6 Step for Learning Music by Ear

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Last week we discussed the steps for learning to read music. Some people are concerned that they won’t be able to learn this skill. I have never had a student who didn’t learn to read music. When you’re given the proper steps, anyone can learn to read music. This also works for learning music by ear.

Sometimes a musician will learn a song, using their ears, rather than written music. This is impressive as well, but it’s not something someone is born with; it’s a skill that anyone can learn.

A Learned Skill

Just like anything else with learning the saxophone, if we are provided effective direction we can end up doing things that we didn’t think were possible. I made a promise to a student the other day. I stated that if he followed the lesson schedule, he would become a better saxophone player than he thought possible. That promise is made to you as well. If you follow these steps, you will develop the skill to learn music by ear. Let’s get started!

The Steps

Step 1

Listen to the song enough times where you can sing it. If you can’t sing it, then you’ll have to reference the recording more often, which will slow down the learning process.

Step 2

Sing the first note, and then find it on the saxophone. If you try to play the note without singing it, the note could take much longer to find.

Step 3

Sing the second note and then find it on the saxophone. Then play note 1 and note 2 together.

Step 4

Once you have learned 3-5 notes, stop learning new notes and focus on the 3-5. At this point, repeat the 3-5 notes 10 times. Once this has been done, move on to Step 5

Step 5

Learn another 3-5 notes.

Step 6

Once you have completed step 5, put the two groups of notes together and repeat 10 times.

That’s It!

These steps may seem a little simple, but they work. Just follow this process every day and you’ll notice that you’re ability to learn music by ear will become easier and faster.

Three Tips

Many students have learned how to play by ear with these steps, and through their practice, experience has been gained. The tips below provide insight from their experiences, and if you apply them, your ability to play music by ear will accelerate.

Tip 1

Follow this process everyday (or as often as you can) for the amount of time that works for you. If you can only handle this for 2 minutes, just work on it for 2 minutes. Some people can do this for a longer time period and others for a shorter amount of time. Either way, you can still learn music by ear if you follow this process on a consistent basis.

Tip 2

At your next practice session, play what you’ve learned before moving to new notes. In fact, play 10 times before moving on to the steps again. You may notice that you’ve forgotten some notes. That’s okay and normal. Find the notes again and get comfortable with what you’ve already learned and then continue with adding more.

Tip 3

You may be excited to take these steps and jump in to your favorite music, but your favorite music may be too advanced right now. You can always give that favorite song a shot, but I also suggest working on something simple like Mary Had a Little Lamb.

The latter will help build your confidence and accelerate learning by succeeding on music that is simple. However, if you have the desire, keep on working on the more difficult music, but don’t spend too much time on it so you end up frustrated.

We want this to be enjoyable and motivating. Don’t worry, over time the more difficult songs will become easier.

Your Amazing Memory

Over time, you’ll be amazed at what you’ve learned and how much you’ve committed to memory. You may get to a point where you’ll have 3-5 minutes of music memorized, all done by ear. Even after you learn a song and go to play it months later, you’ll notice that you can remember most of it, if not all of it. It’s pretty amazing.


Please share your experiences learning by ear. Whether you’ve done this in the past, or today will be your first day, let us know how it goes. We can also make suggestions if you get stuck. Just use the comment sections below. We look forward to hearing from you!

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