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!!