Arguably, the most important skill a musician can acquire is the ability to “play by ear!” Am I dismissing the art of reading notation? Absolutely not. In many aspects of my life as a musician, reading music is essential to me. What I really mean is that, whether a musician is reading music or not, his or her ability to carefully listen to the sound they are producing whilst playing is essential to creating a musical result. I like to call it the “LAD” technique (no offense LADies)! Listen, Analyse and Develop. You have to Listen carefully to the sound you are producing, Analyse the musical elements and then adjust to Develop it yet further. A person might be the best “sight reader” in the world but unless they focus on progressing their “playing by ear”/listening skills, the impact and message of the music will be lost on their audience. “Playing by ear” surely is at the very core of what we do!

So how do we as musicians and teachers develop these essential skills both in ourselves and in our students?

Ear Training Methods

One effective way is to record ourselves and hear our music back. Suddenly we are listening as a third party to the sound and can hear what’s good, bad and ugly! Carefully listening whilst simplifying the music by practicing it slower (and hands separate if possible) can help us focus on detail not previously heard. Other musicians use the


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Some Questions to Ponder

Have music lessons changed since you were a child?

Do you sense a shift in your teaching because of  iTunes, iPads, YouTube, Spotify…?

Have you modified your daily lessons to accommodate the interests of your students and their desire to play in today’s styles?

Do you intend to buck the cultural trend and stay true only to your “classically-trained” roots?

Do you carry a wait list because you offer lessons in the jazz/pop styles?

Regardless of your answers to the questions above, please take a moment to answer a few more in a brief survey.  Before you click on the link and take the survey, keep the following definitions in mind.


Clarifications of Styles

What does “Classically Trained” mean?

“Classical” instruction uses traditional method books that focus on reading from the grand staff, technique, and careful interpretation of the written page. Emphasis is on mastering and memorizing repertoire of the Baroque, Classical, Romantic and 20th century style periods. Theory is included but the overall approach includes little or no improvising.

What is  Jazz/Pop Training? (as defined by Bradley Sowash)

Dixieland, Big Band, Small Group in a club? All of these constitute jazz genres but jazz is not a style or sound. Jazz is an approach to making music that involves reading and improvising over specific rhythmic feels within a given  harmonic context. Born in America, the roots of jazz lie in:

composer, concert jazz pianist, author and educator

  • African Rhythms
  • European Harmonies
  • Ethnic Influences

For pianists, “pop” could be defined similarly since most pianists read. One big difference is that with jazz you are expected to personalize the music. That’s why people like to hear the same standards played by different artists: because every jazzer brings their own perspective to the interpretation.

Student bands playing music, however, usually try to sound exactly like the recording.  [···]

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Jerald Simon is obviously passionate about music, creating, and teaching. It is also clear that he wishes to motivate his students and other teachers, to develop these same passions.  In his Music Motivation Series ® and website, Simon shares his unique methodology. The series includes three focus areas: Theory Therapy ™, Innovative Improvisation™ and Innovative Composition™.

His website states: “One of our primary goals is to help prepare the next generation of composers, arrangers, musicians, music teachers and musicologists to use their music and their love of music to make a difference in their own lives, their community, and the world.”

From the extensive information Simon offers–motivational tips, published books featuring his organized methodology, free downloads, videos and more–he is well on his way to this respectable goal.

I have only perused some of the books in the series and have not used most with any students. However, just today an adult student of mine was thrilled with the visuals and charts found in the Introduction to Scales and Modes book (see below for more details).  Below are some of my early discoveries.

GENERALLY, what you will find in the Music Motivation Series®:

Exciting music which stimulates, motivates and inspires.

Original solos usually power-packed with large chords, demanding rhythmical variety, and uplifting patterns.

Books and the website include an encouraging tone which attracts musicians of all skills levels and their teachers to keep moving forward. A favorite tip for teachers to motivate students: “Ask your students what they want to learn and teach them what t they want to learn.”  I agree–I’ve noticed that customizing lessons attracts and retain students.

Theory explanations that are in-depth but not cumbersome. [···]

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