Play Without Written Music- Part 4

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This is it! It’s the final step in our series for learning how to play by ear. All the posts in this series will help you get started and get you on the right track. You can find links to each post below:

One of the coolest benefits of playing by ear (even after learning your first song) is you’ll play at a level beyond your years. It happens all the time. Let’s get going!


Once you’ve transcribed (learned by ear on your instrument) a part of the song, then it’s time to really get it down.  Sometimes we need to stop and review what we’ve done so we don’t forget what we’ve learned.

At what point do you stop and review? You’ll begin to feel all the notes piling up in your head, and you may feel you’re on the verge of forgetting some of these notes. This is a good stopping point, and a great place to switch from discovering notes, to review. Here are some tips:

Section Size

When you feel like you need a review, it doesn’t matter how far you’ve gone. It could be five notes, or it could be eight measures of music. When you feel it’s time to review, go ahead and take care of it


Take the notes you’ve learned and play it with the recording. You’ll notice that you may have forgotten some of the notes or rhythms. That’s normal. Just take the time to make the corrections and try again. Repeat the section with the recording until you’re really confident. For example, if you can play the part 9 out of 10 times correctly, you should be ready to move on.


When you’re confident, then this is a great time to make sure that the style, dynamics, and articulation are exactly the same as the recording. If you apply steps 1-2, you’ll sound good. If you apply steps 1-5, you’ll sound like the recording. You can check out the steps here. They are half way down the page next to the yellow circles.

Play Again

Next, you’re going to play the song without the recording. This is another method to solidify what you have learned. This may be easy or it may be more difficult. Either way, remember that you’ll improve with consistent practice. Those who can play, both with and without the recording, really solidify the song into their memory and muscle memory. In addition, the performer you just transcribed becomes a part of your playing from this point forward.


This is the best part. Play for some friends and family in an informal situation; enjoy playing! Will it be perfect? Probably not, but I don’t know anyone who has ever had a perfect performance before. Keep up the good work and you’ll have positive experiences.

Learning by Ear

Even though this is the end of this series, there’s still more to learn about transcribing. If you have any questions beyond what we’ve discussed, go ahead and let us know in the comment section below.

Learning by ear can be a challenge (just like learning a language), but if you’re consistent and use these tips, you’ll continue to improve and become better at this skill. In fact, working on this skill will improve many aspects of your playing and will help you become a better musician. Let us know how it goes!

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