12 Days of Inspiration - Day 10: 10 Impressive Benefits Of Learning Piano By Ear

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Welcome to the 12 Days of Inspiration from piano education bloggers around the world! Today I'm bringing you Day 10 of the series. You'll find links to the rest of the series at the end.

Learning piano by ear is now recommended by creative piano teachers the world over. It’s been around forever (remember the Suzuki method?), but its recent surge in popularity is due to people simply not having the time, money, or inclination to spend years of private lessons learning to read sheet music.

Such piano luminaires as Tim Topham, Musical U and Hear & Play (as well as Piano Picnic), all agree that learning by ear should be the FIRST port of call for new pianists, before learning to read sheet-music!

Here are 10 impressive benefits to learning piano by ear and how it helps you become a better all-round musician:

 

1. You understand how music works.

As the wonderful Jermaine Griggs from Hear & Play says–

One of the biggest myths of piano playing is that you don’t need to understand music to play by ear. You just play.

I agree with Jermaine, this is indeed a myth!! The truth is, the more you learn about music the more equipped you are to play by ear!

The more you learn about scales, chords and chord progressions, the more you gain a grasp on what makes up a song, and are therefore more able to pick up a new one easily: just by listening and recognising things that you’ve heard and studied before.

 

2. You memorise patterns rather than pieces.

When you learn to play the piano by ear you start to remember some of the recurring riffs that occur in songs of a similar style: chords that are played using a certain voicing or particular rhythm that are a signature of a genre.

I like to call it your ‘Riff Library’ and it is something you build on, add to, and draw from throughout your musical life.

Once you get used to memorising patterns you no longer need to memorise entire songs - you simply remember patterns and how they change throughout the song. Memorising this way allows you to transpose the patterns into different keys as well.

 

3. You recognise chord progressions & intervals as soon as you hear them.

This comes with time and a bit of practise, but the more you teach yourself songs by ear, the more your ear gets used to picking out common progressions.

Sometimes you can pick them out without even thinking about it - you begin to work from feeling.

And the same thing with intervals - once you build up this familiarity and recognise progressions and intervals like old friends, you can work out any piece of music that you hear, quick-smart!

 

4. You’re not glued to the sheet-music.

How many times have you gone to a party or event and, as the resident pianist in the room, been asked to play ‘Happy Birthday’, or a Christmas carol, or an old favourite and you’ve had to politely but utterly decline? Yes, it happened to me a lot too.

I always felt ashamed that I couldn’t simply sit down and play these popular tunes - but the problem for me was that I was dependent on sheet music–I couldn’t play much at all without the sheet music in front of me!

This is very common and another good reason for learning by ear, once you memorise ‘Happy Birthday’ and the patterns used to play it, you’ll not only be able to whip it out on demand you’ll be able to play it in a key that’s good for the vocal ranges of the crowd!

 

5. You’re confident in improvising.

This is another skill that comes with time. It’s something that is a bonus of learning to recognise chords and scales at the drop of the hat - it also works the other way around: you can make up what you want to play in your head, and be able to play it on the instrument.

How does that work? You hum a tune you’ve made up in your head then use your ability to recognise intervals to think what distance each of the notes are from each other, then all you need is your starting note and your off!

This is something that takes years of practise to master, but the good news is that you can have a lot of fun with it even when you are starting out!

 

6. You’re a better listener.

If you love music, no doubt the idea of being able to appreciate it at a deeper level sounds desirable!

When you build your ear ‘strength’ as a result of learning songs by ear, you will begin to hear things in songs that you didn’t hear before! You’ll be an ‘active listener’ by proxy - someone who listens as a primary activity instead of as background music while you do the vacuuming.

Because of this focussed approach to listening you will hear layers to the composition, instrumentation and production that you might never have noticed after listening to a song 50 times already!

 

7. You can create your own arrangements.

Gaining a better overall understanding of how songs are constructed means that you are a fully qualified builder! You know how a song is built, so why not start building them?

You’ll find it much easier when you know the structure, common chord progressions, how a melody soars in the chorus, rhythmic acceleration and deceleration–the list of songwriting techniques you’ve picked up from learning songs by ear is extensive!

OK, so there’s a little more to it than just knowing what to do, you need to swing that hammer a few times to get the hang of it. But with all the knowledge in place, it’s a shorter road to discovering your talents as a hit songwriter!

 

8. You’ll have more fun and stick with it longer.

How many hobbies, sports, or activities have you picked up in your life only to discard them when you lost the excitement for it? Almost every time? I hear you.

Usually it’s the repetition that gets us–having to practise the same thing over and over becomes tiresome and we usually give up before we’ve mastered a new pursuit.

When you learn piano songs using your ear, you’ll discover something new every time you choose a different song to play!

Even when you’re not at the piano you’ll find yourself trying to identify the chord progression of the song you hear on the radio at the supermarket… it’s exciting and as long as you pick new and varied material to work on, you’ll never get bored of it!

 

9. You’ll save money.

Maybe I don’t have to explain this one: sheet music costs money. Pay-as-you-go song tutorials online cost money. Private lessons with a teacher to perhaps learn enough to start learning songs by ear… well, it’s certainly not cheap and usually you have to pay up front which means you’ve committed, whether you enjoy the lessons or not.

Musical U hits the nail on the head with their article about the benefits of learning by ear:

“By learning to play by ear first you can gauge your interest level in your instrument, determine how dedicated you want to be, and decide how far you’d like to go with your musical goals.”

 

10. You’ll learn new songs quicker.

I’ve never met a pianist that didn’t wish they could learn new songs quicker! Whenever I get a new student they don’t want to know ANY music theory, they just want to play their favourite song!

I have to laugh at that because of course this is crazy! You can’t learn to play anything without learning some theory. The two are intertwined. It’s like learning to skateboard without any wheels! It’s just not practical!

But people are desperate to learn new songs quickly and by learning songs by ear you can learn a basic arrangement of a song almost instantly. Then, once you’ve got the basic song covered, you could spend more time on it and learn the exact recording, or make a more complex arrangement of it yourself!

You can learn the song as quickly or as thoroughly as you like, you decide!

 

That’s just 10 of many reasons why learning by ear is a huge benefit to your piano journey and musicality in general. It doesn’t take a genius to see that learning the piano by ear is just plain good for you!

If you want to begin learning the piano by ear then all you need to do is check out my new course ‘Songs By Ear’. It’s limited intake and open to enrolment only every so often, so if you check it out and the gates are open, I recommend you jump on it quickly!

This course teaches you what you need to know to start learning songs just by listening and it teaches you quickly, easily and with convenient 2-minute video lessons! It’s never been easier to start learning songs by ear on the piano!

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