I’ve seen some talented piano players play by ear on YouTube. Then, there are many more who comment on those videos and ask how they do it. There are different ways to play a song by ear or arrange it with more care. But here is a simple way to do it. First, you play the melody. Just like the time when you might have needed to perform a melody playback for your piano ear test. Then, you add the left hand.
Pre step: Choose a Melodic Song
Choose a song that you like, and want to be able to play on the piano. It would be easier if it were a melodic song, so that you can initially focus on getting the melody, (usually) the right hand, correct.
Step 1: Play the Melody
Then, play the melody like you would in your ear test for the piano exam, except a song would have a much longer melody. At first, you might just remember the chorus’ melody. But that’s a good start. You can start playing the melody in the chorus, and then continue on from there.
Step 2: Harmonize by Adding the Left Hand
Harmonize, as in playing the melody on the right hand and adding a left hand part. For example, if the song is in C major, and you’re playing the C note on the right hand, then your left hand would play a pattern such as C-G-C-G-E-G-C-G. (See the music notation above.) Notice that in the second bar, we started off with B on the right hand, but the left hand starts with G. So, actually, for the first beat of the first bar, we can choose from playing:
- the same note as the right hand (C)
- a third down from it (A) OR
- another third down (F)
With practice, you’ll be able to tell which one to choose best.
The pattern used is the easiest way of harmonizing without much thinking. Just keep working at it and you’ll see progressive results.
Without going into details of which chord to play, that is my process of playing by ear on the piano. How do you play by ear?