• This Musician “GETS” It…

    in Playing By Ear,Theory

    >NOTE: To learn ALL the techniques and strategies that you’ll need to start learning songs on your own, sounding flavorful, and being comfortable playing anything you want, go here:


    In reading through some of my recent e-mails, I found a message from someone who REALLY gets it.

    ***Comment From A Reader Who GETS IT***

    Jermaine, doc, where have you been all my life? Since I purchased your GospelKeys 202 and have been reading through your online blog lessons and resources, they have really opened my mind up to the whole world of “numbers.”

    I was one of those folks who thought music was about letters. I thought chords used letters. UNTIL God led me to your website. And now everything I thought I knew about music has been challenged and I’ve gotten to the next level because now I know how to think in terms of numbers.

    I don’t think about a C major 7 chord going to an F major 7 chord anymore (well I still do but it’s not the dominant thought like it used to be). Now I think about the 1st tone of the scale going to the 4th tone of the scale if I’m in the key of C or the 5th tone of the scale going to the 1st tone of the scale if I’m in the key of F major.

    And when I do this, I find that I can take the same patterns to basically any major key because I’m not stuck thinking about C going to F liked I used to be. Now I’m thinking a totally different way and with the numbers I can just fill in the blank as the cliche goes and be free to play anywhere I want. It’s really changed the way I do “thangs” and I gotta give you the credit for it.

    Keep it up man. I’ll see you at the top.

    Terrell S.

    >>> My Comments (and explanations):

    Well Terrell, it looks like you TRULY get it.

    You’ve stumbled on to one of the greatest secrets of “playing by ear.” It’s numbers.

    When most people think about music, they think about “creative” stuff like notes and letters and sharp “(#)” signs and flat “(b)” signs. But music is highly mathematical too.

    NUMBERS rule in music and when a musician truly “GETS” this, their playing explodes.

    I remember one of my earlier students – Royzell – and how fast it took him to start learning real songs on his own. I mean this guy was up and playing in like 6 weeks. He was hungry for it, YES, but one thing I made sure he understood out the gate was the number system (i.e. – taking every major scale and learning each tone as numbers… “C” is 1, “D” is 2, “E” is 3… and so on).

    Then I taught him how to play chords using the same numbers (i.e. – “combine tones ‘7’ + ‘3’ + ‘5’ to play a nice-sounding major 7 chord in ANY key”). No, that isn’t the “regular” default way to play a major 7 chord. We were killing two birds with one stone by learning nicer voicings of the chords using the numbers so that we could literally take the same voicing to all 12 keys in minutes.

    Then we naturally did patterns and chord progressions next (i.e. – “6-2-5-1 chord pattern” … very common pattern). It’s the same numbers at work but this time entire chords are moving from one to the other using the numbers. Songs came easy after that.

    Fast forward several years and let’s just say he’s passed me up! And I don’t mind. He realized just how IMPORTANT numbers were in the beginning and now there’s virtually nothing he can’t pick up in minutes (and take to a new key without practicing). He’s even played for celebrities and filled in at West Angeles, the mega church where the hit producers and musicians, Jason White and Michael Bereal, play. And to think, it all started with NUMBERS (I don’t want to discount him either because he had a lot of drive and passion and was serious about his craft).

    >REMEMBER – You can do almost anything by understanding the number system. And most importantly, it’ll allow you to play in any key because you’re essentially not memorizing any of the specific chords of a song… you’re not really memorizing ANYTHING. You simply understand that a pattern, for example, is a chord off the 1st tone of the scale moving to a chord off the 3rd tone of the scale… then to the 6th tone, then 2nd tone, then 5th tone, then back home to the 1st tone again.

    AND GET THIS — once you realize that about 1 in 3 songs have that same pattern occuring in some way, shape, or form, then it really gets easy to learn and play songs off the top of your head because they all use the same patterns. Numbers allow you to do all this… and “then some” as mom would say.

    To learn other unique techniques and strategies you can use to take your playing to the next level, go here:


    Talk soon,


    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 david

    pls,i need an element on flute to help me to inprove. thaks.


    2 david

    pls, i want lessons on flute. I was so happy i found this sit, really a friend gave me after i have tried getting one on net by my on self. pls, just as i have said earlier i learning flute, but i need a rapid growth in it. thanks in anticipation.


    3 Arnold

    I originally signed up for piano. However, my interest is in becoming a proficient gospel guitar player. I already play but need more knowledge.



    4 JUNE

    Hi Jermaine

    I’m still trying to find the flash cards to no success !!
    I can’t play by ear, i’m tone deaf say my “choir director”
    I’m not getting it ! It has not click for me. I’m an old beginner.


    5 Suzanne

    Thank you so much, Jermaine!
    I am a seasoned musician, who has been playing/singing for over 32 years (since I was in grade school). We were schooled in learning the notes, but we weren’t given the tools to learn the mathematics of music. After playing on my church’s worship team, I learned how to play from chords written above words, but still didn’t know why those chords moved and worked the way they did. On top of that, I played clarinet and had to transpose those chords in my head. For the most part, I looked at the words and “felt” the music to know where to start. It was a wonderful education in improvisation, but it still lacked the “why” I was searching for.

    Thank you so much for teaching me the”why” of music! I’ve wanted to move from Bb instruments to learn others, and now I can do it freely. Music has become an adventure again!


    6 Jerry

    ROMAN NUMBERS: Roman Numbers can designate the step of the scale.
    Yes, as stated in the above essay, the “numbers” or Roman Numbers can take the place
    of the Letters. Arabic Numbers can still designate 7th, 9th, 13th chords etc. etc.
    So in the example above a C maj 7th to F maj 7th would be: I maj 7th to IV maj 7th if C was the Tonic (I). It would be V maj 7th to I maj 7th if if F is the Tonic (I) key or Tonality Key.
    PROGRESSIONS: Chord progressions can be designated in Roman Numbers. For
    example: a II-V-I progression. or a VI-II-V-I. Verbalized it is “two-five-one” progression, or “six-two-five-one” progression. Arabic numbers and plus,minus signs
    can be reserved for specific chord built on the Roman Number step of the scale.


    7 JERRY

    Roman Numbers versus Letters when listening to Pitches:
    Numbers, whether Roman or Arabic, designate RELATIVE PITCH recognition of the
    Letters, designate an approximation to the ABSOLUTE PITCH recognition. Although
    ABSOLUTE PITCH recognition is called “Perfect Pitch” recognition, it usually an
    approximation. For example: an “A” may be 438 or 442 frequency. “A” does not
    need to be exactly 440 frequency. In other words it may be flat. It may be sharp.

    Yet when James Brown modulated to the key of “D”, and the listener enjoys the new
    pitch of “D” as the new tonality tonic “I”, would there be the same enjoyment if the
    entire composition were transposed a distance up or down, or to start the composition
    in “D”? The modulation would then take the listener to another key, other than “D”.
    Certainly there would still be the enjoyment of the modulation change of key within
    the song. Yet would the ABSOLUTE PITCH enjoyment, the enjoyment intrinsic to the
    lettered frequency be the same? Obviously NO! The enjoyment of ABSOLUTE PITCH
    approximately” specific,” is not the same as the mathematical enjoyment of RELATIVE
    PITCH numeric intervals “universal” to all keys.


    8 linda hance

    I have been using the number system in a completely differrent way and thought it might help others, especially beginners. The website is :chordmusic.net/chordfinder.html. It is amazing how you can find all the chords and scales by that number system from major,minor,7ths,diminished, and augmented. The man must be a real genius to have come up with all that material and I have recommended it to my relatives who have been playing for a long time and it has really helped them.
    I am enjoying your 300 page course and learning every day. Thanks for all the help and these posts and workshops.


    9 Sean

    for those of yo who ready want to get into the numbers of music( and beyond). I suggests you get hold of “how music really works” by Wayne chase. its a monster of a book but you get a good understanding of how to not only hear and play music but write your very own songs as well.NO NEED FOR THOSE PESKY NOTES AND LINES. add to that, the book is designed for use with whatever instrument you happen to be comfortable with so go check it out; http://www.howmusicreallyworks.com/Pages_Introduction/Introduction.html


    10 Oriokot

    Wow I think i agree with that fact because the number system has got a lot. thanks Jermaine


    11 alley

    Guys I am in need of tritone lessons. I know what it is but I don’t know how to apply it to my playing I’m dumbstruck when it come to using tritones


    12 richard

    Jermaine, I really want to play the piano.how can I access your products. Am in Ghana


    13 ORAFU Victor

    My mastering of numbering system transformed my still trmendously. *If you can hear it you can play it*. This slogan has wonderfully helped me to find my way on the key board. The credit is all yours. However, I still want to have a collection of your stuff. How do I go about it from Nigeria. Thanks for wonderful website.


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