Play Piano by Ear Bernardsville




Ear Training Skills

To play piano by ear simply means breaking down the song into phrases. Certain patterns and phrases are repeated among songs. Begin playing by ear by picking up a phrase of your favorite song. Once you have it, add a note or two each time you hear the song until you play the music by ear. Listen for

  • interval length
  • note position in key
  • note position in chord

You might find that one clue works better for you than another. 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?

Playing Chords By Ear


To play chords by ear, you will need a solid foundation in music theory offered in our piano instruction.

Practice figuring out the chords to familiar songs. For example, play the C chord with your left hand and begin singing lyrics. As you sing, you will come to a place in the song where the C chord will no longer "sound" correct. You will be able to "hear" that you need to change chords. At that point, choose F chord or G chord. If you try the F chord and it doesn't sound right, try the G chord. One of them will work.

Now that you have changed chords, play that chord by ear until it no longer "sounds" correct. At that point, choose from the other two major chords for the key of C to play. If the one you try doesn't sound right, try the other one. One of them will work.

Really listen to the chord progressions of the songs you know. What do they sound like? Play the same progressions by ear in different keys and listen to how that does and also does not change the sound of the progression. Change the bass notes of the chords to see how that changes the sound of the progression. Change fingerings and chord voicings, and again listen carefully to how that changes the sound. Playing by ear is a complementary skill to sight reading.

Intervals and Writing Music

Piano teacher Eric Bryant recommends that if you’re interested in composing, arranging, music theory, musicology, or writing down a tune quickly, you must be able to connect what you hear with sheet music. So you must learn your major and minor keys and scales and intervals. You may also want to understand transposition, since you might find it easier to work in some keys than in others.


Begin with familiar tunes for which you don't know the written notes. Listen to them in your head while writing them. Then play what you have written, noticing where you were correct and where you made mistakes. Which intervals do you hear well? Which do you have trouble identifying? Do you often mistake one particular interval for another? Do you tend to identify a note by its interval from the previous note or by its place in the chord or in the key? Answering these questions helps you improve.

Some people find it easier to learn to recognize intervals if they associate each interval with a familiar tune. If you think this method will work for you, try playing the interval you are having trouble hearing, and see what tune it reminds you of.

As you practice these ear training techniques, you will master playing by ear.

If you would like to learn piano with Barbara Ehrlich or Eric Bryant, please call or e-mail us!


Contact 908-787-3475 now to play by ear in Bernardsville.