Musical Composition, Theory and Songwriting/playing by ear


How can a pianist learn to play by ear?

hi   ANDERS :
   THIS IS A GREAT QUESTION (the first time this has been asked in over 600 questions and years of doing this)(thanks)
    well, I had a piano teacher that knew how to play BY EAR, when I was in high-school, she
taught me systematically how to achieve this, and i'll give you a step by step through the process I went through
    She gave me hymns and bach chorales to play, (and analyze) so I learned about chords and
how bass parts moved, and how ''inner parts'' moved (for interest)
    She gave me a childrens folk song book to play through (one new song a day) that required only TONIC, AND DOMINANT CHORDS, (I AND V CHORDS)  
    I was Not to write in the chord I used but remember the melody notes as they pertained to the notes used in these two chords, (so most often those songs, used CHORD NOTES only for the melody)(CHANGES were simple)
    Then i got a book of FIGURED BASS music of Bach chorales, AND LEARNED HOW THE EARLY MUSICIANS did all this having only a melody line and knowing not only what chord to use, but which inversion to use also (stuff i later learned AGAIN in college music classes)
     I went to the music store, and bought a piano book of examples (from literature) OF ALL THE uses of notations and styles and kept it like a reference book..
I made up my own melody only book (a piano man's FAKE BOOK) and put songs in this (hand written) lined music paper all the songs I liked to play and wrote in all the chords that go to that song.
    My collection grew to then include 5 manuscript booklets and then it expanded to 1,000 songs that i collected in a book that i made up my own music staff lines and started collecting tunes that i wanted to keep and play.. I bought JOHN MEHEGANS 5 volumes on substitute jazz chords, and improvised chords to basic songs, and started learning about chord substitution and how they are used, (and why?)  
    I bought other ''work books'' that were made on this same premise, of having a melody
and either chord symbols, or chord names to tell you how /what to play with that given melody
    learning to improvise WAS MECHANICAL MUCH OF THE TIME
BUT AT LEAST IT WAS SOMETHING I STARTED TO DO, on my own, and discovered that the process of
adding notes and substitute chords gave me more ideas and freedom to start adding more
and pretty soon, all the songs, took on a life it their own.
    Now when I read music, I can see chords instandly, AND KNOW HOW A SONG GOES
SO THAT I FEEL FREE TO IMRPOVISE AND make up my own style to printed music, and
can also sit at the piano, and make up a song (following a typical / style or form of song)
and can formulate various rhythms and sounds, to the music, i compose or ad-lib on.
    I developed an ear for this over time, i dind't just naturally fall into it, i worked
at it, and i kept busy at it, and sat down to play Improvised music every time i was within
read of someone's piano..
      BUT LOOK AT THE PEOPLE WHO HAVE PLAYED LIKE THIS , (ON YOUTUBE) AND IF YOU get a close up shot of their face? you'll see that they 'INTERNALLY' are singing what they are playing
on the piano, and they are basically ''doing '' skat'' on piano, / and singing it also
much of this goes hand in hand and depends on what style you want to play in, ...
this should give you some ideas on how to develop this, if you are starting from scratch.

hope this helps,
chuck (thanks for a great question)

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I am a professional musician, I can play by ear, I arrange music write music, teach music in the public school system, and teach privately. My father was a school music teacher, and I have written three volumes for teaching beginning string players, taking them from scratch to high school level. I have performed in a local production of Music Man (musical) with celebrities John Davidson/Susan Watson and have my masters degree in education. I retired from the classroom in 2004 with 38 yrs. experience-now still substituting for music- and writing arr. for my cello trio(with two audio cd's and one dvd of a performance) I have directed church choirs and am principal cellist in our local community orchestra. I really love to arrange music for the groups I perform in and sing and have music in my life every day. A day without music, is a mistake, like having a day without sunshine.


Employment history: I have been employed by our local school district since 1967 as a music teacher from grades 1-12 Organizations: I play cello principal chair in the local community orchestra, and sing in a chorus,and perfom in a barbershop quartet

Education: My early life in high school and college was summer workshops in choral conducting with founder of Westminster Choir College (N.J.) Dr. John F.Williamson (in Who`s Who in Music) and summer workshops with Robert Shaw in San Diego Grad. of Sacramento STate Univ.and masters from Univ. of La VErne, ca

Awards: awarded the Bank of America award in my high school senior year for music

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