• 5 core “getting started” tips for playing piano by ear… for beginners

    in Beginners

    Tip #1: Understand how music works

    One of the biggest myths is that you don’t have to understand music to play by ear. You just play. That is the furthest from the truth.

    While there are a lot of “gifted” and talented musicians out there that have no idea what they are playing (…they just play by listening), this is not the way you want to be. At least if you can help it.

    Believe it or not, understanding how scales are formed and how they create chords and progressions is one of the most important things you can learn.

    (By the way, major scales are a series of seven unique notes played one after the other. They are the basis of what we call “major keys” and everything is based on them. Chords are three or more notes played at the same time. These are the combined sounds you hear in songs. Chord progressions are no more than chords going from one to the other… a series of chords played one after the other).

    As you’ll learn in “The Secrets to Playing Piano by Ear,” scales basically create chords. Chords create progressions -and- progressions ultimately create the songs you hear! Understanding “how” and “why” is the difference between an average musician and a professional musician.

    Tip #2: Master the patterns rather than memorizing stuff

    I always get asked, “How do you memorize thousands of songs?”

    The answer is I don’t. I understand patterns.

    A couple dozen songs may follow the same exact patterns — so to a regular person, they think I know 36 songs but all I’m doing is playing the same pattern. Yes, the song may be in a different key (there are 12 keys but once you understand scales and patterns, you can instantly play ONE song in all TWELVE keys very easily). The song may have a different melody, but at the end of the day, it will almost always share the same chords and patterns as many other songs.

    Tip #3: Learn to listen

    Playing by ear is not reserved for geniuses. It’s all about listening.

    Do you hear tones going up? or down? Does a chord sound happy (perhaps its a major chord) or sad and serious (minor chord). Maybe it’s a scary chord… spooky (diminished chord). How about a blues chord… very soulful-like (dominant chord).

    See… all these chords have feelings attached to them. Those that play seamlessly what they hear and feel have simply learned how to unlock their ears. In “The Secrets to Playing Piano By Ear,” there are many ways to build your listening skills.

    Tip #4: Become a pro at recognizing intervals

    “Intervals,” in music, are distances between notes. As easy as that.

    There are very small intervals out there like unison, seconds, and thirds and there are larger ones like fifths, sixths, and sevenths. These intervals actually help to name the chords that we play. When you say the name “major chord,” you’re actually referring to a particular interval in that chord that gives the chord its main sound quality. The same applies to minor and other chords.

    There are different kinds of intervals: melodic and harmonic.

    Melodic intervals are distances between single notes, played one after the other. Like “melodies.”

    Harmonic intervals are distances between notes played at the same time (i.e. – “chords”).

    Songs contain both melody and harmony (chords) so becoming a pro at recognizing these allows you to hear the stuff songs are made of! And if you can do that, then it’s just a matter of putting this interval with that interval and you get chords and progressions. More on this later.

    Tip #5: Practice and get some real-world experience

    You can study, study, study all you want but it won’t do you any good if you don’t put what you learn into action. Of course, this sounds a little cliché but it’s the truth.

    Practice doesn’t make perfect.

    Perfect practice makes perfect. Make sure to practice the right stuff. I’ve learned in music (and practically in life) that:

    1) You can do things right

    2) You can do the right things

    There’s a difference. You can do things right… the WRONG things right. Focus on the right things and do THEM right and you’ll get better fast. “The Secrets to Playing Piano by Ear” gives you a lot of things to practice (scales, modes, chords, progressions, harmonization techniques, etc.).

    In the area of speed and finger independence, Hanon are great exercises. Focus on the right things and do them as best as you can, and you can’t go wrong.

    Well, that’s it for today.

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    If you’re a newbie and want to be up and playing in less than a few days, you can’t afford to miss this opportunity at this incredible price. Click here to learn more | Buy now

    I’ll back tomorrow!

    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.


    { 36 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Raydon

    Intervals — The Key That Unlocks The Door To Chords
    I read the below mentioned article on intervals and it states that EVEN intervals are made of ONE LINE and ONE SPECE, while ODD intervals are made of Either TWO LINES Or ONE SPACE. What does this mean? I don’t comprehend it. Kindly assist me.

    Thank you.

    Intervals are simply the distance between any two notes.
    So if we have two notes, say, C and D, the interval (another word for space between) is a 2nd; C is 1 and D is 2. If the two notes are C and E, then we have a third. C and F constitute a 4th, C and G a 5th, and so on.
    It’s one thing to know that, but an entirely different thing to be able to HEAR the difference between any two notes and recognize what interval it is. It is also an entirely different thing to be able to SEE any interval and immediately recognize it.
    For example, if I can recognize a 7th when I see it in written music, and I know what a 7th feels like when I play it — in other words, the span between notes is familiar — then I can play it without thinking and my sight-reading speeds up immensely.
    Any even numbered interval, such as 2nd, 4th, 6th, 8th, 10th, or 12th, is made up of one line and one space. It can’t be otherwise.
    Any odd numbered interval, such as a 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, or 11th, is made up of either two lines or two spaces — never one of each. It can’t be otherwise.
    Just knowing and understanding that alone can make a BIG difference in your sight-reading.


    2 Jermaine

    @Raydon: They’re just talking about sheet music. If you’re not reading sheet music, then this doesn’t apply to you.

    For example, in the treble clef, “F” is the first space on the bottom. To have a 2nd, 4th, (or any even interval), you’ll never go from a space to a space.. or from a line to a line. Always mix n match. And think about it… “A” is on the next space but F to A is a third. C is the next space but that is a fifth away from F. So 2nds (like F to G), 4ths (like F to Bb), 6ths (like F to D) will always have a space-to-line or line-to-space on sheet music. Never space to space or line to line.

    On the other hand, 3rds, 5ths, 7ths and so on will always be line to line or space to space. Like that same F on a space… well A is the next space (a third)… C is the next space (another third up from “A” or it can be thought of as a fifth up from “F”)… E is the next space (another third up from “C” or it can be thought of as a 7th up from F)…

    Basically, when you’re dealing with space to space and line to line, those are tertian chords. Search for “tertian” chords in my search box. They’re basically all the COMMON chords. They are built off thirds… and since thirds are always space to space or line to line, thats how you can spot them easier and thats how your sight reading will improve.

    All other intervals (2nds, 4ths, 6ths) will never be line to line or space to space. THERE MUST BE SOME TYPE OF MIX AND MATCH BETWEEN LINES AND SPACES.

    I hope you get it!


    3 Raydon

    Raydon Busisa,
    P.O. Box 21348-00505,
    Ngong Rd, Nairobi Kenya.


    Thank you very much for your continued support in learning piano. Your site has been of great importance to my piano playing (intermediate level) and have impromved alot.

    I humbly hereby do submit a question that; how are Diminished/Augemented fouths and Diminished/Augemented fifths are applied in a song or generally in piano playing.

    Thank you and God bless your work.


    4 Easy Piano Lessons

    One of the easiest songs to start piano lessons by ear is “Mary Had a Little Lamb“. It starts moving down in consecutive notes, then up, down, up, up, and up again skipping one note. Then starts moving down gradually, up, down, up, down, and finally down. (EDCDEEE, DDD, EGG, EDCDEEE, DDEDC). Try using the C, G, or F chord (below) and see which one sounds better against different parts of this melody.

    2. Harmony. Now try to harmonize the melody by finding the chords that match it. The main 3 chords for the C scale are the C chord (CEG), F chord (FAC), and G chord (GBD). Melodies spell out chords. In the first 7 notes in this song, all except one match the C chord. The next 3 (DDD) are part of the G chord, and the next 3 go with the C chord.

    The following 7 notes again spell out the C chord, the next 4 except one match the G chord, and the last note goes with the C chord. Let your ear guide you and listen how one chord sounds better against the melody than other chords.

    3 Rhythm. Look for rhythmic patterns in the melody and observe if, or when they repeat. When you start piano lessons by ear, you’ll notice that melodies are divided into phrases which have similar patterns. For example: short, short, long / short, short, long. Or short, short, long, pause / short, short, long, pause, etc.

    This song starts with 6 short notes but the 7th note (E) is longer. In the next phrase, then you have two short notes and a long one (D). The pattern repeats for the next seven notes, the following four notes are short and the very last one is long.


    5 Mulama

    Hi i have red ur page & am intrested in knwng how 2 ply da catholic way how can i reach & hw r da charges


    6 Cheryel

    Thank you so much for the way you explain things to us beginners.


    7 Ruth R Martin

    Hi Jermaine,
    I am excited to have found this site! I am learning to play keyboard and have a very basic level of knowledge about music. I am also starting a website about keyboards, and about learning to play keyboards. I realize though, from your website, that I have stepped a bit ahead of myself with my website. I must admit that most of these articles go over my head, because, as I said, my music knowledge is basic. So I better step up my learning!
    Thanks for a great website!
    Ruth M


    8 Ray

    I am a 69 year old who has wanted to play piano all my life. I have taken lessons for two years with a great piano teacher and composer. How ever it is going very slow. Perhaps because of my profession I have not been able to spend the time needed. I am only interested in playing for my pleasure. Is this program too advanced for someone like me, and what type of music would you suggest for a beginner. If I do go with your program, do I start with the 300 pg book, or someplace else. My instructor says I am progressing, but I don’t feel I will ever get to PLAY MUSIC, instead of just PLAYING NOTES. Look forward to hearing from you.



    9 custom metal stampings

    I enjoyed your intriguing article. first class information. I hope you write others. I will continue watching


    10 Brochures Derry

    I pondered sending this trackback great gadget


    11 Car wash

    Hey appreciate your article take a look of mine


    12 dolmontero

    This one is simplistic for me as I know a little. Can you tell me about the next step up, and how much will it be?


    13 oriokot

    thanks Jermaine. i have been wondering like in a song when to use 9th,11th and 13th cords. help


    14 Arwa

    Borealis:Hi CarolineTo give a specific legnth of time you should take lessons for is hard to judge. Some people keep taking lessons for years just to improve on certain things.To be honest, if you’re just learning, it might take a while, but then again you do play violin so your fingers will already have good dexterity. So it’s hard to tell.My suggestion would be to take an online guitar course. Most online guitar courses are very well and include videos as well as notation showing you how to play chords and many other things. These online courses are also a lot cheaper than paying $25 $30 dollars for only a half hour lesson. With online courses, usually it’s only a small one time payment and they have enough information for you to learn from for a year.Good luck with whatever path you decide to go down.References :


    15 Karen Jackson

    Hi Jermaine
    I’ve suspended my monthly music mentor twice now. There’s a threshold I just can’t seem to cross over – maybe there’s something I’ve missed. I seem to be able to grasp all of the theory, but it’s just that. I have no songs to play to apply it to. Are there songs that I am supposed to be playing along the way. I have the 300 pg book and several of the beginner level gospel courses. I’ve only attempted one of the Gospel courses, but felt that I had not sufficiently learned to play music, before progressing to that level. Please Help… I also tried using my fake book, but it’s too difficult to figure out which songs will work with what I’ve learned at any given level. I’ve often thought that I should go back to a traditional sight reading course to get comfortable with playing simple tunes then return to my Hear and Play coursework. Please advise.


    16 learn To play piano Video

    I do not know whether it’s just me or if perhaps everybody else
    encountering problems with your website. It looks like some of the
    text within your content are running off the screen. Can somebody else please provide feedback and let me know if this is happening to them too?
    This could be a problem with my internet browser because I’ve had this happen before.



    17 Dmitry

    Hi Woodshed,I picked up both Christmas books this week and am very happy with them. Even if you don’t end up plniyag all the tabs in the book your website alone is worth the cost of the books!Have you considered altering the formatting of your tabs? Sometimes it’s a little frustrating to have 2 pages of music when you’ve only got a few bars left on the second page.Anyway, keep up the good work!


    18 Ruth Martin

    Learning the ‘lingo’ of music is definitely important. This is a good article for beginners. Our daughter is in first grade, (we are home-schooling her), and we are learning music as a school subject so she learns the lingo, as well as actually being able to play an instrument by practicing. We want her to understand how music works :)


    19 peter hart

    Hello! I admire you for your efforts! I am an eighty year old English man who had to
    teach himself to play due to a German maniac trying to kill me for six years of my
    childhood. I still play every day there are very few tunes I cannot play, I do favour
    Gershwin, Kern, etc fro,m the period when the quality of music was supreme. I would
    like to point out that I play chords but I have no idea what it is it just sounds right. I
    to realise that to play by ear of any quality is a gift. God gave me the gift but for some
    reason also gave me deafness and for me to play now I have to depend entirely
    on a hearing aid. (See UTUBE A BRILLIANT EAR PIANIST) Very Best Wishes!


    20 Leo

    hi jermaine i just play guitar or learning how, do you teach or show videos on how to play the guitar?


    21 Snoops

    Hey grate tips I’ve been playing for a long time and I’m only 17


    22 Istvan

    “Oh what a good useful article, I really liked it. Few days ago I started something similar, please check it out here http://best-songs-to-learn-on-piano.com


    23 Lillian Moore

    I like how you said that understanding how scales are formed and how they create chords and progressions is one of the most important things you can learn. This is a great way to learn how to play the piano. When I was 5, my mother taught me how to play piano by starting with the scales. I would not be as good of a player today if I hadn’t learned those fundamental skills.








    26 Jordan

    I totally agree. It can be hard to not criticize yourself when you’re learning something new. I find this to be very true when it comes to learn piano as an adult.If you wanted to learn the right way, you must have to start in the right way. I like how you created your post. Very interesting!


    27 piano lessons

    I heard about that there is musician that are called expert after they hear the song they can create a notes using piano. This is really cool i can tried that once i master playing piano.


    28 Robert Lydash

    It is a very helpful tips that i’ve search over the internet, I’ll like it.. and I started something similar…


    29 Brian Eaton

    I can say that playing piano by ear is the best difficult technique for me. I have tried a lots but I still don’t have any improvement :( Now I have read 5 tips that you shared and I will try my best! Thanks for sharing, keep writing!!!!


    30 quanita

    You’re never too old to learn” the old adage says.” That is the reason why I am still studying although I am 56 years old, I am currently enrolled my subjects for my master, but another thing, online piano lessons also, do you have a program here..?


    31 George. m Willie

    Hi Sir I want to know who do u find a singer tone on a piono.


    32 Allan Jeong

    Absolutely! As mentioned in step #2, learn the patterns rather than memorize the specific notes. To be more precise, learn the patterns in the note intervals between melodic notes played on the main down beats and the bass notes (usually at 1, 3 or 5 intervals below the melodic note). Play 4 or 5 traditional Christmas carols (all from the key of C to make it easier to see the patterns in note intervals) using only your left hand and right hand index fingers at the beginning, and you’ll be able to quickly learn when to use specific melody-bass note intervals at different times, places, and moods within a song!


    33 Carolyn

    Thanks Jermaine.
    Great information on explaining intervals.
    God bless you. I have learned so much over the year with your
    course and i appreciate your time and effort that you give so much
    in really wanting your students to learn. Thanks for understanding
    people like me. May God continue to pour into you as you pour into


    34 rohit aggarwal

    thanks for the information


    35 Gifts for Her

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    36 Tedslist

    Fantastic post regarding the piano Jermaine. Pattern recognition is paramount for pianists seeking to reach their next step into professionalism. Not only will pattern recognition assist in consistent execution. It is a fundamentally required skill for pianists looking to learn numerous pieces.


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