Archive | February 2014

Ear Players Part 2: Teaching Auditory Ear Players

Teaching Ear Players

Teaching Ear Players


Encourage auditory ear players to learn independently: Auditory ear players have a great knack for copying music. Sometimes a student struggles and struggles through a piece until the teacher plays the song for them. After just one or two listens of how the song is supposed to sound the student then proceeds to learn the tune quickly (though the rhythm will probably be a little off).  I would almost never play anything for an auditory ear player because it will discourage them from reading notes on their own. One of the rare instances that playing for an ear player is acceptable is to demonstrate various “touches” or phrasing that their keen ears can pick up and copy.

Encourage auditory ear players to sight-read: A good way to show students that they can read music is by notating something the student has made up. Usually an ear player will play music that is far more complicated that what they can sight-read. One musician and teacher taught me the following phrase to tell students who struggle with note reading: “If you can play this, you can read music for this.” Students who have good pitch will also have an advantage if they have intervalic reading skills (sight-reading notes by intervals rather than note names). An interesting article on this topic is found on Joy Morin’s website: If students see the interval of a third written in their music but their ears hear the interval of a fourth, the students’ ear would be a great advantage to correcting the wrong note.

Encourage auditory ear players to engage in improvisation: Do a duet with students. One example is the teacher playing broken chords (the I, IV and V chord of the key you choose) and the student making up a 5-finger pattern improvisation. After ending the improvisation swap positions and have the student play the chords and the teacher play the melody. This exercise will aid students to have better muscle memory of 5-finger patterns and of chord patterns.

Allow auditory ear players to play their creations: I’ve found that ear players who love creating music enjoy moments to break away from sheet music. Ask these students if they have copied or created anything new during the week. Allow them to play their creation in the last few lesson minutes to encourage the lesson ending on a good note.

If you are a teacher, encourage auditory ear players to use their strengths (ex. improvisation, composition, musicality) and to work on their weaknesses (ex. sight-reading). If you are a parent or student, realize that pitch can improve through practice. Practice playing and singing familiar songs without sheet music and add chords for further practice.

Please note: Certain students have a knack for copying things that they hear but struggle with note-reading. These students are auditory ear players.To learn more about ear players, see the article and the first comment from the article “Ear Players Part 1: Discovering Ear Players.”


Ear Players Part 1: Discovering Ear Players

Below are three things that I look for during lessons to discover if a student is predominantly an ear player:

How does a teacher discover that a student is ear player?

  Ask the student if he or she likes to make songs up. Sometimes students are excited to show what they can play by ear but others won’t offer that information until asked because they are shy. Ask a parent if their child likes to play around on the keyboard at home, whether by composing original music or by playing familiar tunes. If the answer is “yes,” there is a good indication that the child has a keen musical ear.
(Note that memorizing sheet music is different that hearing something from a cd or the radio and copying it on the piano without any helps. The child that memorizes may not be an ear player, but the child who copies songs without music is most likely an ear player.)

  Discover how a student learns his or her pieces. If a student struggles and struggles through a piece until they hear it played from the teacher (at which point the student plays amazingly better!), they most likely are relying on their hearing rather than on the printed music. I once received a good piece of advice: Do not play an ear player’s musical piece for them as an example. Force the students to discover how the music sounds for themselves without any helps!

  Be on the lookout for rhythmic deficiencies. Although ear players tend to get creative in their rhythms, I tell students to play exactly what is written on the sheet. Playing precise rhythm is very important and students need to have a good understanding of note values, time signatures and strong/weak beats. It is all right, however, to sometimes change the note durations in method books to suit a student’s rhythm. For example, sometimes an ear player adds a dotted rhythm. The teacher can make two crotchets (quarter notes) into one dotted crotchet + one quaver (eighth note) by adding a dot to the first crotchet and then adding a quaver line onto the other crotchet. This should only be an occasional variation, however, and it is a good opportunity to explain the theory of dotted rhythms.

If you are a parent and notice that your child enjoys making pieces up, develop this skill by encouraging the child to play pieces by ear and to learn theory very well. If you are a piano student and you notice that you have an aptitude in hearing the intervals that make up songs, continue playing by ear and getting more proficient in this area of music.  If you are a teacher, feel free to comment below on ways that you’ve discovered ear players during lessons.