Playing By Ear And Piano Lessons, 4 Games
This is for the teacher or the parent of a piano student who wants their young musician to have more fun playing by ear. Learning how to read music is definitely extremely important when taking piano lessons. However, the ability to play by ear opens up a myriad of songs that are unattainable to musicians who only read music. Another benefit to learning how to play by ear is that it allows musicians to incorporate more feeling into their music faster by being able to recognize dynamics, meter, tempo and chord changes as it relates to the overall language of music. The key to all of these is repetition. Play at least one of these games every week with your teacher.
The Interval Game
The interval game is mostly for beginners to ear training. The goal here is to guess the interval between two notes. What your teacher should do is to select intervals that you have been studying in the lessons. The selection of a limited number of intervals is an important step as it is easy to get overwhelmed with trying to identify all 12 of the semitone intervals while learning how to recognize them. For example, one game can be recognizing the difference between the perfect intervals: perfect fourth, perfect fifth and octave. Another game can be recognizing the difference between major 2nd and major 3rd. By slowly adding intervals to your game when you play it, repeating this game can train the student’s ear to become very adept at identifying them when listening to melodies in songs and he or she will be able to pick up those melodies faster and faster.
The Inversion Game
The inversion game is a game that helps the student recognize the same chord being played in songs and will vastly reduce the perceived amount of chords, since most popular music is only 4 – 6 chords played repeatedly. Being able to recognize the inversions allows a musician’s perception to reduce a song of 50+ difference chords into 6.
How to play it is similar to the interval game, reduce the chords that will be played to may 1 or 2. For instance, play a game with the C and the F chords. Choose the 3 positions: Root position, first inversion and second inversion. Play them in a random order, and the student has to recognize which position the chord is in.
The easiest difficulty would be if the student only has to guess the inversion, not the chord, and if the chords are only played with a single hand voicing. The difficulty can be increased with larger voicing and guessing the chord as well as the inversion.
The Tonic Game
The next game would be the student recognizing which chord is the “tonic” chord. The Tonic chord is the chord whose root is the same as the key. For example, if the key is C major, then the tonic chord is a C major chord. In this game, the teacher would play a series of chords in the key of C major, and on stop on a chord in his or her progression. When the teacher stops, the student has to say whether the teacher is on the Tonic chord or not. They would be able to tell if the song sounds like it can end on that chord.
The Tonic chord is a unique chord as it gives the listener the most satisfying end to a song. If the song sounds like there should be more to follow or like something should come next, then it’s usually not the tonic chord. A song can end on a chord that is not the tonic, but those are usually songs that intentionally are leaving the audience on a cliffhanger.
The “What’s Next?” Game
The last game is the most complex. This is for the intermediate student, and it is an exercise in understanding chord progressions. If you’ve ever played Mad Libs, this is similar to that game but with chords. There are very few “wrong” answers, but there are some “better” chords that fit inside of chord progressions.
To play this game, the teacher and student sit side by side on the piano. The teacher first plays part of a chord progression and stop at some point. When the teacher stops, the student has to play a chord that makes sense inside the progression. Again, it is best if the student has a certain number of chords to choose from. To make this more difficult, the teacher can either add borrowed chords, modulations, or provide no suggested chords. However, it is advised use suggestions prior to a student becoming advanced in chord progressions. For a student to be advanced, they need to understand chord functions, chord substitutions, and borrowed chords. A great well known chord progression to play this game with is the 12 Bar Blues form. It allows for some creativity, but it within a well formed structure to make the game both challenging and achievable.
All of these games are excellent in training the ear and concept of playing without written music, which is an essential part of being a well-rounded musician. Remember that the key to all these is repetition. Playing one of these games weekly is the best way to develop the ear at a steady pace.