Can you play by Ear?

Buck 1 By Buck 1, 27th Sep 2012 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>Music>Listening To Music

Whenever you sing, whistle, or hum a tune you are playing by ear - because you heard the tune first. With practice it is possible to transfer the tune to a musical instrument.

When did you hear the tune?

You may have heard the tune on a radio, walkman, or smartphone.
You may have watched a film or video of someone singing the tune.
Perhaps you went to a concert to hear your favourite artist singing.
Did your choral or instrumental group perform the tune?

You remembered the tune your heard

You remembered the tune you heard, (by ear), because you liked the tune.
If you hear it more than once you are even more likely to remember it.
Reproducing the tune from memory by singing, whistling, or humming it can be the first stage of playing it by ear

Transfer the tune to another musical instrument

If you have access to a piano or electronic organ this is probably the best instrument to play your memorised tune on. And if you already play the piano/organ, guitar or another musical instrument you are more than half way there.
Work out the tune on the white notes (key of C major) on the piano/organ, or in your easiest key on the other instrument.

Find the chords

Chords give a tune harmony and rhythm.
Most guitarists play by ear. They can sing a song they have memorised and accompany the song with chords they play on their guitar.
Most electronic organs can match up chords, harmony and rhythm with the tune you play.
A chord has a minumum of three notes played together, and three chords will be enough for most tunes.
Using the white notes on the piano and with the left hand play the notes C, E, G, for the C major chord.
The other chords you will need are F major - play F, A, C, together with the left hand.
And G major - play G, B, D, together with the left hand.

Match up the tune (sometimes called the melody) with the chords

Select the chord that sounds best with the start of the tune - usually C major.
Listen to the way the melody or words go to give you a clue as to when to change to another chord and experiment to find out which of the three chords sounds best with the melody of the tune at different stages of the tune. The tune usually finishes with C major.
When you think you have the chords right listen and watch another "Ear" player to see how they play it to incorporate the base sounds and rhythm with the melody.


I have made this exercise as simple as possible so you can play your first tune by ear.
Do not be disheartened if it doesn't sound right first time.
Try a different tune, listen to others playing, learn more about your instrument, take lessons in popular music.
As you progress you will learn many new chords and different of styles of playing.
There is much enjoyment and satisfaction to be gained from playing by ear.
You may go on to play for parties, play in a group for social functions, or even play at concerts.


Chord, Chords, Ear, Hearing, Hum, Instrument, Melody, Music, Play, Playing, Rhythm, Sing, Tune, Whistle

Meet the author

author avatar Buck 1
Male, married, retired. Play bagpipes, saxophone, clarinet, keyboards.

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author avatar David Reinstein,LCSW
29th Sep 2012 (#)

I play ears thusly: I have a Marimba made of petrified ears of different sizes from different animals. The sounds are odd and kind of fun. Playing by ear. indeed ...:-}

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author avatar Buck 1
29th Sep 2012 (#)

My imagination runs wild! Thanks for your comment.

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author avatar vpaulose
29th Sep 2012 (#)

Interesting info. Thank you.

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