Will Playing by Ear Hurt Your Classical Playing?

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Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. The subject today is about playing by ear. Will playing by ear hurt your classical playing? There are many teachers who tell their students they must not play by ear because it will mess up the precision of their classical playing. The only ounce of truth to this is if somebody is learning classical repertoire by ear and not studying the score. You’re never going to be able to play Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann, or Bach as intended if you do it all by ear.

Is playing by ear intrinsically bad for you?

Not only does playing by ear not hurt your classical playing, but I’ll go so far as to say that all playing is by ear! You may take it from the sheet music initially, but ultimately, with all the music you play, you’re playing by ear. You first learn it from the visual representations on the page. But then you hear it and create it on the piano. So playing by ear is essential for piano playing. Not only that, but for most styles of music, it’s absolutely necessary to play by ear because the written score is not how that music was conceived to begin with. You’ll never be able to play blues faithfully from a score. You have to be able to play by ear.

What about playing classical music by ear?

Ultimately, when you play your classical music, even though you’re playing the notes faithfully to what the composer wrote, you should be essentially playing by ear. In fact, one of the biggest fears when playing a memorized piece or program is having a memory slip. But if you can play your classical music by ear, how can you possibly have a memory slip? It’s virtually impossible to have a memory slip because even if you forget where your hands go for a moment, you’ll know where you are and you can keep going. You can get back on track instantly because you know what it’s supposed to sound like.

I encourage all of you to play by ear!

Play your classical music by ear. Even though you’ve digested the score from the sheet music, you must transcend the visual and turn it into an aural experience that you can share with your audience. I wonder if any of you disagree with this assessment about playing by ear and how it affects your classical playing. Be sure to let me know how you feel about this in the comments!

Will playing swing rhythms in jazz or blues affect the integrity of your classical playing?

The difference between how you approach 19th-century music compared to 18th-century music is stylistically extremely different. If you can play those styles, which are different from one another, why shouldn’t you be able to expand to other styles of music that have different rhythmic feels? My personal feeling is: the more, the merrier! If you can play more styles of music, you will enjoy music more, and you will be a more well-rounded musician. Thanks again for joining me, Robert Estrin, here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.

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4 thoughts on “Will Playing by Ear Hurt Your Classical Playing?”


  1. Hi Robert
    I had a friend of mine that had a fantastic memory on the piano.
    He told me that he practiced on a silent keyboard and said: imagine the tone Bill.
    So yes I agree with everything you said by learning by ear from the score. I actually do a lot of humming and it helps position my hand on the proper keys. I would also recommend singing it in your mind. Remember Glenn Gould on his recordings LOL.

  2. This may not be the same as you have talked in this lesson, but I find it interesting. My mother had a lifetime friend who never took one piano lesson and could not read any music. Yet he was able to play difficult pieces of Chopin in a very correct way. Mother used to say that if these unusual people start to take piano lessons can never again play by ear. How is this possible? I also know a teenager boy who never took a piano lesson, yet he can sit at the piano and compose very nice melodic music. Another puzzle for me!

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