Want to learn to play your favourite melody/tune by ear WITHOUT perfect pitch? Read on

By Ugo Onwutalu

your favourite tune by ear can be rewarding once you know how. The
challenge is in being able to recreate what you hear, especially if you don’t have perfect pitch. Here are some
tips for getting closer to reproducing your favourite songs (this
applies mainly to piano but can be effective for other instruments)

word of warning: if you’re looking for a quick fix, this isn’t it. What this guide will give you though, is a solid base for being
able to write down notes you hear and play them.

1. Get the beat in your head. Tap and nod and do the same for the rhythm (the pattern of the notes) For more information on this, visit how to keep to time playing music

2. Humm/sing the tune/melody – it doesn’t have to be note perfect. Even better, record what you’ve done to play back later.

3. Then with the first note you hummed, play all the keys on the piano near where you think your hummed note is until they match up (you don’t need perfect pitch but a good idea of whether your voice and what you play matches is useful). Most importantly, write that note (and each one thereafter) down – don’t trust your memory.

4. For the bass, either use Octaves of the melody (the same note an eigth down) or notes a 5th down from the melody (visit the theory page and go through the intervals part 2 lesson on 5ths) so for example the song ‘Move like Jagger‘ below:

Using the above example, you can see there are notes in the Treble Clef (G, C, D, and finally G) that can be complemented by notes played with the left hand in either the treble/bass clef. Try it with a melody you’re familiar/comfortable with. Apart from octaves, think of which notes would be a fifth down from the melody. Write them down then try them out. Experiment, make recordings and eventually you’ll see what fits and what doesn’t. 

As mentioned, this is not a quick and easy way to play by ear and takes work. However, practiced regularly, it should help you with your note recognition (matching notes you hear to what keys you play) and give you a basic understanding of how to play what you hear

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