Improve Your Ear

David Motto’s Practice Tip of the Week:
Four Ways to Improve Your 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.

I believe that all musicians would benefit from improving both skills. Just imagine if you could play by ear and you could also sightread charts. That would give you confidence and allow you to have more fun in every musical situation!

The Many Benefits of Playing by Ear

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.

It can be especially helpful to listen to recordings of a song 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 if you return to your sheet music and practice without a recording.

What to Do in the Practice Room

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.

This is a perfect skill for you to use my Ten Minute Virtuoso method. In your practice room, for only 10 minutes a day, put on a recording and try one of more of these techniques:

1. Listen to the Melody
As you listen to the melody, 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. Practice in the Key of the Song
Play scales and arpeggios in the key of the music you’re hearing. Get used to the specifics flats and sharps you’ll need to control in that key. Feel what it’s like to play these notes while really listening to them.

3. Match Phrasing
Carefully match the phrasing of the musician you hear on the recording — even if they’re playing an instrument different than yours. Being able to hear these nuances and create those sounds yourself is a very powerful skill.

4. Pick Out Other Parts
Try to pick out parts you normally would not play, Play these parts like you’re playing a melody.

Playing by Ear is Freeing!

We must remember: Music is sound. It is not ink printed on a piece of paper.

Playing by ear connects you to this sound and frees you from the rigidity and imprecision 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!
David Motto

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