Practice Tip of the Week:
Learn to Play by Ear

Jazz, pop, and rock musicians play by ear on a regular basis.
If you play these styles, you know how important it is to learn
music by ear. Classical musicians rely on printed music and
rarely learn a piece by listening to it.

All musicians can benefit from playing by ear, and your practice
room is the perfect place to hone this skill. There is nobody
there to judge you, and you can work at your own pace.

Among the many benefits of playing by ear are:
• Memorizing music more quickly.
• Matching the phrasing of other musicians.
• Hearing parts besides your own.
• Learning new genres of music.
• Strengthening your ensemble playing skills.

In your practice room, put on a recording and try these techniques:

1. Listen to the melody. Then, find its first note on your
instrument and play as much of the melody as you can. Don’t
worry if playing the first phrase takes several attempts; it’s
normal for this process to be difficult!

2. Play scales and arpeggios in the key of the music you’re hearing.

3. Carefully match the phrasing of the musician you hear on the
recording—even if they’re playing an instrument different than yours.

4. Try to pick out parts you normally would not play, like bass
lines or inner harmony parts. Play these like you’re playing a melody.

It can be especially helpful to listen to recordings of a piece
you’re currently learning. You’ll hear the approach other musicians
have taken with the dynamics and phrasing. You will also be able to
hear the music in your mind as you return to your sheet music and
practice without a recording.

We must remember:

Music is sound. It is not ink printed on a piece of paper.

Playing by ear connects us to this sound and frees us from the
rigidity of music notation. Plus, it’s fun and empowering to hear
something and be able to play it back on your instrument.

To Your Musical Success!

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