from learning what intervals sound like. An interval is simply the space between two “somethings”. In music, it’s the space between two notes. Once you learn what each of these intervals sound like, you can reproduce a melody.
First, learn how they are classified. Think of the pitch, “C” for a minute. The interval between C and D is called a second. Use your fingers like you did in elementary school and count. We will hold up one finger for C and one finger for D. Two fingers equals a second. How about C to E? One finger for C, one finger for D, and one finger for E. Three fingers is a third. Get the idea? You can keep going until you run out of fingers and toes but we generally stop at the seventh since the eighth is an octave or C to C.
Now, that’s not all. In most popular music, melodies stick with the notes of the key so learning some of the more—shall we say, special intervals can come at a later time. Or you can read this article to learn more about how we classify intervals. (LINK)
The next step is to learn what the interval sounds like. The best way to do that is to put a song with the interval. For example, some people learn what a second (called a Major second) sounds like by thinking of the first three notes of, Happy Birthday. A Major third sounds like, Oh, When the Saints. Just Google, “songs that go with intervals” and you will find numerous websites that will give you songs to listen to that go with each. Listen to the song and then play the interval on the piano.
Finally, start listening to music and see if you can pick out the intervals used. Often, the intervals are close together and as you practice, you’ll naturally start to pick up on them. Try to play the song on the piano without music and see how you do.
This isn’t something that you will learn overnight. Just like learning a musical instrument takes a lot of time and effort, so does this skill. You can learn how to play a song by ear. Be patient, learn from your mistakes, and you’ll slowly improve. Before you know it, you’ll be able to do what your friend can do without thinking about it. (You’re allowed to be a little jealous but he’s probably equally jealous of your note reading abilities)
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