• 4 tips for getting to the next level

    in Playing By Ear

    Ok, so maybe you took piano lessons when you were young and still remember some chords — or better yet, you sound really good right now because some friends or fellow musicians have showed you how to play some songs. Perhaps you play the songs by memory but have no idea what’s going on.

    Or maybe you do know what’s going on but you’re limited in how many songs you can learn on your own. You’ve reached this glass ceiling and it doesn’t seem like you can get passed it.

    Regardless of where you are, we all want to get to the next level.

    Here are some things you can master to take you there!

    1) Pattern Recognition:

    I talked about this briefly in the “5 tips to getting started” article and it is very important on all levels. All songs follow various patterns.

    “2-5-1” chord progressions, 6-2-5-1 turnarounds, opening progressions, and closing progressions are patterns that you eventually hear over and over in songs.

    (Don’t worry if you don’t understand where the numbers come from, I’ll talk more about this later).

    But basically, certain patterns are used to begin songs… other patterns are used to close songs. If you’re more on the beginner-intermediate side, then you probably struggle with determining patterns altogether. That is, being able to recognize them in songs.

    If you’re past this point, now it’s a matter of what kind of patterns you’re playing.

    I heard this interesting saying once that said “you’re the average of the 5 people you hang around the most.” Now I certainly don’t know if the actual specific number is spot on, but I do know that you’re the average of the people you hang around the most.

    I’ve found in the musician community… if you hang around professional-sounding musicians, eventually you’ll catch on to their sound. Not only because you see the various chords, progressions, and “licks” and “tricks” they play, but because your ear gets used to hearing this enhanced way of playing.

    See, most of the time… people can’t get to the next level because they don’t know personally what the next level sounds like. They don’t have people around them playing that way, so it’s hard to hear and pick out “next level” chords and progressions.

    Trust me… there are tons of 2-5-1 progressions to end songs and you’re probably only playing a good dozen of them. There are hundreds of ways to end songs. Some on the 1-2-3/A-B-C side and others on the ultra-advanced/professional side.

    Your ability to recognize and pick out these chords depends on how much you’re exposed to them. Pick up as many albums and study them… until you’re sick and tired of them. Pick up courses and learn bits and pieces from them. Become committed to a life time of learning.

    2) Number System:

    Thinking in terms of numbers is very powerful. It’s the universal language.

    I can say play Cmajor11 but that only tells you one chord to play in a specific situation. But if I say, play the 1-chord of Ab, now we’re talking about a systematic way to understand music.

    Because every key has a 1-chord… (or the first tone/chord of the scale). Every key has a 2-chord, and so forth.

    When you hear people say “2-5-1” progression, they are simply talking about a chord from the 2nd tone of the scale, “progressing” to a chord from the 5th tone of the scale, finally ending at a chord from the 1st tone of the scale.

    So if you know your scales in a numerical way, you can play a “2-5-1” and any other pattern for that matter, in all 12 keys —INSTANTLY!

    3) Transposition:

    “The Secrets to Playing Piano By Ear” talks about transposition in chapter 20. It basically means moving a song (or notes, scales, chords) to a different key. If you’ve messed around with any type of keyboard, you know that they feature a “transpose” function, which does this automatically for you.

    Believe it or not, the keyboard “transpose” button is probably the #1 enemy to growth for a musician. Nowadays, a musician masters one good key like C major, and without ever having to think about another major key (or learn the chords of a new key), they simply hit the transpose button either up or down and it outputs their song in the new key. No effort… automatically.

    So you get a lot of musicians out there who are “pros” on a keyboard but when it comes time to improvise on an acoustic piano or B3 organ with no transpose button, they break down. Don’t be this way!

    It’s very easy to master all 12 keys. In fact, the number system helps you to do it. By simply knowing every scale in its numerical form (i.e. – C major scale as “C=1, D=2, E=3, F=4, G=5, A=6, B=7”), you can easily transpose songs in your head. If you’re playing a 2-5-1 progression in the key of C (Dmin, G7, Cmaj7), the endings of those chords will ALWAYS remain the same in new major keys. That is, you’ll always be going from some minor chord to some 7th chord to some major 7th chord in this example. The only thing that would change above is the keynote in front of the quality. So if D, G, and C are the 2, 5, and 1 of C, respectively, then just simply find the 2,5,1 of another key… transfer over the chord qualities (“min,” “7,” and “maj7”) and there you have it!

    In G major, a 2-5-1 is: Amin, D7, Gmaj7. It’s that simple.

    4) Ear-Training:

    Like any sport, hobby, or activity, you must “condition” or develop the inner or outer body part that allows you to excel in whatever you’re doing. For music, it’s the hands/fingers and ears. Of course, there’s some things in between but this is mainly where the next level lies. Just like any thing else, you can build your ear.

    Training your ear to recognize both melodic and harmonic intervals is important.

    Intervals you need to master include:

    • Major/Minor Seconds
    • Major/Minor Thirds
    • Perfect Fourths
    • Diminished / Augmented Fourths
    • Perfect Fifths
    • Diminished / Augmented Fifths
    • Major/Minor Sixths
    • Major/Minor Sevenths

    All music features intervals like this… distances between notes basically. Intervals create scales. They also create chords and progressions. Using our software can help with this.

    Well, that’s it for today! I hope you enjoyed this post.

    The following two tabs change content below.
    Hi, I'm Jermaine Griggs, founder of this site. We teach people how to express themselves through the language of music. Just as you talk and listen freely, music can be enjoyed and played in the same way... if you know the rules of the "language!" I started this site at 17 years old in August 2000 and more than a decade later, we've helped literally millions of musicians along the way. Enjoy!

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The "Official Guide To Piano Playing." Click here for more information.


    { 22 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Jenny

    Hey Jermaine, just wanted to drop you a line to say that I have really been enjoying your daily post. It has been an abundance of info that I am trying to process. Thanks again, many blessings,


    2 Jermaine

    @Jenny! Thanks Jenny! Has it been too much? Or just right? Or shorter? Longer?

    Always looking for feedback. Thanks for taking out the time to write me.



    3 Lisa Harris

    Hi Jermaine! I love your site. I’ve never written you, I figure you haven’t the time for it – I wouldn’t!!:) Anyhow don’t take away any of the info., yes it is heaps (looking at the last comment)- but it’s ALL great. All that’s needed now is imput on my side!! You’ve done your bit. God bless Lisa


    4 Alan Phillips

    I just wanted to say thanks for the info. on the numbers, and how they work. It has been just what i was looking for to take my playing to the next level, and i did not know until the info from you. Thanks again and will be looking at more of your products. Alan


    5 Jerome Gaines

    This is some very awesome information.


    6 Trang Osle

    There are some excellent recommendations on backlinking at that thread. You can additionally do a look as well. If you are signed up, you can additionally submit a new topic, and you could get a reply inside minutes.


    7 Corey

    Thanks for blessing people like m
    e with so much info. I like the info on the # system. I’m trying to grasp it. I gotta get better. My probis when I practice I don’t have structure. What advice can you give me?


    8 sharon briggs

    Thanks Mr. Griggs. I must take the time to really study all the information You have sent me. Sharon


    9 Silvio Martina

    Dear Jermaine,
    Now I think about what you always say. Practice makes perfect. But as I remember I think you also said: You must practice perfect, otherwise forget about it.Now I see clearly that the number system is a must to take someone to the next level.
    Thank you very much and may God bless you and your whole family.


    10 William

    In the future, could you please have a print icon so that those of us who would like to, could print the article and take it with us if we chose to. Thank you very much.


    11 Lemuel

    Jermaine Griggs, I would like too thank you for your Article. It helps us too keep the faith. God bless you, continue to do what you do in music.


    12 Andre'

    Thanks JG

    That’s something I really need is ideas on how to learn the pattern to praise and worship and choir songs.


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    hello love your work take a look of mine


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    15 Josée

    Hello, Thanks for your weekly emails that encourage us to keep on the good work!
    Illness made me half deaf a few months ago and I’ve got difficulty to concentrate for the ear training,but I like to transpose (simple) songs and review some chord progressions daily .For the moment,I’m playing the piano slowly but in a few months I wish I were able to put alltogether all the things I have learnt and play songs agreably.”L’espoir fait vivre!’/Hope makes us live”! Meanwhile,I still read your letters and all the feedbacks which are so stimulating and warmful!


    16 Kingsley

    I am grateful for your teaching so far but 1 problem i have is that here in Nigeria we learn with the easier method(do-re-mi-fa-so-la-te-do). I have been engrossed that mode of learning


    17 Stanley

    Thank you so much for this article Jermaine,i really learnt something good here but am still having problems in applying advanced chords and passing chords when playing.


    18 Osas

    That was great! really great. Thanks you just motivated me.


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    20 Prosper

    Thanks, Sir. I think If anyone can’t make it, it’s not because the resources were not there but that one did not utilize what one has. It’s good to have you, Griggs. You’re such a huge resource. God bless.


    21 Tafadzwa Dzimiri

    powerful tutorial



    hi, prof. Griggs, you are modern day Beethoven, God richly bless u and give u wisdom,Amen


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