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Piano by ear

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Playing piano hymns by ear...

Would you like to be able to sit down in front of a piano without any music and play a song or hymn without having to memorize it? The purpose for this page is to help you do just that: I hope this 45 minute audio course (in mp3) with its hints and tips will help make playing by ear become a reality for you. (And of course, my purpose is to offer it freely without any hidden money-making scheme.)

Is this for me?

Playing piano by ear is not for everyone. God has not chosen to give all of us the same gifts. However, I've known people who didn't think they could who did learn with time. This may not be for you if you're the type of person who cannot carry a tune when you sing, or if when you attempt to play a melody on the piano you cannot tell whether you are playing the wrong notes or the right ones. If this describes you, it doesn't mean you're inferior to someone who can, it just means God has chosen to give you different gifts (that we who play by ear may not be able to do).

I greatly enjoy playing hymns by ear. It's relaxing, relieves stress, and gives me another avenue for worship. There's much room for expression and creativity, and the possibilities are endless.

Do I need to be able to read sheet music?

No. I have made the instructions below specifically with this in mind so that people who do not have prior experience with piano still might understand. However, as I mention in the instructions, you should learn the letter names of the keys on the piano so you know what keys I am referring to. Otherwise you would have to figure it out by just listening, which would be frustrating.

This course will NOT teach you how to read sheet music. I strongly suggest learning, but that's way too complicated for this site.


If you're wanting to learn to play the piano by ear in a month and fly through songs with ease in two, you might be disappointed. Like so many things, you will get out of it what you put in, and it's going to take time, patience and practice. But be encouraged! I found it easier to play by ear than to play by note.

For those of you who do not have prior piano experience, you will especially need patience-- and you will have to really want to learn. I do encourage taking a year or so of formal piano lessons first to help with things like proper posture, note names & general knowledge that are not addressed here. The more experience you have, the easier it will be.

The Teacher's Experience

I'm not perfect! I'll be honest- This is one of my first attempts to share what I have learned personally on this subject. I'm not a music professional. You might not follow what I'm trying to tell you in the lessons below. That's why I offer places to type your comments & questions-- your input will help make this page better. Everyone is different-- if your learning method is different, let me know how I can help you.

What are my qualifications?

- I have been playing piano since about 1990. I started the traditional way by learning the letters of the notes on the written staff and matching them to the keys on the piano. My school participated in Solo & Ensemble and the ability God has given me earned firsts at state.
- Around 1998 I began to try to learn to play by ear. This greatly increased my enjoyment of playing the piano and I have preferred this ever since. I am no child prodigy pianist. I had to learn note by note just like many of you, and it took me a while to figure out how to play by ear (with the help of my piano instructor).
- When I went to college at University-Wisconsin La Crosse, I took Music Theory. This class greatly increased my ability to "sight-sing" (look at notes and sing the tune without having heard the song) and that class has influenced my teaching method below.
- Finally, I do have some experience with teaching one-on-one how to play by ear. I realize not everyone who can play can teach... But there has been some interest on this topic so this is my best shot at it!

Tips for piano players:

1. As a supplement to the instructions below for those of you who play piano by note and want to learn to play by ear, you may find it helpful to ease into playing by ear by learning the chords as described below and then playing music that has the chords written in for you. Don't worry about reading anything except the melody and the chord symbols and try to make up the left hand based on the chords they give you. (They make "fake books" that basically are made for those who want to do this type of thing.) See the links below under "Having trouble hearing the chord changes?" to get you started. If those links aren't enough, let me know which hymn(s) you want to practice and I may be able to add sheet music downloads for you to practice with that coorespond with the material below.

2. Most keyboards now come with auto-accompaniment where all you have to do is press a key in the base and it will play that chord (in accompaniment form) for you. All you have to do is figure out how to play the melody and where to make the chord changes. This can be a great learning tool-- and it's really fun too!

May God bless you as you seek to honor and enjoy Christ through music. And bless others too!

** Please do not alter, sell, defame, or publish these files elsewhere on the web without written permission from GospelRiver.com. The identifying information contained in the file must remain with the file when given to others. Thank you! Feel free to download and distribute freely if you find them helpful. **

Email gospelriver@gmail.com if you wish to receive notice of updates to these files.

*Note: Don't get overly concerned about lessons 3 through 5. Try them out, practice them some and move on.


Video Demonstration of playing Amazing Grace by ear:

Do Not skip the lessons above and just play the video. You will miss most of the instruction!

Chords used:
Easy: G - C - G - D - G - C - G - D - D7 - G (C - G)
Harder: G - C - G - Em - D7 - G - G/B - C - G - Em - D7 - G (C - G)



Sheet Music Helps

Resource (Link) Download
Scales/Keys Download (0 MB)





Playing by ear / free sheet music resource

Hymnal.net-sheet music and chords

Circle of 5ths:

Here is the circle of 5th's for your reference.
C    G    D    A    E    B    F#/Gb    C#/Db    G#/Ab    D#/Eb    A#/Bb    F    C   (back to start)

Find the chord before and after the key of the song you are playing in.

If I am playing in the key of C, I will likely need the chords F & G.
If I am playing in the key of G, I will likely need the chords C & D.
If I am playing in the key of D, I will likely need the chords G & A.

Having trouble hearing the chord changes?

Here's a great site for piano players that gives you the melody with chords:
Also, this site lists the chords for you but is geared more towards guitarists: http://gospelmusic.org.uk/a-g.htm
(Click on "The Songs" at the left to view more hymns.)

Using these might make getting started easier and will help your ear become trained to hear the changes better.

I greatly value your input.

** Please include your email if you desire a response or additional help! (kept confidential)

 This method worked for me
 This page helped me
 Please develop this page further
 I didn't get much help here
 I am totally lost. Can you make this simpler?

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