Musical Roadmaps

Roadmap:
Play Melodies By Ear (Intervals)

This is a preview of a Musical U Roadmap.
Roadmaps are a “big picture” guide to developing a particular musical skill. Learn more about Roadmaps here.

This roadmap is designed to teach you to play melodies (tunes) by ear using interval recognition. This same skill can also be useful for working out basslines in songs, and as a foundation to figure out more complicated music by ear.

If you are interested in using the solfa method instead, please see the alternative Roadmap Playing Melodies By Ear (Solfa).

By the end of this roadmap you will be able to play simple melodies by ear on your instrument.

The main topics to explore for this skill are Intervals and Melodies.

Phase 1: Fundamentals

Phase Accomplishments

  • Appreciate the simplicity and the subtlety of pitch.
  • Understand what intervals are and their importance in music.

Before starting to learn interval recognition and how to play melodies by ear is it important to understand how pitch works, what exactly your sense of “relative pitch” is and how it will allow you to play by ear.

Start by taking the Ear Expansion: Pitch module. You might be surprised by how powerful and subtle this simple concept is in music!

Then move on to the Ear Expansion: Intervals module which explain the “what, why and how” of this topic which will be core for you:

If you have difficulty

This phase is about understanding the fundamental concepts of pitch and intervals, so if you have questions or aren’t clear on something, the best place to ask is in the Discussion for the corresponding module.

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Phase 2: Intervals Preparation

Phase Accomplishments

  • Learn how interval recognition works.
  • Prepare your initial list of reference songs.

Continue learning how interval recognition works with the Learning Intervals module. This will introduce you to three methods: Reference Songs, Solfa, and “Just Doing It”.

Note: This Roadmap is based on you starting with the Reference Songs method and moving on to “Just Doing It”. If you are keen to use the solfa approach instead then the alternative Roadmap on Playing Melodies By Ear (Solfa) will be more suitable for you.

Exercise

interval reference songsChoose your reference songs

Exercise description shown to members only.

If you have difficulty

Some of the material in the Learning Intervals module may seem advanced right now. Don’t worry! As long as you can pass the quiz you don’t need to worry about mastering every detail.

If you’re not sure that the approach in this Roadmap of starting with reference songs and moving on to “just doing it” is right for you, just explain in your Progress Journal and the team will be happy to help you decide if and how to adapt it.

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Phase 3: Start Learning Intervals!

Phase Accomplishments

  • Easily recognise half the intervals of the octave in ascending and descending forms.
  • Connect your interval recognition with your instrument.

Now it’s time to begin practising interval recognition. You can use the Interval Recognition 1 module, or if you have an iOS device you can use the RelativePitch app.

Module

interval-recognitionInterval Recognition 1

Ascending and Descending forms only.

For now, aim to pass the “ascending” and “descending” levels of each lesson until you have covered the following types of interval:

unison, semitone, tone, minor third, major third, perfect fourth, perfect fifth

Later you can continue to harmonic intervals and larger intervals, but for playing simple melodies by ear the ascending/descending forms of these intervals will be enough.

You should find that the reference songs method works well for getting you started. However, as you want to speed up your recognition or include harmonic intervals in your practice you will find you naturally begin to use the “just do it” method.

When you start using your new interval recognition skills to figure out melodies by ear you will need to be quite fast with your recognition, which usually means moving away from the reference songs method.

Exercise

interval instruments exercisePractice intervals on your instrument

Exercise description shown to members only.

Exercise

instruments exerciseLearn to spell intervals

Exercise description shown to members only.

If you have difficulty

This phase is about really developing your interval recognition skills and the best place to ask questions is in the Discussion for the Interval Recognition 1 module.

Keep in mind that this phase could take several weeks to really master.

If you find yourself having difficulty with particular types of intervals, first check if there are specific tips provided in the corresponding lesson. If not, you can use some of the tips in the “Intervals: Getting Unstuck” discussion to help you keep making progress.

Of course, if you’re really feeling stuck and those tips haven’t helped, just post your question in the module Discussion or your Progress Journal and the team will help you keep moving forwards.

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Phase 4: Playing By Ear Preparation

Phase Accomplishments

  • Understand exactly what “playing by ear” is and how it works.
  • Learn how to find the key of a song by ear.

Playing music by ear is a topic which causes a lot of confusion and misunderstandings among musicians.

Before continuing with your own play-by-ear training, take a bit of time to explore two modules which will help you get 100% clear on what “playing by ear” is – and what it isn’t.

The Start Playing By Ear module gives you the full low-down on playing by ear, clarifying what this ability involves, the various skills required to do it, and helping you take your first steps in playing by ear yourself.

Then check out the Play-By-Ear Process module which provides examples of a musician going through the process of figuring out songs by ear.

As these two modules explain, knowing the key of a song can greatly accelerate the process of figuring out the chords. In Finding the Key you’ll learn a simple 4-step process to find the key of a song by ear:

Begin trying to use this process now, and then continue developing your key-finding skills as the next Phases progress.

Exercise

key-finding-exercisePractice finding the key

Exercise description shown to members only.

If you have difficulty

This phase is about understanding the overall process of learning to play by ear.

You do not need to master the examples in the Play-By-Ear Process module or the skill of finding the key by ear.

If you are confident you have understood the message of Start Playing By Ear and have a feel for how finding the key of a song and playing by ear work, you should feel free to move on.

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Phase 5: Start Playing Melodies By Ear

Phase Accomplishments

  • Figure out simple melodies by ear using your interval skills.
  • Start to play by ear directly on your instrument.

Now that your interval recognition skills are getting solid and you understand how playing by ear works, it’s time to do it!

We’ll start off simple. Don’t worry that the melodies you really want to play by ear are more complicated than these ones you’re starting with. They are all built on the same foundational structure and you will quickly find your ability to tackle complex melodies growing, as long as you start off simple and proceed with patience.

If you aren’t aware of how scales can provide a structure for choosing notes by ear you might like to take the Ear Expansion: Scales module before continuing:

Then, focus on the first two lessons of the Melody Practice: Major Pentatonic module which will help you to start figuring out melodies by ear:

Module

melody-practice-major-pentatonicMelody Practice: Major Pentatonic

The first two lessons only.

These lessons explain which intervals are present in the scale being used and you can use the “Intervals” version of the Training and Testing tracks to apply your interval recognition skills to figure out the melodies by ear.

Exercise

play melodies by ear on your instrumentPlay Simple Melodies By Ear

Exercise description shown to members only.

These melodies may be simple, but you should still take pride in the fact that you are doing it! You are now playing melodies by ear on your instrument.

If you have difficulty

Hopefully the first two lessons of the Melody Practice module will go quite smoothly for you if you’ve mastered the intervals from Interval Recognition 1. If you find yourself struggling, ask for help in the module Discussion or your Progress Journal.

When it comes to applying these skills to your instrument, the overall idea is the same for everybody, but you may encounter specific questions or struggles for your instrument. Don’t be shy! Ask in your Progress Journal and the team will be happy to help you figure out the best approach.

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Phase 6: Play Major Pentatonic Melodies

Phase Accomplishments

  • Extend your play-by-ear skills to the full major pentatonic scale.

The remainder of the Melody Practice: Major Pentatonic module will extend your skills to the full “major pentatonic” scale. This is a powerful stage to reach since this scale is so prevalent in music. Even when you encounter melodies which use other notes, often the major pentatonic will give you a great starting point for playing them by ear.

Finish applying your interval recognition skills to the full set of intervals present in the major pentatonic by completing this module:

Module

melody-practice-major-pentatonicMelody Practice: Major Pentatonic

The remaining two lessons.

Then there are two exercises you can do to connect your skills to your instrument:

Exercise

major-pentatonic-instrument-practiceMajor Pentatonic Instrument Practice

Exercise description shown to members only.

Exercise

play melodies by earPlay Major Pentatonic Melodies By Ear

Exercise description shown to members only.

You should start to feel a real sense of satisfaction, as these melodies are becoming more and more like the music you hear every day!

If you have difficulty

This phase builds directly on the skills you have been developing in earlier phases so although it might take some time to master, the journey should be fairly smooth.

If you have difficulty with the Melody Practice module, post a question in the end-of-module discussion. If you aren’t sure how to do the instrument exercise recommended above, or you have another kind of question, you guessed it… just ask in your Progress Journal!

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Get instant access to the full Roadmap and every training module included when you start a FREE 7-day trial of Musical U today.

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