How to Teach Your Students to Play Piano By Ear

How to Teach Your Students to Play Piano By Ear

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Do you want to know how to teach your students how to play Piano by ear? 

You already know the piano is a versatile instrument that offers a wide range of possibilities for musical expression. Teaching this skill can open up a new world of musical exploration and creativity for your students. 

But how do you teach it? Keep reading.

Importance and Benefits of Playing Piano by Ear

Playing by ear is an essential skill for any musician. 

It allows them to pick up tunes quickly, improvise, and play along with other musicians without the need for sheet music. 

Here are some of the benefits of playing by ear:

  • Improves Musical Ear: Playing by ear helps students develop a keen musical ear. They learn to recognize pitches, intervals, and chords, which enhances their overall musical understanding.
  • Enhances Creativity: When students play by ear, they rely on their intuition and creativity. This can lead to more expressive and original performances.
  • Increases Musical Flexibility: Playing by ear gives students the flexibility to play music in different keys, adapt to different musical styles, and improvise on the spot.
  • Boosts Confidence: Mastering the skill of playing by ear can boost a student’s confidence. It’s a tangible demonstration of their musical abilities and progress.

Teaching students to play by ear can be a rewarding experience. However, it also presents its own set of challenges. 

In the next section, we’ll discuss these challenges and how to overcome them.

Challenges in Teaching Students to Play By Ear and How to Overcome Them

Teaching students to play by ear can be a rewarding yet challenging task. 

Here are some common challenges and strategies to overcome them:

  • Difficulty in Recognizing Intervals: Recognizing intervals is a crucial part of playing by ear. Some students might struggle with this. To overcome this, start with simple exercises like identifying the difference between major and minor intervals. Gradually move on to more complex intervals.
  • Reliance on Sheet Music: Some students might rely heavily on sheet music and find it difficult to play without it. Encourage them to listen to the music and try to play it without looking at the sheet music. This can help them develop their auditory skills.
  • Fear of Making Mistakes: Some students might be afraid of making mistakes when playing by ear. Foster a positive learning environment where mistakes are seen as opportunities for learning rather than failures.
  • Lack of Patience: Learning to play by ear takes time and patience. Some students might get frustrated if they don’t see immediate results. Encourage them to be patient and remind them that progress takes time.

How to Start Ear Training Piano Students

Starting ear training with your piano students involves more than just recognizing intervals and chords. 

It’s about developing a deep, intuitive understanding of music. Here are some advanced techniques:

  • Sight-Singing: Sight-singing is the ability to read and sing music at first sight. This skill can greatly enhance a student’s ability to play by ear as it strengthens their understanding of musical notation and their ability to audit or hear music in their head.
  • Solfège Training: Solfège is a system where each note of a scale is given its unique syllable, which can aid in pitch recognition. Incorporating this into your teaching can help students internalize the sounds of different intervals and scales.
  • Aural Skills Software: There are several software programs and apps available that offer advanced ear training exercises. These can provide valuable practice outside of lessons.

Effective Exercises for Playing Piano by Ear

Here are some advanced exercises that can help your students improve their ear-playing skills:

Interval Recognition

Play two notes, either simultaneously or consecutively, and ask your students to identify the interval. Start with simple intervals like major and minor thirds, and gradually move on to more complex ones.

Chord Recognition

Play a chord and ask your students to identify it. Start with major and minor triads, and then introduce seventh chords and extended chords.

Melodic Dictation

Play a short melody and ask your students to play it back by ear. Start with simple melodies and gradually increase the complexity.

Harmonic Dictation

Play a series of chords and ask your students to play them back by ear. This can be challenging, so start with simple progressions and gradually move on to more complex ones.

Rhythmic Dictation

Rhythm is a fundamental aspect of music that is often overlooked in ear training. Incorporate rhythmic dictation exercises into your lessons to help students understand and internalize different rhythmic patterns.


Ask your students to transcribe a piece of music by ear. This is a complex exercise that involves recognizing intervals, chords, rhythms, and musical form.


Encourage your students to improvise over a backing track. This helps them develop their ability to listen and respond to music in real-time.

Best Resources for Teaching Students to Play by Ear

Remember, the best resource is the one that works for your students. 

Encourage them to try different resources and see what works best for them.

Ear Training Apps 

  1. EarMaster: EarMaster offers a variety of exercises to improve listening skills. It covers all levels of musicianship and is already used by thousands of music schools around the world.
  2. Perfect Ear Trainer: This app provides a variety of simple exercises to identify chords, scales, and musical intervals. It also allows you to set daily goals to boost your motivation.
  3. Complete Ear Trainer: This app offers a game-based approach to teach musicians how to better train their ears. It includes a variety of games like chord detection, rhythm scale detection, and sight-reading.

Online Course

  1. Basic Ear Training Course – Berklee Online: This course focuses on the melody and bass notes and examines the harmonies, rhythms, and pulses that drive and measure music. It also includes transcription exercises and the study of contemporary songs.

YouTube Channels

  1. Joe Luegers Music Academy: This channel offers a series of progressive exercises to learn how to tell the difference between almost every chord you are likely to encounter.
  2. Jean Szulc – Composer: Jean Szulc presents free tools to practice ear training on your own. These methods are highly customizable and can be used for different contexts.
  3. Rick Beato: Rick Beato’s channel offers valuable lessons and tips on ear training.

Music Theory Websites

  1. Teoria: Teoria is a great free resource for ear training. It includes a tutorial and reference section. The jazz ear training tests are fantastic for learning to identify tricky extended chords.
  2. EarBeater: EarBeater offers more than 400 ear training exercises. You can create your own custom exercises and keep track of your overall progress in five ear training disciplines.

Just as a well-crafted piano bench like those from Hidrau can elevate a pianist’s performance, teaching your students to play by ear can elevate their musical journey. 

It’s like giving them a new lens to view the world of music, a lens that brings them closer to the heart of the melody, the rhythm, and the harmony. It’s a journey of discovery, of finding the music within themselves and bringing it out through the keys of the piano.

So, encourage your students to explore the world of playing by ear. 

And while they’re at it, why not explore Hidrau’s wide range of piano benches? Designed with high-density padding and seamless height adjustability, they’re the perfect companion for every pianist’s journey. 

Happy teaching!