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Learning to Play Piano by Ear – Quick Guide

The beauty of piano is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to learning. You can learn to play piano by ear simply by listening and repeating, which is just as valid as more academic and structured approaches. Anyone can learn to play piano by ear with enough practice and using a variety of exercises and methods to educate their ear in memorizing and replication.

Why learn how to play piano by ear?

Structured piano lessons may not be for you, and tedious lessons and theory may not inspire you. You could still learn to become a proficient player if you prefer to just listen to your favorite song and figure it out by ear. You do not need to have a perfect pitch; it can be learned. It all starts with remembering a note’s pitch and knowing how to locate it on the piano. There are ample resources available that can help you learn to play piano by ear online and get you started on the right track.

How to learn to play piano by ear?

Listening is the most important part of learning to play piano by ear and you will need to pay close attention to the music’s intricacies, such as the lows, highs, starts, and stops. Try the following to start practicing how to play jazz piano by ear.

Start with singing

If you can sing a note and then play that exact note, you will be able to play by ear. Learn to hear the pitches in your head and identify these first on their own and then by comparing notes.

Practice with a friend

Ask a friend to tap one and then two piano keys and determine whether the first is higher or lower than the other. This improves your listening skills and the ability to distinguish notes in a song.

Start Simple

Learning to play piano by ear can lead to analyzing complex songs with changing time signatures and quick tempos. However, start with simpler tunes that have consistent timing and a basic key signature with fewer flats and sharps.

Tips to streamline learning to play piano by ear

In developing your competence to find notes on the piano, there are several areas you can work on. You will improve different skills that all contribute to the process. 


Learning scales are great for auditory training, and it helps with dexterity and fingering. It will assist you in realizing when and where you played the wrong note. Through practicing scales, you will be able to recognize a wrong note almost immediately and rectify it. Scales will improve your ear, and you will progress to being able to tell the difference between major and minor keys.


As you get better, you can move on to more substantial musical elements and move on from learning basic notes by ear. Intervals give jazz piano harmony. As a result, they are the simplest route to get to more advanced skills and are especially useful for chord progressions.

Practicing scales in note sequences/patterns

It is also a good idea to practice scales in note sequences when learning to play by ear as it helps identify musical patterns. Pick out patterns within songs, distinguish intervals between notes, and recognize the sounds connected with which chords.

Chords and chord voicings

A chord is formed when you hear more than two notes at the same time. Specific ear training can be done for variations of the basic triad chords. The order of the individual voices inside a chord, the tones added, doubled, or ignored, and the spacing of each note are all part of learning chord voicings. Experiment with different voicings and inversions to change the order of the chords.

Stylistic comping patterns

Rhythm is the essence of putting music together. It dictates when and how you use the chords. Without rhythm, the music becomes monotonous and robotic. Learn some basic rhythmic comping patterns like the Charleston and Jazz Swing rhythms.


Licks are short phrases that are typically taken from a chord progression or chord. They are small morsels of jazz pieces you can study, memorize, and play. Practice common licks by singing and playing over and over to train your ears to recognize them.

Resources from PianoGroove’s online jazz piano school are designed to help you learn and improve a range of skills to master jazz piano, including playing piano by ear.

Benefits of playing jazz piano by ear

You will develop a keen ear and sharp listening abilities, but there are other advantages to learning to play the piano by ear. It improves your sight-reading, strengthens theoretical and structural awareness, and allows you to truly experience the intricacies of pulse and rhythm. You will also improve your intrinsic coordination, allowing you to learn compositions faster, be more creative, and add your own style.

Christopher Stern

Christopher Stern is a Washington-based reporter. Chris spent many years covering tech policy as a business reporter for renowned publications. He has extensive experience covering Congress, the Federal Communications Commission, and the Federal Trade Commissions. He is a graduate of Middlebury College. Email:[email protected]

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