You may have heard of a basic musical concept referenced as “Playing by Ear” or “Ear Training”. What does it mean and is it possible for you to train your ear to play a banjo, guitar or mandolin? With a little practice, you might be surprised what you can accomplish.
Since childhood, we have been exposed to music in some form or the other. Some of you may have been a part of an elementary choral group. Others may have played a band instrument for your school. If you did not play an instrument or sing, you still have been exposed to basic childhood songs or nursery rhymes.
This idea of playing by ear is nothing new. One aspect of playing by ear is for the music student to take a common melody line and attempt to recreate the notes on the instrument. In other words, don’t look at a sheet of music to play a tune but make an attempt to develop the melody line from scratch by playing and listening to the notes in the correct order. For those of you who claim you are tone deaf, don’t approach this exercise as though it is a futile attempt. Keep Practicing!
Here are some tips for learning how to play melody lines:
(1) Start with a simple child’s melody line like Row Row Row your boat.
(2) First, hum or sing the song, referencing whether you are moving towards a higher or lower in pitch with each note.
(3) Next play the melody line using only one string on your banjo, guitar or mandolin.
(4) Play the notes as though you were speaking word for word, and play up and down the fingerboard on the one string.
(5) Pay attention to the fact that the melody line of a song does not necessarily begin on the root note of a major scale.
(6) Once you have mastered playing a simple tune, now move on to developing melody lines of other songs you would like to learn.
(7) As you progress and build confidence, try those new melody lines using multiple strings and play from chord positions.
With a little practice, you will be on your way towards creating your own melody lines with your instrument.