Learning Music by Ear: Topic and Technique

Category: Miscellaneous, Practice and Performance


Learning to play music by ear can be a useful and fun technique to employ.  Combined with note recognition and technique training, it helps form a strong musical foundation that will serve you well in the future.  Some people have a natural talent for picking out tunes and being able to play them.  But even if you don’t, you can still learn!  Here is a few steps you will have to complete to master the art of learning music by ear:

1. Learn your instrument:

Teach your fingers where the notes are; be comfortable finding different keys on the keyboard. It is important to learn to recognize notes and play off of sheet music as well. Having a balance of skills will make you a well-rounded musician who can adapt to different musical situations quite easily.

2. Playback

Playback consists of a someone playing a short tune on the keyboard, and then the student trying to mimic it.  Start with short and easy tunes consisting of only a few notes.  Beginners can be told what note the tune starts on, and more advanced students can be told what key the tune is in.  As the student progresses, the playback can become longer and more advanced, and involve some harmony as well.

3. Listen to the radio

How is the radio going to help me, you ask?  Well, picking out a tune and trying to play it on the piano can not only be fun, but very helpful for your ear-training regimen.  Sing the tune in your head first, and then try to pick it out on the piano.  If you get stuck, try starting in a different spot. Once you have mastered the art of picking out a tune, you can start adding harmony and embellishment.

4.  Play around!

Practice picking out new tunes and playing around on the keyboard.  Play random notes, play patterns, just play! Doing this allows you to find sounds and patterns of notes that you like.  While you are playing around on the keyboard you might find that you come across a pattern that you recognize from a song.  This is one of the most fun ways that you can help train your ears to pick out tunes.

Well, that should help you get started. Playing by ear is a very useful tool to have in your repetoire of musical skills. But more importantly, it’s fun!

Creative Commons License photo credit: Paulgi

Posted on June 13th, 2009 by sharlene


  1. Rick Says:

    Hi Sharlene,

    These are great suggestions for learning to play music by ear. You might want to give these ear training tools a try:


    The tools can help work on steps #2-4 as you outlined above. For example, the Interval,Chord,Melody tool can be setup to automatically generate random melodies (including common song snippets) that you can listen to and then play back by ear. The SongRandomizer can also help you with #4, by suggesting various song titles to try playing by ear.

    Thanks for writing this. I’m always glad to see other people writing about ear training.


  2. Norbert C. Piano Says:

    Hi Miss Sharlene,
    Great lesson you posted here. I totally agree with playing around with the keyboard as anything could happen. Also a great help would be to learning the piece by small parts. This way it would be easier to play with fewer notes. It would be to your surprise that you’ve already learned almost all of the piece!!!

  3. PLAY PIANO BY EAR » Blog Archive » Latest play piano by ear,learn to play piano,play piano,piano by ear,piano news - Blues Piano: Hal Leonard Keyboard Style Series (Keyboard … Says:

    […] Music discussion: Learning music by ear – ear training | Epianostudio […]

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