Play the songs you've always wanted

Playing by ear is a highly desired skill that many people want to possess, both musicians and non musicians. Playing by ear is a wonderful skill to develop and one which is often neglected in the classical tradition, where players can become reliant on having the sheet music in front of them. Do not confuse memorizing a sheet music with playing by ear. Not every piece of music is available in sheet music, so how do you play the pieces / songs that are not available in notation?

I encourage my students to read music and also to play by ear; to improvise – bringing out their creativity. It gives them the best of both worlds; with a bit of ear training under your belt, a limitless repertoire of music opens up to you. The key of C Major is just the basic to lay the foundation; the pitch of some songs might be too low or too high. There are eleven more keys to learn that will help you transpose to a pitch that will suit your vocal range.

At this stage, we are simply using the basic triads (three-note chords) built on Chord I (C major), Chord IV (F Major), Chord V (G Major) and chord VI (A minor). Advanced or experience players will use seventh chords for coloration and other embellishments. I want to keep it simple for a start - just have fun. The letters represent the chords and they change exactly over the words as you sing, feeling the strong beat. Another thing I can teach you is to know which chords to play when you are in a particular key.

For example: As a beginner in the key of C Major, these are the basic chords / triads - Chord I (C major) Chord IV (F Major) Chord V (G Major) & Chord VI (A minor)

Always start by playing the chord of C Major to establish your tonal base. The first note of the song is one of the three notes that form the triad. "Happy Birthday," starts with an anacrusis (an upbeat) so the first beat is on 'birth.'

Happy Birthday is also in triple meter or 3/4 time. Start at a very slow pace and increase the tempo with confidence. You can also explore to play "Happy Birthday" in different genres - Disco, Afrobeat, Reggae, etc - for the most part, the chord progression will remain the same.

"Amazing Grace" also starts with an upbeat, so your first beat is on "- maz." A 'slash' after a chord simply means, repeat the chord. 

"Amazing Grace" is in triple meter (3/4 time). Many students ask about accompaniment styles; playing by ear involves creativity and improvisation. Play the song as you feel, bring out what is inside of you. 

The more you explore different things on the keyboard, the better you become at improvising. When you improvise, nothing is wrong - you discover different things all the time. 

"Three Little Birds" is a Reggae song by Bob Marley. 

Usually, the chord patterns of most reggae songs including this one play on the offbeats. It's all yours to explore, maybe you will discover something new.

With these three chords/triads, do your best to play the progressions of the verse using your ear.  Even though you may not know the song yet, you will feel  the progression if a chord is our of place - that is ear training. You have three chords to play around with - if the chord of C does not fit, try the chord of F, if it does not fit then use the Chord of G.

This song has a simple chord progression, making it an easy choice for beginners on the keyboard. The chorus and the verse carry the same chord progression. 

As part of your keyboard adventure (playing by ear), sing the verse and play the same chord progressions as the chorus.

Many other songs / choruses are built on this same chord progressions:  Chord I, Chord VI, Chord IV and Chord V.  For example - Justin Bieber's "Baby," Heart and Soul piano duet, Benny King "Stand by Me," Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You," and many more.