Part 5 - Even More Chord Tricks!

"Playing songs without the hours and hours of practice time that are normally involved with traditional piano lessons is absolutely thrilling. I would not be able to do this very thing if it weren't for someone showing me the chord method along with the secrets to playing by ear!" - Guy Faux

Mastering Chord Placement

In Part One I discuss the need to understand the structure of music before you can effectively play any instrument by ear.

This involves more than just sitting back and listening to relative pitch ear-training exercises.
If you're going to learn how to play by ear, then you're gonna have to start learning songs, even if it's just simple melody lines...which by the way, is exactly how everyone should start learning how to play without sheet music.

If you haven't read my 12-Part Series on "How To Play Piano By Ear", then Click Here to read Part 1 titled, Listening Exercises.

In this issue, I'm going to assume that you've already started learning simple melodies by ear and are ready to start figuring out the chords. I want to share with you an extremely effective way to train your ear as it relates to matching up chords and melodies.

Developing A Good Sense Of Rhythm

When you learn a song by ear, it's imperative that you have a good sense of rhythm, or in other words, be able to feel the first beat of each measure and be able to determine what time signature you're in.

Are you playing in four-four time or three-four time? And if you have no idea what I'm talking about, that's okay, but if you're going to start learning songs from scratch, you're gonna need to know how to figure out how many beats are in each measure.

Why is this so important?

Well, it may not be an issue if you're just figuring out the melody, but what happens when it comes time for you to start figuring out the chords?

The most basic rule of chord piano is that you have to play a chord at the beginning of every measure.

It's imperative to break the individual melody notes into measures in order to analyze those notes to match them up with their proper chords, but there's a little more to it than that.
Proper Chord Placement

If you don't know how many beats there are in each measure, it's almost impossible to analyze the melody, match up the chords and then place them in their proper location.

So, how do you develop a good sense of rhythm?

Listening to music with the awareness of the rhythm is the most important step in the process.

The first beat of every measure tends to get a stronger accent, therefore, being able to feel the first beat is the key.

Don't Be Afraid To Cheat!

When I first started playing by ear my rhythm was horrible. The Internet wasn't around back then, so I bought an album of my favorite musician, (Billy Joel), and picked up the accompanying songbook as well.  

Depending on your experience, you may have to start with something a little more basic. I felt like I was cheating a little, but I stumbled across a few techniques in this process that really helped me develop my ear.

First of all, I set out to learn all the songs off that album, so having the songbook close by gave me some comfort that I could always take a quick glance at the sheet music to see if I was on track, or way off base. 

I discovered in this semi-cheating process, like most students who are trying to learn how to play by ear, that I was able to pick out the melody fairly easy, but hearing the chords came only with a great deal of hard work, which I was willing to do. 

So, in order to improve my rhythm, I made several copies of the sheet music and whited out all of the chord symbols on each copy. After writing out the melody notes on a separate piece of paper, I then began the process of drawing in the measure lines. I'll get back to the sheet music in a moment.

Now remember, I had to cheat a lot on those first few songs.If I couldn't figure out the time signature, I'd refer to the songbook. Then I'd start drawing in the measure lines and refer to the sheet music every 8 to 10 measures to see if I was on track. If not, I'd make the corrections and then continue on.

After I drew in all the measure lines and checked it with the sheet music, I then referred to a copy of the sheet music and began the arduous process of trying to fill in the chords. 

This allowed me to go through the chord and melody analysis process with all the notes broken down into measures, but not before I attempted to break down the measures myself as I just mentioned. After 5 or 6 songs I started to get pretty good at it. 

Now keep in mind, I didn't have a teacher showing me how to do this, so I made a lot of mistakes in the beginning. And I didn't start the album idea until after a good 6 months of learning basic 2-chord, 3-chord and 4-chord songs, which is why my Play Piano By Ear Audio Super Course is set up in this same manner.

Starting with a 15-chord or 20-chord song would be way too overwhelming for anyone just starting to play by ear. So, if you're completely new to piano, then I suggest starting with 2-chord songs and gradually working your way up to the more advanced multi-chord songs.

My line of thinking has always been that if I could learn how to play by ear -- as horrible as my ear and rhythm was -- then anyone can. All they have to do is follow in my footsteps. My course is designed exactly the same way that I learned how to play by ear.

The only difference is, is that you're not taking shots in the dark hoping that whatever you're doing will work.My techniques have worked countless students all over the world and they'll continue to work as long as music consists of melody, chords and rhythm. 

Next Week

What to do if you can't transcribe melody notes using standardized music notation, which is where most students are when they begin learning how to play piano by ear. I'll show you how I did it 30 years ago, which, by the way, is how I still do it today.

Guy Faux
Your Online Piano Instructor