Playing by Ear

Some Observations…

1) As an organist and pianist with a master’s degree in piano performance and pedagogy, I met the challenges of memorizing Bach, executing the articulation of Mozart, the voicing of Brahms’ inner melodies, and the shimmering tones of Debussy and, succeeded, according to my professors. However, after the diploma was hung, it was quite clear to me that my sight reading skills needed attention AND chord charts for my church’s praise band seemed to be written in a secret code. I kept thinking, what kind of pianist was I? I felt lopsided–I was strong as a classical pianist but very weak as a functional musician.

2) Recently, a student of mine participated in a very unique Creative Pianist Contest and earned a $100 for the best performance of a Contemporary piece and another $100 prize for the most Versatile Pianist. Of course I was so proud of him and can take some credit for helping him to master Copland’s “Cat and Mouse”. However, I wish I could also take full credit for his versatility as well! In general, my “job” as his teacher has been to keep him staying ON the printed page because he has such exceptional skills living OFF the printed page. I can take credit for challenging those skills but the wiring between his hands and ears is an extraordinary gift and very atypical of what most of my present piano students possess.


If all students can learn to read and play music from the grand staff, should they not be able to learn how to play by ear, read chord charts and improvise as well? Can all students (not just those with a natural gift to play by ear) learn to be versatile, musically fit musicians? [···]

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I have the pleasure of dipping my feet into two different worlds of music on a daily basis:  The world of teaching, and the world of performing & recording.

It is within the latter, the world of performing and recording, where I have the opportunity to meet many other artists in the entertainment business who do the same thing as I:  Compose music, record it, distribute it, and perform it.

You might be very surprised to hear though, how great the percentage is of performing artists out there who a) have never had any formal music training, and b) do not read music.

This is where you come in as an educated music teacher.

The selling of original sheet music is a nice source of income for recording artists – both independent and record label alike.  Though, for non-music-reading independent musicians who do not have someone to automatically transcribe for them (as most record label artists have), they end up hiring a transcriptionist to produce their sheet music. [···]

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