Occasionally someone stops here looking for ways to learn the piano. Mostly, the search terms are something like “play piano by ear”, which makes sense. That’s the only way I know.
The best and most basic advice I know is to listen. Sit at a piano, or keyboard, and listen to a song. Over and Over. Try to hit just one note that matches the tune. Try to follow that note with others. Keep listening to the song. Stop it, start it, repeat the tough parts. Over and Over. Would it help to have some training? Certainly. I had some basic training as a child. Not a lot, but enough to help me play by ear more easily.
Part of this website’s purpose is to help people learn southern style gospel playing. With today’s technology I can digitally store a song on the Yamaha DGX-640, then move it to the computer as a Midi file. Software converts it to sheet music, and both are available here online. That’s useful for some people. Others are starting from scratch, and what I have to offer isn’t enough. I’m going to mention some courses here. If you’re inspired to learn and starting from scratch, they might be useful. Do I recommend a particular one? No.
First, I believe if you’re determined and persistent, you can learn by listening to others play. Watch youtube videos, pay attention to their hands and the melody. Teach yourself some basic chords, learn a little bit of note reading. You can do it for free!! The resources are out there. You just have to find them and have the discipline to study and practice.
I’ll say it again – you can do it for free.
Second, this isn’t a review. It’s a place to start. And it’s not fair for me to recommend one over another, because I’m affiliated with a couple of them. Full disclosure. Not the Amazon links, but the other two. If you click the links, and wind up purchasing something, you’ll be helping me out… a cup of coffee, maybe a banana split, or maybe even help me keep this website going. If you want to check them out independently, just Google the names, rather than using these links. It’s okay, I won’t mind. :^)
First, one from Amazon: Alfred’s Basic Adult All-In-One Course: Lesson-Theory-Technic: Level 1 Plastic Comb
In terms of bang for your buck, this is probably the best of the four. The “Plastic Comb” version is only $9.04, and is available through Prime for fast delivery. This is the Amazon #1 Best Seller for piano courses. 4 and a half Stars from 616 reviews. As one of the reviewers mentioned, no single course, online or not, can turn you into a concert-level pianist. However, this course will give you a good grounding in theory and technique. Each lesson builds on the previous, and by the end of the course will have taught you a number of popular songs.
There’s a wonderful playlist HERE on Youtube taking you through many of the songs you’ll learn. The songs start out very simple, and progress to some very respectable complexities for a beginning player. The best part, if you like the course, Level 2 and Level 3 are available on Amazon, and in the same general price range. This has the advantage of being extremely affordable, and letting you choose how far to take your learning. You should definitely go to Amazon and read the reviews.
This one is $5.21 in paperback, with Prime shipping available. The book has 4 and a half Stars out of 123 customers. I have a feeling this might not be enough content for everybody, but for $5.21 it will get you started. It seems limited, compared to the Alfred’s Basic Course mentioned above. The best thing I can say is, go to Amazon, read the reviews. It might be all you need to get started.
Number 3: Pianoforall (Click HERE to visit site)
This is getting more serious, more expensive, and more to the point of actually playing stuff that sounds good right off the bat. 9 books, 200 video lessons, 500 audio lessons, interactive and says it works on any device. I’m thinking a tablet or small laptop would be perfect to set on the music stand of your piano while you practice. The audio and video links are embedded in the lesson books, so you can read, see, and listen as needed while you’re working through the lessons. It covers a wide variety of styles. The part that really convinced me they were legitimate is the reviews. The reviews actually include direct emails that you can contact and verify. Haven’t seen that before.
With an emphasis on sounding good now while learning theory and technique as you go, this sounds like the lessons I wish I’d had when I was young. Not traditional, but practical. The cost is $39 for download, and $49 for a physical DVD to be mailed to you. There’s a 60 day full 100% refund offered if you aren’t satisfied, and you can keep the course. Pretty cool. You can watch this young man’s progress in this video for his first 3 weeks.
Number 4: Hear and Play (Yes, I’m playing favorites with a graphic link… Maybe I’ve never used Hear and Play… but I still like their variety of options)
Jermaine Griggs at Hear and Play has a gigantic selection of targeted courses. If you were to buy everything Jermaine has to offer, you’d spend over $800! And that’s at the half-off package price. :^)
Fortunately, his offerings are a la carte… you can choose just the parts that suit you. Beginner, intermediate, advanced, play by ear, chords, gospel, jazz, major styles and sub styles; there’s a huge variety here. I’ve listened to some of his students play, and seen samplings of his courses. This is where I would go if I wanted to learn how to play by ear, begin practical play while learning theory, and jump into gospel music. Which is kind of what my goal would be if I didn’t already play gospel music by ear.
Anyway, I’ve been on their mailing list for some time, and upon occasion emailed Jermaine with questions. I like the tone of their emails and his responses. The “choose what you need” approach is very nice.
SONG TUTOR: One thing I really do like about Hear and Play is their “Song Tutor” software. It’s $47, which might be low or high to you, depending on your budget. What makes it cool for me is that it can load any midi file and deconstruct the song for you to learn. Midi is the format I offer on “Grace Notes” for free download.
If you like one of my songs (or any midi file), you can download the midi, and see exactly how it’s played in Song Tutor. Slow it down, even play in single-step mode. Trying to learn a difficult part? Select the segment to play over and over until you’ve mastered it. Not comfortable with the original key? Transpose it. There’s a full keyboard on display with light-up keys to show you what to play. I’ve seen free software that can do some of this, but never anything that offers all that Song Tutor can do. Best of all, there’s a free trial download with limited features, and a 100% refund guarantee for the paid version.
Some might say you’re not learning ‘how’ to play by ear when you learn a song from Song Tutor, but I disagree. You’re deconstructing how someone else plays. You’re seeing techniques and chords in practical use. You can see how it works in another key. You’re building a toolkit in your mind for playing future songs. You can look for different versions of a song, see how each is done, and create the perfect mix for your style. This is an incredible technique for learning. Even if you don’t spend a penny on any of these resources, the idea is valid. You can learn to play by ear. Any tool can potentially help you get the job done, but the most important one is your mind. The other things might make it easier, but if you’re determined, you can find everything you need free online and teach yourself!