To Teach or Not To Teach? That is the question. Well for some teachers its not even a question. It’s anathema to them. What am I talking about? Playing Music By Ear. It just is not done. I have had people come to me and tell me that they started experimenting with playing by ear and their music teacher forbade them from doing so. And so it is now that they “THINK” that they can’t play by ear so they don’t try.
I’ve wondered to myself, “Self! What is the reason for this kind of thinking by music teachers who insist on teaching ‘By The Book’?” And the answer is a simple “Lack of Understanding.” In my humble opinion and experience, people fear what they don’t understand and they can sometimes pass that fear on to their students. It is also true that you can’t effectively teach something that you don’t intimately know. Music is a performing art, and you have to be able to demonstrate the lesson as it happens.
There are people who say that playing by ear is just memorization of songs. And to a certain extent that is true. Playing by ear is more a matter of a coming together of a working knowledge of music theory, chord progressions, bass line movement, alternate harmonic anticipation and melodic interpretation. For some who have more experience playing by ear, you can utilize structures and chord progressions that may come from other songs and intersperse them into what they are playing as they are playing it. This is often seen in Jazz, Gospel, Country and other popular music genres of modern times.
So if you want to learn to play by ear does that mean you shouldn’t learn to read music as well? I answer that with an emphatic, “NO!” Learning to read music opens up a whole new world to the music performer and rounds out his or her education. It enables a musician to be more marketable and versatile when they can do both – Read Music and Play By Ear!!! Its quite interesting to note that musicians who can only read music look up to musicians who just play by ear. And musicians who play by ear look up to musicians who only read music.
Oh for the day when musicians can be equally proficient in reading music and are also able to Play It By Ear!!