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Playing Tunes by Ear

7 January, 2015 - 12:10
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This is fun to be able to do, makes it easy to increase your repertoire, and is an important step in being able to improvise.


  • Just do it! The best way to learn this skill is to spend some of your practice time trying to play tunes you know and like.
  • Once you start getting good at this, see how quickly you can get a new tune down. How few mistakes can you make the first time you try it? Can you "recover" quickly from a mistake by making it sound like a bit of improvisation?
  • If you play a melody instrument (one that plays only one note at a time), there are different bits of information that help you recognize what the next note will be: how far it is from the note you are on (see Interval), where it is in the key (see Beginning Harmonic Analysis) or where it is in the chord (see Triads ). These three things are all related to each other, of course - and a musician with a well-trained ear will be aware of all of them, at least subconsciously - but you may find at first that one works better for you than the others. You may want to experiment: is it easier for you to think of the next note as being a perfect fourth higher than the note you are on, or as being the root of the chord, or as being the fifth note in the scale of the key?
  • As of this writing, petersax-online had many exercises graded from simple to more difficult to help the beginner practice playing what you hear.