An easy exercise to play piano by ear

In my studio students get to explore the art of playing piano by ear. One way is through improvisation.

Once we realize the role of chords in the structure of music, we can have fun playing our own rhythms and note combinations within the chords. This is a great way to get your “ear training”.

At the beginner level, we start with I, IV and V chords. In the key of C major that is the chord C (C, E, G), F (F, A, C) and G (G, B, D). If this doesn’t make sense to you, then check out my previous posts.

This exercise is with a metronome, or if you have a keyboard with a drum beat pattern, that’s even better!

Set the tempo to a medium to slow rate. Use a basic 4/4 beat. You need to be sure you can hear and feel the strong beat. The strong beat is the first beat (#1). This is beat where your left hand will play the chord. Start with the C chord.

Once you get the C chord playing on beat 1 consistently, let your body and mind think and feel the pulse of that strong beat. It is your anchor.

In your right hand you can start adding notes C, E, or G…one at a time. If your left hand starts to miss the pulse of beat 1, take the focus off your right hand. It is much more important to get the pulse of the left hand on beat one. Keep your right hand very simple at first. No need to be that busy. Start with only one or two notes in the right hand. Just simply keep the pulse going with the left hand chord on beat 1. You will eventually be able to add in more notes in the right hand. And, keep it easy by only using the notes in the chord…the C, E, or G.

Here is an example of a right hand combination with the rhythm ta, ta, ti ti, ta…that is 5 notes in the time of 4 beats….you could play C, E, G, G, E.

Once you feel secure playing around with the C chord, you can try going to the F chord (or the G chord). The important factor when moving on to more chords is to make sure your left hand keeps playing the chord on beat 1.

The second more important factor is to have fun while you’re doing it!

I, IV and V chords on piano

The last post showed you the “number” of each chord in a major scale.

This post is going to tell you which numbers are the most important, and why.

In any major scale, the I, IV and the V notes are the most important for making major chords.

In the scale of C major, this is C (being the first note of the scale), F (being the fourth note of the scale), and G (being the fifth note of the scale). You can do this for any major scale. Let’s take G major, this is G (the first note), C (the fourth note), and D (the fifth note).

So, in C major, your major chords are C+ F+ and G+.

In G major, your major chords are G+ C+ and D+.

Note, you can now find the I, IV and V notes of any scale (a scale is the same as referring to the key signature). And, notice you can find these in the first five notes of the major scale. Do, re, mi, fa, so. Do is I, fa is IV, and so is V. Now practise this starting on many different notes by singing the first 5 notes of the scale and noting which one is I, IV and V.

OK, the fun will start on the next post when we start to play some easy fun songs that use the I, IV and V chords.

The Basics

Learning to play piano by ear is an intertwining discipline of two separate coordinations….rhythm patterns and chord patterns. I have long neglected this very special part of my blog and I plan to make time for it over the next few months.

I’m not going to string you along……the best and easiest way to learn advanced playing piano by ear is to have some solid background of the language of music. That’s what I intend to show you …. the language of music, as it relates to playing piano by ear.

This does not include sight-reading….unless you consider learning how to read a chord chart…sight-reading. But it isn’t sight-reading….it’s reading lead sheets and chord progressions.

What do you need to know? Well, for sure you need to know the notes on the piano! Next, you need to start understanding what a chord actually is.  It is “harmony”.  In it’s simplest form a chord is 3 notes. (We will start with only major (+) and minor (-) chords at first).

You need to know what a major scale sounds like ( C D E F G A B C ) but you don’t need to know how to play it in every key. You will learn how to transpose to other keys as we go along. We will start in C major because it’s the easiest scale to understand because it is made up of only white notes.

Note that every note in the major scale is identified as a Roman numeral. This is important to grasp as we move on to other “scales” and “key signatures”. Therefore, in the C major scale, C is I, D is II, E is III, F is IV, G is V, A is VI, B is VII and C is VIII.

Let’s put this into the G major scale …. G major has an F# in the key signature. Therefore, G is I, A is II, B is III, C is IV, D is V, E is VI and F# is VII and G is III.   Make sense?

Now consider forming your chord in the left hand with your baby finger on the first note of your chord which is also the name of your chord.  Let’s make a C chord with your baby finger on C. Then skip D and play E with your middle finger (#3). Then skip F and play G with your thumb (finger #1). This is a C chord.

Now you can do the same on the D note (D F A) and the E note (E G B) and the F note (F A C) and the G note (G B D) and the A note (A C E) and the B note (B D F – watch out, this one sounds funny), and again up to C (C E G).

So, this will get you started. On my next post I’ll talk about what kinds of chords these are that you playing, and then we’ll really start to have fun when we add rhythm!!


Play Piano by Ear

I teach a keyboard program called Music for Young Children. One of the building blocks of this program is the introduction of left hand (LH) harmony chord structures early on in training.  We teach the young student to listen for the “colors” of I, IV and V7 progressions in their music.

If young students aim to succeed in today’s music business, learning how to play freely with rhythmic patterns and chord structures on the piano is key. All styles of music including blues, jazz, country, rock, ragtime and contemporary pop use rhythmic patterns and harmonic chord structures in their music. Classical music, on the other hand, is the one style of music that doesn’t benefit as much from this type of learning because there is not nearly the same amount of repetition involved. Here, the musician relies heavily on sight-reading the composition for interpretation.

As a parent, I always wanted my children to learn freedom at the piano. Freedom to express themselves how they wish, with the knowledge of chord progressions and rhythmic patterns. This is how I learned as a young child from my grandmother. I took classical lessons where I learned how to sight-read, but it was my beloved grandma who taught me how to free myself from the sheet music and play by ear.

Rhythmic patterns will free the young student from the music book, and help lead the way to improvisation. In my studio, students learn how to read lead sheets and make their own  accompaniment to their favorite songs.




The next family gathering – more about playing piano by ear

Playing piano by ear does not need to be difficult. Start with your basic chord structures and go from there. Rhythmic patterns are the answer to freedom to play be ear on the piano.

I just posted a youtube video for Love Me Tender. This has a fabulous rhythmic pattern that can be used in many 4/4 time signatures. Check it out here

You do not always need to know the notes in the right hand to play a song. Once you know the chord structure and are able to freely sing or hum along, then you will see that the melody notes are intertwined among the chords. That’s when you start to break down the chords and involve the melody line. Use the notes within the chord structure to color your melody notes.

Fingering can be tricky, but there is no right or wrong way. Do what is easy for you at the time and go from there. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Then, at the next family gathering when it’s time to have the sing-a-long, you will be much better prepared. You will no longer need to sight-read those notes. Instead you will be looking at the chords and everyone will be singing along. That’s the path to great playing piano by ear!

Play Piano by Ear … There’s Never Been A Better Time to Learn

The 21st century…..aaawwwweeee….there has never been a better time to learn about something you always wanted to do! The free content available on the internet can teach you to do almost…anything!

So, why not take advantage of it?

Recently, I started to post videos teaching you how to play piano by ear. If you have never played the piano, then trying this method may be easier than you think. If you can only play piano with music in front of you, then follow me through my videos and I’ll set you up nicely to be able to throw away that sheet music for good!

I have only just begun, but there is a lot to get started on. I show you how to make chords that provide the harmony (backdrop) for all music! Once you learn how to make a chord, invert the chord, colour the chord, and understand the chord, then the next step is turning that chord into some amazing rhythmic patterns! These patterns will make you sound like you have been playing piano for years!

Once we get the chords working with rhythm, I will start to show you how to break down a song into easy, manageable parts, including how to find the melody, and how to add it to the chords you are learning.

You can find me at beemusicstudios on you tube.

Feel free to ask me any questions, and …. don’t forget to have fun!