Combating Fear with Action


In my most recent post, I talked about FEAR and how to combat it. All of the strategies that I mentioned in that article involved doing something. There was action involved. That struck me today as I was driving in the car on my way to an event. In order to combat fear, you have to take action.

In the case of playing an instrument, you have to take action. It’s like being hungry. In order to get past your hunger, you have to use your mouth and hands to put the food in your mouth. You HAVE To take action. You will never be able to play unless you make the effort. This goes for anything that you’re trying to do, but this is a blog about music so I’ll be making the obvious references to music. 🙂

One of the things that I’ve found helps me focus on the action steps I have to take is to write down what I want to accomplish. This helps in that you have to focus on what you want to accomplish. Write your goal on post it notes and place them in obvious and not so obvious places –

  • The steering wheel of the car,
  • Your computer keyboard at work,
  • Your bathroom mirror
  • The edge of your computer monitor at work
  • Inside your wallet
  • On the Back of Your Smartphone

Now that you’ve written it down, it is time to pick up your instrument and continue to Play It By Ear

FEAR – Getting Past It…

Old Man watching as time passes him by
Old Man watching as time passes him by

FEAR. There’s no getting around it. There is no getting away with it. It’s there all around you all the time. What does it do? Fear? Fear keeps you from accomplishing all the things in life that you want to do, like learning to play an instrument or playing your instrument by ear. Or even starting a business or writing a blog or even composing a song or two. Yes. Fear is the thing that keeps us back.

Now that we know what it does, we need to define what it is. Fear is (drum roll) False Evidence Appearing Real. I know this is true because I’ve always wanted to write a book about playing music by ear (or even blogging about it). I am scared that no one would read it. I am scared that no one would buy it. I’m scared that it wouldn’t help anybody. Sometimes I’m scared that I would not know what to say or lay it out in a logical manner so that people would follow. These are some of the things that I am fearful of.

So the question is, Now that we know what fear is and what fear does, what do we do about it. In my opinion, knowing is half the battle. I believe that when you can identify your issues, you are able to develop strategies to mitigate your problems. In order to combat FEAR, you have to have FAITH. Faith is the opposite of FEAR. There are also practical things that you can do to combat FEAR in your life and replace it with HOPE and FAITH.

So here is a list of things that I found on that explains 5 coping stategies on combatting fear. I have adopted them for myself, and I hope you will too:

  •  Gratitude List – Make a list of the things that you are grateful for and be very grateful for all the opportunities that you are afforded along the way.
  • Positive Affirmations – Keep positive thoughts with you at all times. For example, when you feel a fear coming on, you use a mantra to keep you going – Make “I Can Do This” one of your mantras to keep you pushing towards the goal.
  • Have a Goal or Objective – Write it down in a VERY Visible Place and keep it in mind whenever you are concerned about fear.
  • Chunk It Up – Divide your task into smaller chunks – For example if you are thinking of writing a book, break the whole project down into smaller chunks. So that you write one chapter at a time instead of the whole book at once.
  • Enlist Help – Get a close Friend to help keep you on track

The journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step. Keep on stepping and leave your fear behind. And remember to always Keep On Playing It By Ear.

Take A Fermata…


Have you ever been working on a problem and you can’t seem to find a solution? Or have you been working on a certain section of a piece of music, and you cannot seem to get it right? The answer is simple. Take A Break. In other words, “Take a Fermata – Pause.”

That’s it. When you find yourself stumped, just take a break from what you’re doing and focus on something else for a little while and you will surprise yourself.  I’m not sure why taking a break works the way it does. For me, taking a break is a very useful thing that transcends music.

For example, children have recess at school. I have worked in places where a five minute break is prescribed for every hour of work. Some countries have siestas built into the middle of the day when the temperature is highest. Even musical concerts have Intermissions

I’m taking a break from this blog for today. I’ll be back tomorrow.  In the mean time, take a break and just keep on Playing It By Ear!

In The Zone…

In The Zone - Getting There is HALF the BATTLE!!!
#InTheZone: Getting There -HALF D BATTLE!!!

Achieving Success at Playing By Ear and for doing anything in life is a matter of planning and hard work. To get to the place where you are successful is not a random event that happens due to flights of chance or fancy. It takes lots of hard work. You have to be in the zone.

What does being “In The Zone…” mean? It means that there you have a sense of focus on what you are trying to accomplish. It means that you make the necessary sacrifices needed to finish what you have started. When I was learning to play the guitar for the second time, I had to make sacrifices so that I could learn. I took lessons. I had consistent practice times. I worked on specific things, one at a time. There was focus there.

Keep up the focus. Stay on the right path. Practice your instument, and Keep Playing By Ear!

Playing From Memory…

elephant-1090834_1280 (2)Playing from memory is a very useful skill. The more that you can place in your memory, the better off you will be. This is true for everything, but I believe that it is also true for music. In fact I believe that music is often used to teach other subjects. For example, the alphabet is taught as a song. So memorizing songs are an easy way to learn things in general.

Similarly, I believe that learning to play by ear is encouraged by memorizing songs. The reason is that the more songs you learn, the more patterns you recognize. Why is this important? Songs are made up of things called Progressions. A progression is a collection of chords that make up any particular song. Each series of chords or progression, form the song when placed together.

The more times you play a song, it engraves itself in your mind and you are able to retain it much better. So I encourage you to learn as many songs as you can from memory, and you will find yourself playing by ear.

Music As A Language… Revisited

Music As A Language
fontsetting (2)The Language of Music

There is something to be said about being able to speak multiple languages. Just recently on a recent trip to a country in Europe, I saw 2 brothers 3 and 7 years old, that spoke Russian and English. They knew 2 languages by this age. I have been in foreign countries before, and it is sometimes frustrating when I have to express myself and I don’t know the language. I think that Music is the same way. It is a language and it has structure, and when you understand it, it is easy to create new and beautiful songs.

So what is the best way to learn Music? This is a great question and one of my favorite topics. How do little children learn language? They learn it by listening to the people around them. They learn it and are usually able to speak it by the time they are two or three years old. In that three year span, they have been exposed to thousands of different words and sometimes even though they mispronounce their words, they are able to communicate. What happens when they make a mistake? They get corrected, and eventually they get it. Similarly when a baby is learning to walk and falls down 100 times, they never tell themselves, “Maybe this is not for me.” NO! They get up and keep walking.

So it is with the language and study of Music. It is something that the more you do and study, the easier it is to play it. Exposure to music at an early age makes it easier to acquire the musical skill as I mentioned in a previous posts – Play It For Language, Part 3. My experience is such that I was exposed to music at a very early age, and I absorbed the music and made it part of me. My family was also very much into music with all my brothers and father playing instruments and singing. We also sung together as a family. This I believe helped my understanding of music so much that I could not help but become a musician. I was surrounded by it similarly as a child that is born in Russia will learn Russian or a child in Japan will learn Japanese.

So my challenge to you all is to get out there and play. It may be difficult at first to get it to the next level with your playing, but it will get better. The more you play the better you will get. Additionally, find other players in your area or start a community group in your area that can play together and function as a resource for each other.  You are the only one that can affect how far and how fast you make progress. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and Keep On Playing It By EAR!


Arranging – Playing By Ear on the fly

Arranging – What is it? How is it used in playing by ear? You hear this term being bandied about and you may wonder what it means. I know that I have looked at and listened to a song because I knew who arranged it. It’s just the way it is. Sometimes you can just listen to a song and you could tell right away who arranged it based on the chord progressions and other musical elements that signify one guy’s work versus another. It is very fascinating.

But what is arranging? And how is it used to play by ear? My favorite resource, Wikipedia, describes Arranging as a “musical reconceptualization of a previously composed work. It may differ from the original work by means of reharmonization, melodic paraphrasing, orchestration, or development of the formal structure.” This definition is pretty accurate in that describes what an “arrangement” is. In terms of playing by ear, sometimes you can use inversions, or relative keys as a technique to achieve the reharmonization or reconceptualization as mentioned above.

Another excerpt from the Wikipedia article states that, “Arranging “involves adding compositional techniques, such as new thematic material for introductions, transitions, or modulations, and endings…. Arranging is the art of giving an existing melody musical variety”.   For some people, playing by ear is very similar to playing from memory, meaning that they learn a song and can play that song without the sheet music. Depending on your level of expertise, some people can even play these memorized songs in multiple keys without having to practice them. In other words playing by ear can be likened to arranging on the fly or instant arranging.

Play By Ear in 8 Months…

Play By Ear In 8 Months or LESS!!!
Play By Ear In 8 Months or LESS!!!

What? You can learn to play an instrument by ear in 8 months or less? That can’t be done! It is impossible. STOP! I want to say that it can be learned and it can be done. You don’t have to be a Mozart or some other prodigy. All you have to have is a willing heart, the desire to play, easy access to the instrument of your choice, the right mentor or teacher, and at least one hour a day.

It all comes back to the attitude that you bring to the table. The first thing you need is to make sure that you have the right attitude. This will make all the difference in the world. One of the most challenging things when doing or starting something new is staying encouraged and motivated when progress is slow. Think about learning a new language and how long it takes to master that language. You can begin to have meaningful conversation in 3 months and be able to master it in a few months after that. The same applies to learning to play by ear.

As you learn and master the principles of playing by ear, the process becomes so much easier. I love it when a student gets it. It is a beautiful thing.  I have found that having the right attitude is better than having all the musical aptitude in the world. A willing and humble heart is much nicer to deal with than an arrogant heart. And this goes for everything that you may do in life. I believe that there is a right way to do everything, and having a willing heart will lead you to the right way soonest.

Another way to get to playing by ear in 8 months is to get the right mentor, coach or teacher. This is vitally important. Some people have utilized all the phenomenal wealth of information on resources like or some other web resource, but the problem with these sites is that the instructor cannot show you the chords and make corrections when they are needed. The additional thing about the right teacher is that they will be listening to you and giving you constructive criticism. This is vital to your success as you go forward. I will continue this article in another post as I did not want to overwhelm anyone with too much information. Please comment and tell me what you think as we continue to Play It By Ear.



What are progressions? How are they used? What is the meaning of this? This is a very interesting topic and it’s one that I have been thinking about for a little while. And so I have decided to  write about this. Let’s start with a definition from Wikipedia:

  • A chord progression (or harmonic progression) is a series of musical chords, or chord changes that “aims for a definite goal” of establishing (or contradicting) a tonality founded on a key, root or tonic chord and that is based upon a succession of root relationships.

This definition is very good, and helps to outline that chord or harmonic progression is based on the fact that they are used in a sequence to help tell a story.  The beauty of chord progressions is that you could use the same chords in a progression to tell a different based on your what you have to say – But that’s another blog post for later – 🙂

Basically a chord progression is a series of chords that are played in sequence that you would play in time. There are so many chords and variations on those chords in that you could take a very simple song and make it very complex by using more advanced chord progressions. Or you could take a complex song and simplify it by using simpler chords and chord progressions. Here’s a youtube clip I made just for this post – Mary Had A Little Lamb:

The object of this post is to introduce chord progressions in a non threatening way and to let you know that now matter how complex and simple your “progression” may be through life, it can still be beautiful. It depends on how you “Play It By Ear”


How Bad Do You Want It?

How Bad Do You Want IT?
How Bad Do You Want IT?

That’s the million dollar question isn’t it? How badly do you want to do whatever it is you have to do. This may be my shortest blog ever. But the question is true for what ever it is you’re doing. I know because I face it everyday. It stares me in the face when I wake up and when I go to bed and all the time in between. For any number of situations that I face daily the question is: How Bad Do You Want It?

Learning Japanese, and losing weight are two examples of things in my life to which this question applies. Take losing weight. When asked this question, the answer is I REALLY NEED to do this for my continued health. But do I really mean it? What steps am I taking to make it a reality. There are certain things that need to be done in order to make this a reality – The Lifestyle changes that need to be made in Nutrition, Exercise, Water, Sunlight, Temperance (Self Control), Air, Rest and Trust in Divine Power are essential to making that a reality.

Next is learning Japanese. I have wanted to learn Japanese ever since my daughter started and continues to teach herself Japanese. It was simply amazing to see her blossom and find ways to do that. She doggedly took the time to find the right tools and is so good that she is now teaching me. The student has become the teacher. It all depends on what you spend your time on. It’s great to WANT to do something, but until you spend time at it, it will continue to be JUST a dream. So now I have taken steps to learn Japanese, and I know enough to introduce myself to someone. In just 6 minutes. It is is not hard. It just depends on how much you want to learn or do something.

So you want to learn to play an instrument by air? How much do you REALLY want to do it? How much time are you willing to invest in this project? I know that it can take a lot of time to get to the point where you can play out in public, but I know that it will generate a great feeling of accomplishment and joy when you are finally able to Play It By Ear!

Face Your Fears – Dentist

Face Your Fears - Even The Dentist
Face Your Fears – Even the Dentist – They are your friend!!!

This post will be a fun post for me. I happen to like the dentist and every time I go there I get a lot of people who say that I go there too much. I. Love. My. Dentist. Super Fun Time. What I don’t get is people who because they are afraid of the dentist, they don’t go.

It’s like someone having to play a piece for the first time. They may not do it because of fear of failure or a fear of messing up. The only way to get over it is to actually play the piece before an unbiased audience. There is no getting over the fear of performance without performance. So to get over your fear of the dentist, go to one. Make sure that you go to one that has a great reputation as a people person. If you need a recommendation I just comment below, and I will be sure to get the info to you.

I did my first solo when I was six years old. I sang a song in my church because I was told that if I did it I would get a bicycle. I overcame my fear and was able to perform to the satisfaction of everyone in attendance. So another way to overcome your fear is to have a greater reward. Another thing that works for me is to pray. My faith in God has pulled me through many a tough situation.

For me, Playing by Ear is it’s own reward. And I love it. I have even started practicing the same songs on my guitar as I do the piano and then I try to learn the song on guitar and play it on piano without practicing the piano part – Very Invigorating. So whatever it is you fear, know that you can make it through. Just keep on keeping on and keep Playing It By Ear!!!

Face Your Fear - This too Shall Pass
Face Your Fear – This Too Shall Pass!!!

I’m Positive

I'm Positive because A Positive Attitude = Positive Results
I’m Positive because A Positive Attitude = Positive Results

Have you ever wondered why some people are successful and other people are not? What is the secret to their success? What makes them thrive when others are wilting and falling by the wayside? What is it that works so well? Is this something that is easily acquired? How do I get it?

The answer is really simple. They all have this extra-ordinary thing called a positive attitude. People with positive attitudes are more productive and active and are able to improve the moods of people around them. This is so awesome. The inverse is also true. A negative attitude makes you less productive and affects the behavior and moods of the people around us in a negative way.

How do I know this? I have seen it in my own experience. I have found that a positive attitude made a difference in my outlook. I have found that when I am positive I get more things done and I am more productive as opposed to when I have a negative attitude.

Another aspect of this that I have found is that playing music helps to give me a positive attitude. Even when I don’t have my guitar or access to a piano, I find that singing helps to give me the boost that I need to get through the situation that I face on a daily basis. So I will continue to have a positive attitude and continue to play it by ear (literally).


All About That Bass

All About That Bass
No Trouble!!!

This title says it all. It’s all about that bass. It’s true. Ask anyone who is serious about music that plays. If they really analyze it most music is written around and from the BASS LINE. The melody is important as is the rhythm. But it is the bass line that drives the harmony.

The most important note is the Key Note. For example you would hear someone say that this or that song is in C Major or E flat Minor. The note that they are referring to is the Key Note or the main note from which the main harmony is derived. This note gets assigned the number 1, and all the other 6 notes of the scale are numbered sequentially.

Songs are generally made up of a series of chord progressions based utilizing the bass notes in the order that the composer or arranger wants to use them. This means sometimes that the same song may have different progressions based on the composer or arranger’s preferences. It is interesting to see the various combinations that can be derived from the same song.

Similarly I like to think of the foundations that we lay for ourselves. Do we have a solid foundation to live our life on? Are you seeking the things that will make it better? What is the thing that drives you, and gives you the will to keep going? Just as you have to have the right bass line for your song you have to have the right firm foundation for your life if you want to keep Playing It By Ear!

Keep On Playing

Keep On Playing
You Will Get There – Just Don’t Give Up!!!

I’ve noticed something recently as I have been part of the Ultimate Blog Challenge this year. I have realized that if you keep playing, you are bound to win at some point. This gives me encouragement as I think about taking on my kids on the video game console – The Wii U. I think about playing against them and I realize that I am hopelessly outclassed. Why are they so good? They keep on playing – Even When They Lose!!!

This is important for a number of reasons

  1. You Learn From Your Mistakes
  2. You Learn from the mistakes of others
  3. You realize that if you quit you won’t get any better
  4. You are doing something better than your Dad (Not funny at all)

These principles and attitudes apply to all facets of life, including the mental, physical, spiritual, and social aspects to all of our being. I liken it to when I had to learn a piece by Chick Corea, Spain. The chorus or main line includes a very long line that took a considerable time to master at the speed it needed to be played. But I didn’t quit when I was learning it.

I played it so long that my son heard me play and decided that he was going to learn it. It was very interesting to see this 10 year old trying to play this intricate line. But he didn’t quit either and was able to get it after a while. Here’s a clip of us playing it together:

It just goes to show that if you give it your all and do NOT give up, you too can Play It By Ear!!!