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!

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 … 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!

Learning how to do improvisation

I’m a huge supporter of mimicing what you hear. It’s a fabulous way to learn to play music and grow. With traditional music lessons, sometimes I think the act of sight-reading is over-emphasized. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s very important. However, teachers are going to teach what they know, and they know sight-reading. They know Bach, Beethoven, Haydn, etc.

The path to becoming a well-rounded musician is multi-faceted. There is theory, sight-reading, and ear training. There is history, and learning how to playing with other musicians.

Another very important element is improvisation. The freedom to express oneself is such an important element of becoming a full rounded musician. Here are a few ways I encourage my students to do this. Some will do this freely and others will struggle to play without music.

First, I get them to play a simple rhythm left hand pattern in C major, and have the student do C major triads in the right hand.  Giving the student the rhythmic pattern to copy gives them a headstart.  As the student gets more advanced I give them common chord pattern progressions like ii, V7 and I with a left hand rhythmic pattern. I show them how to embellish these chords with 2nds, 6ths and 7 major and dominants. We do these patterns in various inversions and make little songs of these chord progressions.

Second, we listen to a simple song of choice, not a classical song….a song of repetitive chord structures. Students are amazed once they realize they can play harmony with a song of their choice. This usually inspires them for more challenges.

Thirdly, I use Pattern Play by Akiko & Forrest Kinney. This is geared to teachers to help them show their students how to improv. In turn it shows the teacher how to improv as well.  I also recommend for the moderate to advanced piano player wanting to challenge themselves with rhythmic patterns and improvization.

I hope this helps you reach beyond and try something new. Your comments are welcome!