Many musicians will remember certain “Eureka!” moments in their learning journeys, when a concept or skill just clicks.

For Ashley Sherman, one of these triumphant moments came when she realized all the theory she’d learned in childhood piano lessons contained the perfect tools for learning to play by ear.

In this interview, Ashley talks about her musical revelations, her substantial achievements in her short time using Musical U, and what she plans to do with her newfound skills…

Q: Hi Ashley! Before we discuss your incredible progress inside Musical U and the “Eureka!” moments you’ve had along the way, tell us about your musical background.

I started taking traditional piano lessons when I was eight years old. I had an outstanding university teacher and was well-grounded in classical music theory.

The problem was, that theory meant nothing to me. I was not taught any practical application for it.

I loved listening to people who could play by ear, and my fingers would just itch to be able to do the same. I instinctively wanted to be able to express myself musically, but I was always made to believe that I would never be able to play by ear because only those who are born with a natural ability could do so. At the time, I had no choice but to believe what I was told – however, something in me would never give up trying.

The story of how I got from there to here is too long to record here. It was years later before I came to the full realization that playing by ear is a skill that can actually be learned through the practical application of theory and ear training.

When I did, I was ecstatic!

Achievement inside Musical U

A friend introduced me to some resources that taught me how to begin learning to play by ear. I dove in and in a matter of months, I was beginning to understand how music works, create my own arrangements, and compose my own music.

The musician that had been simmering inside of me all those years was finally beginning to be released. My lifelong dream was becoming a reality. Music was no longer a mysterious and magical combination of notes. I was blown away by its simple structure, and by how all that “meaningless” theory suddenly came to life.

I have been involved in church music, to one degree or another, as a pianist for about fifteen years. I have learned how important these skills are to be a competent, effective, and confident church musician. I am also now working towards publishing my arrangements, something else I never imagined possible.

In addition to playing piano, I play a little bit of guitar and violin, played clarinet for a year in grade school band, and sang in choirs during grade school.

What’s your favorite music track these days?

I don’t really have a favorite music track, but a new CD I’ve been enjoying listening to is Through High Places by Calvin Jones. My favorite track is “Brown Eyes”:

Q: What a beautiful track! It’s amazing how deep you can go with a solo piano. Back to you – you experienced an awakening to the world of playing by ear, leading to new avenues in your musicianship. How did you become interested in Musical U, and why did you decide to try it?

I was introduced to Musical U through Music Matters Blog. I didn’t know anything about Musical U at the time, but you were giving away free memberships in a raffle, so why not? I’m game for trying anything that might help me learn more. I didn’t win a membership, but I got on Christopher’s email list and started reading the emails he sent. Through those, I learned what Musical U is all about. I also gained more insight into skills that could be learned through Musical U – skills that I had never thought about.

I decided to try it because I was very interested in the systematic way of setting clear goals, planning, and achieving those goals through the tools provided. I also liked that I would have a place to ask real musicians questions, and have personal help through the process.

Q: What you were saying about the skills we teach – it’s so true. Many people don’t even know that these inner musical skills that lead to musical freedom are a “thing”. Whether folks sign up for Musical U or not, a huge part of our mission is to reach out and let the world know that a free and natural musical expression is possible and is learnable.

What challenges were you experiencing in music before joining Musical U?

I was on my own and felt like I wasn’t progressing with my ear training as fast as I would have liked to. I felt I wanted some more structured and personal help.

Q: We’re so pleased we could provide that for you! What are you currently working on inside Musical U? What experiences – and surprises – have stood out during your journey?

I recently completed the full Chords by Ear Roadmap and am continuing to work on hearing chord progressions and intervals in real music. I am also beginning to work through the Melodies by Ear Solfa Roadmap, now that I understand how empowering solfa can be.

”Musical U has helped move me closer to my goal of being able to quickly and easily translate what I hear in my head to the piano, and be able to play an arrangement by ear without requiring hours or weeks to figure it out.

I have been surprised at how quickly I’ve been able to recognize chord progressions and intervals in the exercises and in real life. I had minimal ear training in these things prior to Musical U, but I am surprised how quickly the exercises have enabled me to progress. I can now much more easily figure out the notes of a melody in my head by recognizing intervals, and I am hearing common chord progressions in music everywhere.

I’ve also been surprised by how much those seemingly meaningless theory exercises from piano lessons, such as scales, arpeggios, and chords, have accelerated my ear training, and, in fact, had already completed a lot of ear training for me.

Lastly, I’ve learned how much more there is to learn, which I consider to be a good thing!

Q: How have you benefited from Musical U so far? Why is it important to you?

I have definitely had my musical horizons expanded – I’ve learned a lot of interesting facts and have been exposed to some great resources.

Musical U has helped move me closer to my goal of being able to quickly and easily translate what I hear in my head to the piano, and be able to play an arrangement by ear without requiring hours or weeks to figure it out, or worse, not be able to figure it out at all.

It has also helped me to understand what makes a melody: the emotional impact different components have, such as the intervals and scale degrees. This is part of my Big Picture Vision:

Big picture vision Ashley Sherman

If this sounds to you like an impossible goal, I would have thought the same thing a few years ago. But now, I know it is possible and achievable. Musical U has helped me find and put together more of the pieces that will make it happen.

Q: That’s a fantastic example of a concrete, specific steps to a higher goal – feet on the ground, head in the clouds.

Speaking of plans, how are yours coming along? How have they changed along the way?

Well, the more I learn about what there is to learn, and how powerful certain skills such as solfa can be, the more I want to learn!

I have not been a member very long, but I have already completed all the ear training there is related to chords, so I am moving onto other things, and expanding my musical skillset even further!

Thank you so much, Ashley, for sharing your experience with us and with our readers. You’re an inspiring example of someone who has taken the building blocks of Musical U – our planning, goal-setting, and roadmapping tools – and tailored them to your goals.

It’s been a long journey for you, and it sounds like you’re only just getting started! Please keep us posted!

Over The Rainbow?

Ashley Sherman had a desire for musical freedom. Even though she was led to believe that her vision depended on a mysterious “talent” that she somehow didn’t have, she held on to her dream until she found that there were steps she could take, and people that could help her along the path to her musical dreams.

What are your musical dreams? Don’t be afraid to stop and write down your Big Picture Vision – right now! And know that by seeing it, claiming it, and holding fast to your desire, you will find the next steps to the fulfillment of your musical desires.