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Deep Basic #3: Grow your ear.

by Bruce Siegel on July 13th, 2010

This is the third in a series of posts on the core essentials of piano playing.

Just as artists are trained to draw what they see, savvy musicians practice playing what they hear.

But maybe you’re thinking, “Yes, it would be nice to be able to play by ear, but I can read. The notes I want to play are right there on the page. I think I’ll pass on this.”

I understand. Most of us, from our first piano lesson on, were taught to rely on our eyes (and musical notation) rather than on our ears. It’s what we know. And often, teachers not only don’t help their students learn to play by ear, they actively discourage it.

But the thing is, music is sound, so the more you’re able to put your ear in charge of your playing, the more at home you’ll feel at the piano. And I’m not just talking about improvising. A well-trained ear helps you to play from memory, and yes, even to read.

So find ways to nurture your ear. And though ear training is a big subject, possibly the best exercise is to play by ear, as best you can, songs and pieces of all kinds. Just remember to start with the very, very, simplest. (And by simple, I mean, for example, the melody of Are You Sleeping, without the chords. You’ve got to start somewhere!)

You’ll notice, by the way, that nowhere have I spoken of a “good” ear—just a well-trained one. As with so many other abilities, what matters most, I think, is not genes, but consistent practice.

Take that to heart.

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