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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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As I ponder my blog entry today, I’m in the process of scheduling new monthly jam sessions for my students!

In the past, as a summer workshop, Keyboard Jam proved to be very successful in stretching the students abilities, as well as giving them experience and enthusiasm for playing with other musicians! Have you read Nate Shaw’s two most recent articles on this very blog site? (If not, I hope that you will! I have added the links at the bottom of this article!)  Nate has some great ideas that I am definitely going to implement into my studio jam sessions, private lessons and recitals!

All of my students will be invited (pianists, singer, other instrumentalists). As the jam sessions become a huge hit, I will use them as an incentive, and extend invitation first to top practicers, best scales for the month, etc. All of the students will have fun creating music together, and learning how musicians work and play together. It works best to have separate sessions if you have a  large variance in ages and level of students. We will use the grand piano, a few keyboards, hand drums, shakers, my electric bass, and any other instruments that show up with the students.  There are so many different directions a class like this can take, but here’s a session plan that I have found to work extremely well!   [···]

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