In our Play By Ear series thus far, our Resident Pros have explored the musical dimension of pitch – namely melodies, basslines, chords, and chord progressions, sharing their wisdom on hearing and learning these components of a song. For the fifth installation of the Play By Ear series, it’s time to move on to an oft-overlooked aspect of playing by ear: rhythm!

Knowing when to place your fingers and take your fingers off the notes is just as important as knowing which notes to play – and a good rhythmic sensibility will make your play-by-ear practice easier, more fun, and more intuitive.

In this pack, our Resident Pros give general and instrument-specific tips on recognising rhythms, counting them out, and playing them on your instrument. Included with the Pack are a variety of practice exercises, tracks, scores, and tabs to start you off.

Singers – we’re continuing with what we started last month, expanding your toolkit to include transposition, or the practice of singing a song in a different key than the original to better suit your vocal range.


Our last Singing Pack looked at the practice of moving music up and down octaves to give singers an easier time singing both alone and with others.

However, sometimes an octave is simply too big an interval to shift.

For situations like these, we have transposition, which allows you to move a song up or down by any interval you like, placing it in a key that best suits your vocal range.

In this month’s Pack, Clare Wheeler explores the art of transposition, showing you how you can recognize when something might be more comfortably sang in a different key, how to use a musical instrument to find that perfect key, and how to use intervals to easily transpose melodies.


  • Using an instrument to find a comfortable range and transposition
  • Using scale degrees and intervals to easily transpose
  • Using a melody to elucidate an accompanying chord progression
  • Vocal scores for both male and female voices, corresponding with the exercises and songs covered in the video


There are two components to playing rhythms by ear: recognizing them, and responding to them.

In this instrument pack, Steve Lawson gives a lesson in recognizing rhythmic patterns, locking in with them, and using a basic rhythm as a springboard for embellishment.


  • Understanding rhythmic pulse and experimenting with changing the pulse
  • Understanding and playing eighth note displacements, swing rhythm, and offbeat accents
  • How to lock into a groove on the bass together with the drums
  • MP3 backing tracks to practice hearing and experimenting with rhythmic “keys”
  • Bass scores and tabs for the backing tracks

This Instrument Pack is perfect for those wanting to expand their rhythmic palette on the bass guitar, train their ears to better recognize grooves, and experiment with embellishments and emphasis.


Rhythm is an intrinsic and important part of playing guitar – strumming is percussive, and lends character and structure to your playing. Guitar pro Dylan Welsh dives into the rhythmic aspect of playing guitar, using examples to show how you can break down complex rhythms into their constituent upstrokes and downstrokes.


  • Relating upbeats and downbeats to upstrokes and downstrokes on your instrument
  • Breaking down the rhythm of a specific guitar part to make it easier to learn
  • Tips and tricks for composing and improvising your own rhythm guitar parts
  • Exercises and MP3 tracks with rhythm guitar examples in three different styles

Dylan’s method for recognizing and playing rhythms works for everything from simple riffs to complex solos, and really gets to the root of the connection between strumming and rhythm.


Pianists are taught to focus on reading notes off the page and understanding rhythm from the note values given on sheet music. Unfortunately, this approach does not touch on hearing, internalizing, and interpreting rhythm on the instrument.

In her approach, Ruth bridges the rhythm gap with an approach that emphasizes replicating the rhythms you hear easily and naturally, and using both hands to best approximate the rhythm on piano.


  • The basics of counting rhythms
  • Using counting to identify which syllables each note falls on so the rhythm can be replicated
  • Dividing a given rhythm between your two hands on the piano for best results
  • Scores that illustrate counting and beats for sample rhythms
  • Exercises with reference songs to practice counting and replicating rhythms
  • MP3 tracks – drum tracks and rhythm piano demos of the reference songs, for easier counting and replication

As Ruth notes, the best way to improve your rhythm is to play as many different rhythms as possible, in as many styles as possible. This resource pack is the perfect place to start!

Coming up next month…

Next month, we’ll finish off our play-by-ear journey with a special My Play By Ear pack, where our Resident Pros will demonstrate their process for learning a song by ear. The next installment in our Singing series will focus on singing with chest voice.

An Instrument Pack membership gives you access to training specifically-tailored to your instrument from our Resident Pros. Choose the instrument pack option during checkout when you join Musical U, or upgrade your existing membership to get instant access.

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