Many people think that the best way to learn keyboard is to learn it by ear. This is simpler than it seems to be – all it is listening to a piece of music and learning the note structures and chords that make up the song. Some people even learn how to play their instrument like this. They usually start out with easy melodies from recognized songs, figuring out the notes as they go along. Even after they learn the songs, playing by ear still is practiced often.
Most popular bands don’t bother with sheet music to write their songs; they do it after learning their instrument by ear if at all. Even non-musicians do this – anytime you play the opening chords to ‘Iron Man’ or ‘Smoke on the Water’ on guitar, you’ve played by ear simply by hearing the song so many times You can play the song because you’ve heard it so often and don’t have to know the actual note names or anything.
Playing keyboard by ear is a good technique to learn, because you can learn how to interpret proper chord structure. It’s also good to help you develop a style of playing; at first you likely will imitate what you heard, but combining all the different styles over time helps you to develop a distinct blend all your own. Playing by ear is something people do naturally. Learning a musical instrument is done by hearing that instrument played in different ways for years and then figuring out the formal conventions.
Anybody can learn to play by ear, even if it’s not as good as famous musicians. Anyone can learn the basics of any musical instrument with enough practice. You need a few skills that are needed for this to work well.
You need tonal memory most of all – this is simply the ability to remember a tone and find it on an instrument so that it matches a song. You also need to be able to figure out the general shape or feel of a song’s melody, meaning its times of rising and falling over the song’s length. You should also be able to chart the song’s contour on paper or move it to long-term memory, as well as creating the chords that match the melody.
The first few sections of this can be figured out naturally, because tonal memory and such are abilities that every human has built-in to the brain. It takes active commitment of tones to memory and the knowledge of the musical notes that they match. Mentally, you can go through a particular song, then sit down to play it on the piano. Take as long as you need to chart the rhythms, chords and notes. The trick to learning to play keyboard by ear is to gain understanding of a melody’s shape, learning how to form different kinds of chords and to know how chords are most likely to move from one to another. Taken all together, these skills are the foundation of learning to play the keyboard by ear.
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