Which is better? By ear or notation?
Learning to play piano by ear has always been a controversy probably since the piano was invented.
Proponents of this approach claim that it’s easier and it reinforces key listening skills while critics claim that it doesn’t teach people how to play – it teaches people how to mimic instead.
We’re a bit on the fence of this issue ourselves because it has its advantages and its disadvantages. That’s why we recommend this approach in conjunction with traditional methods.
Playing By Ear Explained
Playing the piano by ear is a process where the pianist learns to reproduce a song by first, listening to it and second, by
attempting to copy what was heard. This pattern of “listen-and-play” is of course repeated until the pianist faithfully reproduces the song from memory.
The pianist is said to have relative pitch if he can detect the pattern of the music by ear but not necessarily the key it’s played in. He is said to have absolute or perfect pitch if can detect the key a song is played in but not necessarily the pattern. Developing both is ideal…
Common Complaints On Both Sides Of The Coin
In the traditional method, pianist plays music from notation or sheet music. A common complaint among many traditionally trained pianists is that that can not play music unless they’re seated in front of some kind of sheet music. Of course those who already know how to play piano by ear complain that they can’t read sheet music! What we need here it seems, is a nice balance of these two talents so that a pianist trained in both approaches can play music in any situation.
Can’t They Both Just Get Along?
One thing is for sure and that is that both learning methods can be learned. This means that playing by ear can be learned too. Some people can seemingly sit down and play any song that they hear, but chances are that they’ve had plenty of practice — not necessarily at playing a song — but at listening.
The Value Of Listening
Actively listening is the most important thing if you want play piano by ear and although it seems pretty obvious, skilled pianists of this approach have trained themselves to listen for specific things. One of these things is chords. By listening for specific chords in a song, a “play-by-ear” pianist will know where to start when it’s his or her turn to reproduce that song.
So for example, if a pianist hears a song that’s pretty heavy on major chords, he’ll know where most of the notes are situated on the keyboard. If she listens to some music and discovers that the song barely moves out of the F scale, she’ll know the range of keys to use. You can do the same too by carefully listening to the music that you hear and by trying to find patterns that you’re familiar with.
Once you can identify and reproduce those patterns, the rest of the song should come about fairly naturally since melodies are for the most part, extensions of chords and scales. Of course, the better listener that you become, the better you’ll play the piano. And that’s true whether you choose to play piano by ear or traditionally with sheet music.