Learn to play piano by ear

You can learn to play piano from a music sheet or you can learn to play piano by ear.When you decide to start music lessons, you might ask yourself “Where is the music going to come from?” and “Which method of playing is easier?”

Playing from music sheet

The keys on the piano A,B,C,D,E,F,G, are usually scored in values of 1,2,3,4 or factors of these on a stave. This pattern of keys along with their related sharps and flats(black notes) are identical all the way up and down the keyboard. On a music sheet the notes written in lines and spaces are unique and universal. Someone in China can read the same musical score as someone in Venezuela and play the same melodies and harmony in the same style.

Over the years you learn to read notes from the sheet, and identify the keys they represent on the piano. You get the information from ‘out there’ from an external source.

Playing by ear

When you play by ear, you are listening closely ‘within’. This music comes from a different place. In this case, you learn to play exactly what you hear and what you expect. This takes a lot of practice, not only playing melodies of one note at a time, but also chords for accompaniment and in tempo with the song. Why play chords?

Which one to choose?

There is no reason to choose one over the other. You can do both. I started out learning to play classical music from the score on a music sheet. However, I always wanted to be able to play without looking at a score. I began by playing while listening, repeatedly, to popular songs on the radio. Of course there were progressions that I heard, but could not figure out how to play them. Over time and with a little coaching, I was able to play by ear. I still enjoy doing both and they both take a lot of concentration.

How would you like to be able to play your piano?


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  1. Sergio

    I would love to be able to play the piano by ear, but where do I start? I mean, I can imagine that it’s pretty much impossible to start with a really hard song and figure out all the notes and chords in it.

    Do you recommend starting with easy songs maybe and try to figure out what the chords are from there? Or are there any particular exercises to train this kind of hearing?

    Would love to hear your thoughts about it 🙂

    1. Joy (Post author)

      Hi Sergio. The first lesson should be learning the chords for some of the popular keys like C, F, G, D Eb, Bb, Ab. The easiest chord is first note, third note, and fifth. You could then take songs you know, with the chords named on the music sheet, and try changing from chord to chord. A good way to learn is to playing along melodies that you know or hear on radio or you tube. I am preparing exercises which will soon be available on my website and guide through video instruction. As you said, playing piano is more involved than it looks but with guidance you will do it. Thank you for your interest. I will be in touch if you leave your email.

  2. Oscar

    Hi, those are interesting points that you share. I learned to play the piano by sheet music as well, but I am naturally a music talent, so at the very young age I started to listen to music and would play them by listening to them.

    However, in my case it was good that my teachers were strict with me and made me play the piano by sheet music and have me learn the universal language of music. Today I know that without all that knowledge, I would never play the piano as I do today because only playing the piano by ear is a small spectrum of what music has to offer.

    Thanks for outlining both ways to learn.

    1. Joy (Post author)

      I agree with you Oscar. I enjoy playing by ear but being able to read, opens up a much bigger world. Thanks for your attention and your comments. Best wishes.


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