Playing the piano by ear is a unique skill. Very few people can listen to a piece of music and then workout how to play it without very in-depth knowledge of the formal structure of music first. Reading music is a basic skill that most musicians will need in order to achieve a good level of skill. Many jazz greats taught themselves to play instruments by ear, but once they turned professional they soon realized reading music was a skill they could not get on without. It is fine to learn music by ear when you are playing solo, but once you need to play in a group the music score, or arrangement of a piece is invaluable. This will tell everyone how to play the piece together harmoniously and in rhythm. If you can read music, even if you are a beginner, you could have the opportunity to play with some great musicians. The Gold Coast Arts Centre in Queensland, Australia, has a mentoring program for young players which gives them invaluable experience.
Learning Piano by Ear
When we talk about learning to play by ear, it can mean a number of things. Some people have the rare ability to listen to a piece of music and then play it immediately on an instrument without being able to read music at all. Other people have a good understanding of musical theory and can work out from listening to a piece of music the key, rhythm, and notes. This allows them to play the piece themselves and even write out the music for others to follow. If you are learning a new piece of music, it can help if you listen to it played by another musician. This will help you to understand the rhythm and techniques involved and is a valuable way to learn new music for the piano by ear. Ear training and listening to great players is a surefire way to make significant progress.
Learning to Read Music
If you want to achieve a good level of skill on the piano or are thinking of a career in music, then you will need to learn how to read written music. This is a very valuable skill and it is easier to learn as you go along. By reading music, you will have access to a much greater range of pieces to play as there is sheet music available for all kinds of genres, from modern pop through to classical favorites. If you understand how to read music, this will also give you the opportunity to write your own pieces in the future. Writing your own compositions can be very rewarding.
If you are learning to play the piano, then it can be helpful for you to combine learning to read music with learning piano by ear. This will help you to develop a greater understanding of music and improve your ‘ear’, which is your ability to judge pitch, key, and tone purely by listening to music. Learning to play the piano by ear should be a part of your learning experience.