The "play by ear" pianist is often hampered by a lack of knowledge about the construction and progression of piano chords. Tips on how to go about learning to play piano chords in all twelve different pitched keys in western music.
Overeager to learn to play the piano, “play by ear” pianists often tend to discard the importance of learning the fundamental basics first, and instead, they get involved in learning to play piano chords prematurely. This often results in a person falling victim to the “three chords” playing style, whereby one learns to play only the three primary chords of a specific pitched key, never to proceed beyond that point. In western music, piano chords are the fuel required by the piano in order to fire on all cylinders. A person who is serious in becoming a skillful pianist should strive from the very beginning to learn to play the piano in all twelve different pitched keys, using at least twelve different piano chords in each. If maybe you the reader are a beginner "play by ear" student, then do not be intimidated by this. Following the correct method in learning how to play piano chords by ear, makes it easier than you can imagine. Just in case you are wondering if the ability to play piano chords by ear requires learning the notes of each piano chord by heart, the answer is a definite: NO! Remembering the progression of piano chords, comes automatically with frequent practice. Familiarizing oneself thoroughly with the fundamental basics, not only enables one to construct required piano chords, but it also contributes towards one’s senses becoming able to detect as to when to use which piano chord. Contrary to the pianist playing by instruction, i.e. from sheet music notation, the “play by ear” pianist, is totally dependant on his/her auditive perception, hence knowledge about the fundamental basics is indispensable. Question: How should one start learning to play piano chords by ear? Answer: Start off by familiarizing yourself with the layout of the piano keyboard. Learning the piano keyboard: The piano is designed to deliver twelve different pitched tones, each of which is named after an alphabetical letter. The 88 notes/keys on the keyboard, are arranged from left to right in a set pattern, ascending in pitch and divided into repeating groups (octaves) of twelve notes. Starting ascending from left to right, the first 7 white notes/keys are known as the 7 natural notes i.e. A-B-C-D-E-F-G-[A] and when sounded ascending individually they give the familiar sound of: DO, RE, ME, FA, SO, LA, TI, [DO]. In between the 7 naturals are 5 black keys, known as: modifiers. Here’s how to identify their names: Ascending:- the black key to the right of the “A” key, is a semi-tone higher in pitch and is known as the A-sharp note. The black key to the right of the “C” key, is a semi-tone higher in pitch and is known as the “C-sharp” note. The same principle applies to D, F and G. Descending: The black key to the left of the “B” key, is a semi-tone lower in pitch and is known as the B-flat note, meaning that this note/key has 2 names i.e. B-flat and/or A-sharp. Which ever of the two names you wish to call it is right. The black key to the left of the “A” key, is a semi-tone lower in pitch and is known as the “A-flat” note, meaning that this note/key has 2 names i.e. A-flat and/or G-sharp. Which ever of the two names you wish to call it is right. The same principle applies to G, E and D. Start on the A note/key counting it as 1 and proceed up by semi-tone to the count of twelve, gives you the twelve different pitched tones on the piano, also known as the: Chromatic scale. Tips: *Use masking tape and a marker to label each key with its note name. Once you are familiar with the note names, the masking tape can be peeled off without leaving residue. *Learn the names and arrangement of the 7 natural notes/keys, ascending and descending. *Learn the repeating octaves e.g. A-B-C-D-E-F-G-[A], or: C-D-E-F-G-A-B-[C] or: G-A-B-C-D-E –F-[G]- etc. ascending and descending. *Learn the names and the functions of the 5 modifiers i.e. sharps – raising notes by a semi-tone ascending and flats- lowering notes by a semi-tone descending. Practice tips: * Practice frequently! * Practice playing the different chromatic scales ascending and descending, without making any mistakes e.g. the chromatic scale of C: [C, C-sharp, D, D-sharp, E, F, F-sharp, G, G-sharp, A, A-sharp, B, [C]. Descending: [C, B, B-flat, A, A-flat, G, G-flat, F, E, E-flat, D, D-flat, [C] *Play an octave ascending and descending, while humming each note that you play. *Sound the natural notes individually ascending and descending while humming it or singing: DO, RE, ME, FA, SO, LA, TI, DO, –TI, LA, SO, FA, ME, RE, DO- over an over again, until you are able to sing or hum the pitch correctly of each note that you randomly select. *Having removed the labeled names, sound notes randomly on the keyboard, calling their names. Be on the lookout for more tips on basics with regard to learning how to play piano chords by ear, as unfortunately it is to much to cover all of it in this article.
My name is Wouter Nel. I am a South African. To learn more about this topic, do visit the link below to my downloadable my e-book in PDF format, titled: Play Piano Chords by Ear. http://www.printablepiano-chords.com