Read this article to learn everything you need to know about how to play the piano by ear. We provide techniques and free online lessons that will help you learn piano by ear, the right method to play piano by ear using chords and a song on pianos, and – for inspiration! - a list of famous people that can play piano by ear.
How to Play Piano by Ear
There are quite a few methods to learn to play the piano. One of them is learning to play it by ear. Even though it is not a common choice, many people are drawn toward it and are interested to play the piano by ear.
Playing piano by ear simply means relying on your ear to replicate piano notes you hear. You have to recognize various high and low notes and different patterns all by your ears.
Here is a quick guide to how to play piano by ear:
Listen to a Song Melody Several Times
The trick of playing piano by ear is listening. When starting with your first piano session, choose a song that you want to play. Make sure it is a melodic song, such as a folk or rock song. Listen to the song as many times as you can until you have internalized the melody.
Match the Notes with the Piano Keys
Once you are familiarized with the melody, match its notes with the keys on the piano. Remember, it will take a lot of trial and error until you hit the right keys but be patient and don’t give up. You will get better as you practice.
For your easy and quick learning, make sure to choose easy songs – even nursery rhymes will do. Once you’ve mastered the basic melodies, increase your difficulty level step by step.
Practice the Four Basic Chords
Remember that many songs – especially pop songs – rely on the set of four basic chords. These consist of the C major, G major, A minor (Am), and F major (F). This is because these chords can be played in a variety of ways in different combinations.
Practice playing these basic chords as they are. Try to play them in different combinations and try to memorize the melody each combination produces.
Practice with a Friend or a Family Member
Once you have practiced playing the piano by ear, and want to put your listening skills to test, ask a trusted friend or your sibling to play a game with you. Ask them to play a note or two on the piano, and you will have to tell if the note they played was higher or lower.
After a couple of easy rounds, level the bar of the game. Try to figure out which octave the third note was played in or try to tell the number of tones that separate the first note from the second one. Take the challenge from easy to difficult so that you can see where you stand and how much more practice you need.
One and the only rule of this game is that you are not allowed to look at the piano when the other person is playing the instrument!
How to Identify Piano Notes by Ear
Use Ear Training Exercises
Ear training exercises help pianists hone their aural skills and their ability to differentiate various piano notes. Here are a few ear training exercises that you can use to identify pitch, intervals, chords, and scales.
Relative Pitch Ear Training Exercises
These are the exercises that will allow you to differentiate between two variant notes. With the help of these exercises, you can easily identify the high and low notes and tell apart. You will also be able to recognize triads, chords, and different scales.
Relative pitch ear training exercises include:
Pitch Ear Training Exercises
As the name suggests, these exercises train your ear to recognize the pitch of notes in music. In other words, you can tell how high or low a note is. Practicing ear training exercises will enable you to judge the pitch of a note accurately.
Pitch Ear Training Practice:
Interval Ear Training Exercises
These exercises focus on learning the pitch difference between two notes. Different intervals are assigned different names (such as thirds, fourths, fifths, octaves, and so on) depending on their pitch distances.
Some pianists also use these exercises to improvise their piano playing skills and understand the role of different notes in the scale.
Chord Ear Training Exercises
A chord is formed when three or more notes are combined together. This type of exercise trains you to understand different types of chords.
Generally, chord ear training exercises begin with you learning to identify the four main types of triad chords – major, minor, augmented, and diminished. These exercises can extend to recognizing different forms of triads, such as inversions. You should also learn how to recognize four-note chords and arpeggios, and so on.
Chord Ear Training Practice:
Chord Progression Ear Training Exercises
A chord progression is when you listen to two or more chords in a sequence. The purpose of chord progression exercises is to identify common progressions used in songs. Once you practice these exercises, you can easily recognize when progressions occur in music.
Chord Progression Ear Training Practice:
How to Play Piano by Ear Using Chords
Once you’ve learned different notes on the piano, it’s time to try piano chords. To play chords, you need to identify eight essential piano chords. Without telling them apart, you can’t play piano by ear. To play the piano using chords, you need to use your thumb, middle, and pinky finger. Note that most songs can be played with the combination of major and minor chords. Once you learn to play them, you can play most songs out there.
To get you started on playing a major chord, we’ll help you play a C major. To play this note, you will have to place your pinky finger on a white key. Make sure the white key you choose has two black keys (not three black keys) on its right. Now skip a white key and play your middle finger on the third white key. Skip another white key and put your thumb on the next white key. Play these three notes together to create a C Major chord. Another easy major that you can play is the F major that consists of F, A, and C notes.
All and all, there are 12 major chords in total (C Major, C# Major, D Major, Eb Major, E Major, F Major, F# Major, G Major, Ab Major, A Major, Bb Major, B Major). You can hear these major chords play and try them yourself to recognize the feel of each major. You can also incorporate a minor chord into a major chord. For example, play a major chord and lower the middle note to half a step to form a minor chord.
YouTube Tutorials to Play Piano by Using Chords
How to Play a Song by Ear on Piano
Recognize the Chord Progression
The first step is to spend some time understanding the chord structure of the song you want to play. If you have memorized different chord combinations, it won’t be hard for you to determine the chord structure. If you’re a beginner, it is best to start out with a song that has basic chords.
Settle on the Melody
In most cases, the melody is usually within the three notes of the chord. For example, if your first chord is a C, the chances are that the first melody note will be within the first, third, or the fifth note. However, as the melody changes, so does the melody note; they both harmonize with the notes of the chord.
Make Sure You Can Sing the Song
It’s okay if you don’t have a musical voice; you will only need to sing the song just to see if they align with the rhythm and melody you’re playing. This is the best way to tell if you are playing the right notes.
It Is Not Necessary to Play ALL the Melody Notes
By this, we mean that it is completely pardonable if you skip a melody note, and instead play a harmony note or chord. If it’s a familiar tune or song, your listeners will recognize the song you are playing. Plus, giving a little twist to the song will be your ticket to be fun and creative.
YouTube Tutorials to Play a Song on Piano by Ear:
How to Play Gospel Piano by Ear
In order to play gospel chords on a piano by ear, you need to identify basic intervals first. There are three most important intervals when learning to recognize basic intervals by ear. These three intervals are the tri-tone interval, the perfect fourth, and the perfect fifth.
When learning to hear the tri-tone interval by ear, you will have to rely on interval ear training. Try different interval ear training methods to see which one suits you and practice it to get better at hearing variant intervals. Here’s a quick guide to learning interval like a pro -- How to Learn Intervals
To learn the perfect fourth and perfect fifth by ear, follow this link --- Learn Perfect Fourths and Fifths: Free Ear Training Download
The next step will be to recognize the minor 7th interval and the minor 3rd interval. Once you have done that, you move on to recognizing the minor 2th interval, major 2nd interval, and minor 6th interval. Mastering these intervals is extremely crucial as they are heavily present in gospel chords.
YouTube Tutorials to learn Gospel Piano by Ear:
How Long Does It Take to Learn Piano by Ear?
If you’re a complete beginner who has no experience of playing the piano, it will take roughly 6 – 7 months to successfully learn piano by ear. This is because you will first need to develop the necessary skills to learn piano by ear, and that may take some time, depending on how much you practice daily.
Ideally, you should practice piano-playing techniques for at least 10 – 15 minutes each day a week. Initially, it may seem like a challenge to copy the techniques accurately, but be at it, and you will wing it in no time.
However, if you already know how to play songs on the piano, it will hardly take 3 – 4 months for you to become good at playing the piano by ear.
Famous People Who Can Play Piano by Ear
Here’s a list of some popular pianists around the world that can play piano by ear:
How to Play Piano by Ear Free Online Lessons
Here’s a list of some of the best YouTube tutorials where you can learn how to play piano by ear
How to Play Piano by Ear PDF
With our guide to play the piano by ear, we believe that anyone interested in reproducing a piece of music will easily re-compose it on their piano.
The YouTube tutorials, free blogs, and free online lessons (mentioned here) will assist you in mastering the art of identifying the piano notes and chords (including gospel chords) by ear. Plus, beginners can also learn to play their favorite song on the piano by ear with the practice exercises that we have presented in this article!