Nowadays, it’s fairly simple to look up the TABs or sheet music for the songs you want to play. But what if you could simply hear music and play what your hearing, much like you could repeat a phrase or a joke? The ability to play by ear will give a huge boost to your confidence and ability to enjoy and understand music. So this month we are beginning 2019 with a series of Resource Packs dedicated to the play by ear process – beginning with melody.

When you’re playing by ear, you connect with the music on a much deeper level, and open yourself up to hearing and expressing the music that’s inside you…

So how do you do it?

There are many aspects of musicality that combine to form the ability to play by ear. Musical U Bass Pro Steve Lawson reminds us that if you want to play by ear, then…  play by ear!

But like many other musical skills, the beginning can be a bit… slow going. At Musical U, we have many modules to help anyone along with this process. Our Instrument Packs take the next step in helping you to translate your play-by-ear learning directly to your instrument.

Our Instrument Pros recommend starting small and building your confidence, and the melody is a great place to start – since that’s the most memorable, recognizable part of the music. The other aspects (bass lines, chords, etc.) all eventually relate back to the melody.

The Instrument Pros also recommend looking for certain patterns and scales to narrow down your note choices as you’re figuring out a song by ear (also known as “transcribing”).

What about singers?

Typically, singers have an easier time singing by ear, since our voice is so connected to our hearing. But even when we sing the right notes, it doesn’t mean our singing always sounds as good as we would like.

Take a deep breath…

For many of us who just want to sound better – and isn’t that every singer? – the foundation of a good vocal tone is breathing.

This month, Singing Pro Clare Wheeler offers the first of a series of Resource Packs on breathing:


The breath fuels our singing – and if we want to sing with a good tone, in tune, and in control, learning to maximize the breath is crucial. In Breathing, Part 1, Singing Pro Clare Wheeler focuses on the process that happens before we ever sing a note, and how to prepare yourself to be in the best body-and-mindset to produce the sounds you desire:


  • A basic understanding of posture and the breathing cycle to apply to singing.
  • Warm-up stretches to improve posture.
  • How to do abdominal breathing.
  • How to extend the ribs for more capacity.
  • A short practice regime combining the two that can be done regularly to improve breath support and stamina.

Many singers are concerned with their tone, or the timbre of their voice. Posture and breathing are inextricably linked to produce and support that tone.

Slow, deliberate and mindful stretches also put us in a good headspace so we can thoroughly focus on what we are doing as singers. And above all, it is important to recognize that all vocal sound starts with something silent – the breath.


Learning a song by ear on the piano can seem daunting. Pianists have both the blessing and the curse of being able to play melody, chords, and rhythm all at the same time. This is great fun when you know how to play a song, it feels good to be able to represent a whole song fully on our own. But when we work out a song by ear, there is a lot to figure out and learn to play.

Piano Pro, Ruth Power, loves to teach about playing by ear:


  • The components of playing by ear.
  • How to listen to the songs you want to learn.
  • Why it’s important to sing – and sing boldly – to figure out melodies by ear.
  • A seven-step process using the major scale you already know.
  • 10 play by ear exercises to develop your skills in this process
  • 20 MP3 tracks that illustrate and provide practice opportunities for each exercise.
  • Easy transcription shortcuts to help you remember the melody you just learned.

With Piano Pro Ruth Power’s guidance, you will learn an easy, straightforward method of figuring out your favorite songs on piano – and have plenty of melodies to practice with and build your skills.


Why bother with melody? Isn’t figuring out the bass line enough work already? Steve Lawson, our Resident Pro for bass, shows you the importance of learning melodies by ear for all bassists – even if you don’t wind up shredding the lead in your band:


  • Why melodies are easier than bass lines to pick up and remember.
  • Why melodies provide a great starting point for developing our ear skills.
  • How not isolating ourselves from the melody helps us to connect our bass lines to the heart of the music.
  • How to broaden our skill set and see our instrument outside of its prescribed role.
  • How melody and bassline together can help us to work out what’s happening in the chords.
  • Helpful shortcuts using reference songs and scales.
  • Three melodic playing by ear exercises in folk, jazz, and pop style.
  • MP3 tracks to support the exercises.

In addition to everything we gain by deepening our understanding and connection to the whole of the music, the bass itself is a beautiful melodic instrument, and working out tunes by ear is a lovely gentle way to start exploring that.


For Resident Pro Dylan Welsh nothing helps you really own the song that your learning like playing it by ear. And even though you may be ultimately playing chords, transcribing the melody on the fretboard of your guitar will give you a deeper understanding of what the music is all about:


  • Why it is so important to transcribe melodic figures.
  • How it will make you a better musician and guitarist.
  • Why it’s important to figure out vocal melodies by ear on your guitar.
  • Dylan’s own process for transcribing melodies.
  • A couple of quick tips to help make the process go faster when you’re first starting out.
  • How to use scales to make the whole thing much easier.
  • The relationship between playing by ear and improvising.
  • A play-by-ear and improvisation/phrasing exercises.
  • Two MP3 tracks that go along with the exercises.

Playing melodies by ear doesn’t have to be so hard if you learn a little about how music works and how it all maps out on your guitar fretboard. Enjoy Dylan’s refreshing approach!

Coming up next month…

Musical U’s Resident Pros continue to explore the play by ear process with bass lines, and more on breathing for singers.

Interested in getting access to these resources and much more, with an Instrument Pack membership? Just choose that option during checkout when you join Musical U, or upgrade your existing membership to get instant access!