To the uninitiated, the idea of playing piano by ear can seem rather mysterious, a performing feat only achievable by more advanced players… or for the “specially gifted.”
Well, let’s answer a question: did your ears go “on hold” until you understood everything there is to know about the language you speak? That may seem like a ridiculous question. Actually, your ears were working for you 24/7 from the moment of your birth (and likely earlier). During your infancy, was there an idea that ran through your mind that went something like, “Talking? No way am I ready for that big step yet. I had better wait until I have a better grasp of how to do it” or did you say to yourself, “Uhmmm, I’ll never be able to talk. These folks have something special going for themselves”… ??? Not likely.
Not even close. In reality, there was no thought about it. You just naturally heard what was going on around you. When it was time to start speaking, it happened. At that stage of your life, you hadn’t learned the concept of having an identity. Therefore, you didn’t identify with not being able to do anything. You don’t learn that until you are at an age when you listen to authoritative figures who feed your brain with false ideas like, “that’s difficult to do” or “I’ll never be able to do that,” etc. Whether you heard those wrong ideas directly from others of you formed them on your own as a result of listening to others, you still were exposed to ideas that were simply not accurate concerning yourself and your abilities.
That said, your ears are still working for you 24/7 and that is not dependent of what level of playing competency you are at. Your ears and brain are functioning. Your brain interprets sounds that you hear and it recognizes distinctions in these sounds. It may not be at a point of being able to label or categorize these sounds, but it’s still functioning. It automatically utilizes its ability to hear differences. It’s always working.
When a beginner encounters the idea of playing piano by ear, what usually comes to mind is an image of some sort of someone who is highly skilled, whether real or imagined. Then that person often sabotages his or her efforts by wrongly thinking “I can’t do that.” Remember this: when you were 3 days old, you were not at a point where you could actually utter the words “I can do anything I set my mind on,” but that didn’t mean you didn’t have the capacity to learn how to say them. What’s even more interesting is that you didn’t need to hear those words to pursue your heart’s desires, whatever they happened to be!
So, feel free to adopt the belief that you can nurture that musical sensitivity of yours. That’s really what having good “musical ears” is all about – being sensitive to those “sound distinctions.” This is what playing piano by ear involves. You have the ability. You were born with it and you still have it now. With the right guidance, your maturity in this area can certainly be accelerated a bit. You’ll want to connect with a coach whose approach to teaching piano nurtures your ability to play music by ear from the very beginning… and, yes, it’s possible.
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