• The Secret Link Between Chess & Playing Music By Ear

    in Non-Music,Piano,Self-Improvement

    Post image for The Secret Link Between Chess & Playing Music By Ear

    Along with golf, I’ve recently picked up playing chess. And like any new interest, I’m a huge proponent of immersing myself in the topic by reading books, subscribing to services to learn from others’ experience, and of course, practicing regularly by playing friends online.

    But I cannot underscore enough, the power of “reading.”

    Some will say “experience” is the best teacher, and they may be right. Not much can compete with real-world experience and continual execution. The problem is the length of time it takes to master something – anything worthwhile – from scratch, when you have to go at it alone. That’s why terminology like “don’t reinvent the wheel” is so popular because it makes sense to learn from the knowledge and experience of those who’ve already successfully tread the same path.

    Malcolm Gladwell, in his book, “Outliers” talks about the “10,000 hour rule.” He says it generally takes about 10,000 hours, or 10 years, to master something. I’d bet you can get that down by standing on the shoulders of those who’ve done what you want to do.

    That’s why I love books.

    I can read about Warren Buffet’s journey. He can be my mentor.

    I can read what the world’s best golfers have advised about the sport. They can be my mentors.

    And in the case of chess, I can read up on strategies that give me the know-how to compete NOW, not in 10 years. And compete, I do!

    But I digress.

    Here’s something I recently read about “how master chess players think.” I was surprised to discover it’s very similar to how master “ear musicians” think.

    “Pattern recognition.”

    Sounds like video 4 of the free video series.

    For the longest, I’ve preached the importance of pattern recognition – how playing by ear is predominantly recognizing repeated patterns that occur over and over in songs.

    Turn on the radio for an hour and if you don’t come across a pop song that uses a 1-5-6-4 progression (for example, C major – G major – A minor – F major), I’ll quit running Hearandplay.com. It’s just that common.

    The ear musicians who are sitting there trying to pick out  songs note by note, chord by chord, without understanding the underlying patterns at work, are doing similar to the beginning chess players who rely on 95% calculation, 5% pattern recognition (see the photo above). One method is taking on each situation, case by case. The other method is drawing on a body of past knowledge.

    Notice the author says: “For master-strength [chess] players, the figure is more like 40% calculation and 60% pattern recognition.” Sure enough, I’ve found myself in situations where I could draw from my understanding of the placement of pieces to put together winning game plans.

    In music, understanding the top common patterns and training your ears to listen for them is critical to learning songs without sheet music. For gospel players, it’s what I covered in GospelKeys 202. It’s also one of the major topics of our 4 free video series.

    Since I’ve had that “Aha!” moment, chess opponents who used to beat me 6 out of 7 times have lost the last 4 out of 5. There’s one opponent I’ve got to do a little more studying to dominate, but I’m well on my way. When you’re a reader, you know there’s nothing in this world you can’t learn or attain.

    What’s on your shelf?

    Until next time –

    P.S. – If you’re a member of chess.com, search my name and let’s play!

    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.


    { 13 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Humberto Cruz

    Hey, Jermaine, was interested to learn you taking up chess. I have been playing for many years and over time have achieved a master level rating in correspondence chess (played over the Internet) from both the U.S. Chess Federation and International Correspondence Chess Federation. Most definitely, chess and music depend a lot on patterns that repeat themselves over and over. Music and chess are my two favorite hobbies.

    Check out this Web site http://www.chessworld.net and http://www.uschess.org,
    best regards, Humberto Cruz


    2 Jermaine Griggs

    Humberto, a pleasure to hear your an avid chess player. I’m not surprised as your questions and interaction in the Jazz Intensive Training Center is among our most sophisticated. My goal, similar to what you’ve done, is to attain a master level rating.

    Keep up the great work in your chess and music journeys! ;-)

    All the best,


    3 John

    I love chess and great to see you discuss the link to music. Sure enough, the both rely on patterns.

    J T


    4 Humberto Cruz

    Hey Jermaine, about your goal of reaching a chess master level, I wanted to quote somebody I know who wisely said on the GMTC home page: “If you stick with us and commit to gradual and ongoing improvement, you’ll be amazed at how far you progress.” This applies to all things!
    My advice to all chess students is not to get bogged down on complicated opening theory (does this sound familiar?) but instead to concentrate on learning to recognize tactical patterns and motifs, stuff such as pins, forks, “x-ray attacks,” discovered attacks, deflections, decoys, etc. Just like a piano student might do finger exercises for a few minutes each day, spend a few minutes solving tactical and endgame puzzles. For my money the best chess books around are a series called Comprehensive Chess Course by Lev Alburt, who is both a former U.S. champion and Russian champion. The books remind me of James Wrubel in the systematic presentation and logical order of things.
    Much success in your chess journey also,


    5 Aj

    I was wondering if you offered guitar lessons, and if you knew of any good books. I love reading, so I’m all ears. Also, how did you become a millionaire? I want to become one as well, which is the reason I ask. How’d you become so successful? Thank you.


    6 Matt

    Such an interesting link! Pattern recognition is so important when learning to play piano by ear! I really enjoyed reading this post!


    7 Mary

    Great post! I loved learning about this unique link between music and chess! Though I don’t play chess, I’d like to learn now!


    8 Charlie

    I’ve never played chess, but I’ve been playing music very nearly, all my life. I am interested now, in learning to play chess, thanks to you! My dad plays music by ear like a real genius. I’d be interested to see how well he played chess. He dominates at checkers! Maybe there’s a connection there, too?!


    9 Abbie

    If do not change ourselves, we run the likelihood of being forgotten
    and outdated. Determine the items that you would wish to store inside facility.
    There are formal speech therapy courses it is possible to join if you desire to seek answer to your speech problems.
    The only difference between successful people and unsuccessful people
    are the programs which they run in their heads, along with the subsequent actions the inspire.


    10 tabletki wczesnoporonne

    The next time I read a blog, I hope that it does not fail me as much as this particular one. After all, I know it was my choice to read through, nonetheless I truly believed you would have something helpful to say. All I hear is a bunch of moaning about something that you could possibly fix if you weren’t too busy searching for attention.


    11 Joel

    Hi! I’m at work browsing your blog from myy new apple iphone!
    Just wanted tto say I love reading yoir blog and look forward to all your
    posts! Keep uup the fantastic work!


    12 Ron

    Hi, im a chess player. Or… i can play chess and i recently started in “producing” edm. Im catching up on some music theory. Ur a good teacher.
    So, mayb i can give u some chess tips.
    Stick with one or two openings. They are not that important.
    U probably heard this, but rocade fast. Just do it.
    And mayb the best tip i can give, never play hasty. Which im sure u dont do anyway. :p. However, in the heat of the game and near the end this can cause huge blunders. Ur so caught up in the game that u dont see u can actually take someones queen. :D

    If you like we can play a game at fics.


    13 Elizabeth

    I really enjoyed your article!
    I am currently completing my Masters in Musicology dissertation, which is about both chess and music. I’m making a game of sound. I will let you know when my results are in. Perhaps you can play a game of chess by ear and enhance pattern recognition in order to become a chess grandmaster.

    Kind regards,


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