Learning to play music comes in a variety of different forms and every musician prefers to learn their craft a little differently. When sight-reading – or reading music at all – just isn’t your “thing,” learning to play by ear can be a useful alternative.
There are plenty of options out there if you want to learn to play by ear, but we’ve compiled 10 of the best YouTube tutorials so you can get started without spending hours sifting through thousands of videos.
1. “What Does Playing Music by Ear Actually Mean?” by The Musical Ear
Get all the low-down and dirty information before you even get started to help you prepare for the ear-playing journey ahead. Knowing what you’re getting into can help you set realistic goals, create a roadmap, and fully grasp the concept of what playing music by ear really means.
2. “Bryan Beller’s 6 Steps to Learning Songs by Ear” by JamPlay
You may be in the beginning stages of learning to play by ear, hitting a frustrating point in the process, and wondering, “Why am I even bothering?” This video not only helps explain why learning to play by ear is valuable for any musician, but it gives you 6 tips to help make it easier and demystifies all the parts that need to come together so you can play by ear successfully.
3. “How to Learn to Play by Ear – Episode 1: Introduction” by Easy Ear Training
In this video, Brad Maven helps you connect with your intuition and tap into your natural instincts to learn your way around the guitar. He uses tricks like mimicking sounds, playing with your eyes closed, getting a good grasp on scales and arpeggios, and developing aural awareness. This video sets you up with a great toolkit to expand on as you continue to learn.
4. “Understanding Music by Ear – Improvise For Real” by Improvise For Real
This video is all about finding the tonal center of any tune, honing into the 7 notes that make up the song, and using that core to improvise and add vocal embellishments that will fit like a glove with the song you’re playing by ear. If you want some of the scientific details about what happens in your brain as you identify the song’s tonal center, this video has some great background information paired with a demonstration.
5. “How to Play Chords By Ear – A Beginner Lesson” by The Musical Ear
This beginner lesson for aspiring ear-playing pianists helps break down the mystery around all those keys and how to recognise the major and minor chords you’ll encounter in each song you play. It will also show you how to use that knowledge to identify patterns and movements in the music you want to play.
6. “How to Find the Key of a Song by Ear” by Rhythmic Canada
A lot of play by ear tutorials start after the key of the song has been identified, leaving you with a piece of the puzzle missing before you can even start. This video by Rhythmic Canada helps you learn how to identify the key of any song with nothing but your ears. Just like that, the missing piece is found and you’ve unlocked whole new worlds of ear playing potential.
7. “How to Play Piano By Ear (Step by Step Tutorial)” by Zacky the Pianist
This step-by-step tutorial guides you through the parts of learning any song on the piano by ear. Slightly more advanced in that it’s much easier to follow when armed with a basic knowledge of music theory, it’s still a simple approach to help you grasp the fundamentals and get used to the elements involved in learning to play a song by ear – especially active listening.
8. “How to Play a Song by Ear on Guitar” by Lisa McCormick
Lisa McCormick is a guitar instructor and the founder of Getting Started With Guitar. In this video, she teaches you a combination of a counting/alphabetical technique that can help you figure out how to play pretty much any song. The technique can also help with transposing or writing your own songs, too.
9. “4 Chords, 35 Songs on Guitar” by RipTard
Now that you’ve grasped the basics, why not have a little fun with your play-by-ear knowledge? RipTard offers a ton of awesome videos to help you learn to play the guitar on your own; but some of his most entertaining and illuminating videos are these – where he plays a multitude of songs using just a few simple chords. It’s a reminder that once you learn to play a few chords by ear and can identify those chords in other songs, you’ve pretty much got the entire musical library at your disposal. Pretty awesome, right?
10. “100 Riffs (A Brief History of Rock n Roll)” by Chicago Music Exchange
If you’re ready to train your ear to the next level, these riffs from Rock N Roll history will help you understand how similar music is and give you some cool new riffs to learn (and impress your friends with at parties).
Piano Players Bonus!
Allan Jeong of How to Play Piano in 100 Words discovered for himself a three-step process that opened up a world of playing by ear on the piano. Here he shares it with others who are ready to liberate themselves from the tyranny of the sheet music.
Get out there and get your ear-playing on! It’s way more than just a cool party trick: it can drastically improve your life as a musician as well as a music-lover.
Have you learned how to play by ear? How has it helped you as a musician?
Share in the comments.
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