Playing by ear!

This morning, I was reading a Post from a Blogger who I have known since the creation of this Blog

I learned to play music by ear (mainly guitar, but a little piano also). Playing by ear took a lot of the frustration out of learning to play because once I had created the sound that I wanted … I was happy! It also provided for unplanned experimentation as I simply hunted for the right notes which, in turn, provided a basis for jamming/improvisation.

I have known a few people who learned to read music, but the pleasure seems to be shrouded in clouds of finding the precise notes at the right time. I can understand a desire to reproduce exactly what was originally written, but is that detail really worth the inevitable frustrations? If the intent is to play for a critical audience, then of course it is necessary, but for me who just wanted to create a sound that represented a piece of music that I like?

I once volunteered at a hospital where I was partnered with an English lady for a few shifts. I found out that she could not only play piano, but was very proficient with it. Eventually, she was invited to our home for a dinner and we asked her to play for us. I had sheet music for a few classical pieces which, after a few moments of adapting to our keyboard (organ) she played extremely well. Chopin and Bach were well within her abilities.

Once our minimal supply of sheet music had been exhausted, I suggested that she play anything that she wanted. It went very quiet! Apparently, without the sheet music, there was simply no music. I tried to get her to improvise based on some chords that I would play but, again, no sheet music = no music.

The significance of being able to read music is (hopefully) obvious but, to anybody with a basic desire to create music, let’s not forget simply pressing keys (or equivalent) until you find that elusive sound. Purists may well consider us “players by ear” rather less than “real musicians”, but that just shows a lack of imagination and creativity on their part. Music is a creative art form, and to stifle creativity in any manner simply removes any credibility of the “critic”.

For anybody contemplating learning to play a musical instrument, there are many options available to you, but don’t discount simply experimenting until you found your own personal sound.

There has to be an analogy of life in there somewhere! Just thinking.

20 thoughts on “Playing by ear!

  1. Great article – Thank you. Personally, I do not rank “talent” very highly. Why is it that we refer to someone who can – play by ear – as very talented, bordering on genius, but we would only attribute “skill” to a Touch Typist using a dictaphone whilst gazing out of the window. I find it very difficult to play the piano from sheet music but – Oh the joy when I close my eyes and play by ear/touch. “Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.” Victor Hugo.

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    • Hi Michael, and welcome to my Blog. I too enjoy ambling around the frets, and traveling the keys, always using my intuitive sense to map a direction. Sometimes it works … sometimes it doesn’t, but a musical adventure is guaranteed. πŸ™‚


  2. Bummer! I feel so left out. The only instruments I ever played were the Tonette and the Triangles……and that was in elementary school………decades ago. I couldn’t read sheet music if you put a gun to my head!

    However I once had quite a nice singing voice and loved to harmonize with my sister who, by the way, played the piano beautifully. Now, like so many other things that have gone by the wayside with age, I can’t carry a tune to save my life. Lol.

    I do admire anyone who is gifted to make music by any means. Their talent enhances all our lives.

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  3. What a delightful post. My oldest cousin is a marvel on the piano – classically trained and in mindset.
    My mom was always discouraged that I never took to the sheet music and just liked to bang around until I found the song from the radio I was trying to play. (Mom was an accomplished violinist who despair of my lack of interest in “real music”…I did play the violin, but wanted it to be country/folk fiddle music…)

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  4. Hi Colin! Thanks for the link. Loads of comments here about music. Mine has been a godsend and lifeline as you know, and I’m glad to have a keyboard back in my life. My Dad played by ear and my Mum could read music. Hubby loves to hear me play, especially I when I’m ‘tinkering’ as I get a theme in my head and play around with it. I also tend to merge a few together as the chords are similar…….. Streets of London and Never been to me, House of the Rising Sun and Sunny, Rocket Man and Only living boy in New York, and The Terminator with When we were Soldiers. It’s different!! Thanks again.

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