9 Helpful Tips For Playing The Piano By Ear Sunday October 22 2023, 2:45 PM
Yona Marie
Singer, Songwriter, Producer.
9 Helpful Tips For Playing The Piano By Ear

How To Play Piano By Ear

Learning to play the piano by ear is a skill that opens up a world of musical possibilities. By relying on your ears rather than sheet music, you can improvise, create beautiful melodies, and play your favorite songs with ease.

While I like to play and use the piano for my songwriting, playing is not my forte, but I can make it happen thanks to my training and lessons from back in the day. 

Just keep in mind that the journey to playing by ear (or learning to sight read) requires dedication, patience, and a keen ear.

It may seem like a big task when you're starting to learn a song from scratch, but here are a few tips that will help your goals feel more realistic, even if you aren't that great of a player! 

Don't Be Tone Deaf

Developing a keen ear for music is the foundation of playing the piano by ear. Being able to discern different pitches and tones is crucial. Engage in ear training exercises that challenge your ability to recognize intervals and melodies.

Numerous online platforms and apps offer interactive games and exercises specifically for ear training. Regular practice in identifying and replicating various sounds will significantly enhance your musical perception.

I believe that being in tune with different notes and tones is like having a map for your musical journey, guiding you toward playing melodies accurately and with feeling.

If you're starting from the way beginning and you're not sure if you're tone-deaf, check out my post about it here.


Know Basic Music Theory 

While it isn't a must, understanding basic music theory gives the essential framework for playing piano by ear. Learn about notes, intervals, and scales.

Grasp the difference between major and minor keys, as they influence the emotional tone of a piece. Familiarize yourself with key signatures and time signatures.

This knowledge equips you with the tools to decode melodies and harmonies more effectively. Study chord progressions, as they form the backbone of many songs.

The more you comprehend the theoretical side of music, the easier it becomes to identify and recreate musical patterns by ear.

Identify The Scale(s) Used 

When listening to a song, focus on identifying the scale or scales being used. Major and minor scales are the most common and serve as the basis for many melodies. Practice playing scales in different keys to become comfortable with their unique patterns.

For the song you want to learn, play through it a few times to identify it and check for any key changes that may be in it that you didn't notice before. 

Recognizing the scale of a song provides you with a great roadmap for improvisation and harmonization. No matter what instrument you're playing, even if it's your voice, you need to feel secure with the scales you're in.  

Related Post: 18 Benefits You Can Get From Playing The Piano


Slow The Tempo Way Down

One of the most effective strategies for learning to play piano by ear is to slow down the tempo of the song you're trying to play. By reducing the speed, you can focus on each note and its relationship to the others.

Break the melody into smaller sections and practice them at a pace where you can accurately reproduce the notes and rhythms. As you become more comfortable, gradually increase the tempo.

This methodical approach allows your brain and fingers to internalize the patterns, making it easier to play the piece at the intended speed later on. 

Focus On Chords 

Understanding and identifying the chords within a song by ear is a crucial skill when playing the piano. Often, songs are built on recurring chord progressions that form the foundation of the melody. 

Start with the root note of the chords. Listen for the bass note, which often corresponds to the root of the chord being played. Train your ear to recognize the low tones that establish the basis of the harmony.

Related Post: Pianos Vs. Keyboards - 13 Key Differences To Note

Know Popular Chord Progressions  

Familiarize yourself with common chord progressions used in various music genres. Progressions like the I-IV-V and ii-V-I are foundational and appear in countless songs.


Practice these progressions in different keys and experiment with various rhythmic patterns. By internalizing these common chord progressions, you’ll be able to accompany melodies effortlessly and create your own musical interpretations.

Recognizing these patterns in the songs you listen to will also enhance your ability to play them by ear, enabling you to add your unique touch to every performance.

Have Comfortable Fingering Techniques

Developing comfortable and efficient fingering techniques is a big plus for playing piano by ear. Work on finger exercises that enhance strength, flexibility, and coordination.

Pay attention to your hand posture and wrist movements to avoid strain and tension.

Experiment with different fingerings for scales, chords, and arpeggios to find what feels most natural for you. Practice scales and exercises in various keys to improve your finger dexterity and familiarize yourself with different patterns.

By developing a relaxed and ergonomic playing technique, you can play the keyboard smoothly, allowing your focus to remain on the music instead of struggling with physical discomfort.

Related Post: The Piano Vs. The Organ - 7 Key Differences Between Them


Identify One Hand At A Time

When tackling a new piece, break it down into manageable parts and focus on one hand at a time. Start by learning the melody or the chords separately.

Practice each hand’s part until you can play it comfortably. Once you feel confident with each hand individually, gradually combine them.

Hand independence exercises, such as playing different rhythms with each hand, can significantly enhance your coordination.

These exercises teach your brain and fingers to work independently, enabling you to play complex pieces with fluidity and precision.

Don't Be Afraid To Hum Along 

This multisensory approach imprints the melody into your memory, making it easier to recall when you’re at the piano. When you encounter challenging or unfamiliar sections of a song, humming along can help you bridge the gaps.

Vocalizing the melody helps you internalize the phrasing, dynamics, and emotion of the music.

It strengthens your connection with the piece and allows you to express yourself more authentically. Humming along also aids in memorization, reinforcing the auditory and sensory aspects of learning.

Related Post: 17 Great Ways To Get Rid Of A Piano

Yona Marie

As a session singer, writer, and producer that has worked with over 300 clients to provide high-quality jingles, singles, and features, Yona spends her time creating and marketing new music and helpful resources for creators. Check out Yona’s latest releases on her Spotify, her Youtube and share if you like it!

If you are in need of singer, songwriter or song producer services, see what Yona Marie can offer you on her services page.

Check Out My Latest Single Release Below:

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