The concept of playing by ear in music is a very interesting thing. Some people may have the idea that it is a haphazardly constructed process whereby you play notes and chords as you feel like it. I have found that this is not the case at all. In fact the truth is exactly the opposite. It actually mirrors life in a lot of ways.
For example, if you have to do any task in life, you have to follow the rules of completing that task. A GOOD carpenter just doesn’t nail the pieces of wood that he or she has in any manner that he chooses. A GOOD electrician just doesn’t connect wires in any way that he happens to feel like on that particular day. A computer technician just doesn’t create ethernet cables in any color combination that looks good. NO! They all have to follow the rules or the plan that they have been given in order to complete the tasks.
Similarly, playing by ear, whether in music or in life requires you to follow the rules of music. It may be that the carpenter, electrician or computer technician is so good that they don’t need to “look at the paper” in order to follow the rules. This is because the know the rules so well that it seems like they don’t have to think about what they are doing. But they still have to follow the rules.
I have been playing the piano for a long time, and recently I have been playing the guitar as well. I can play the piano much better than the guitar because of the length of time that I have spent learning the rules of the piano – where the notes are; what the scales are; how to make chords using the scales; and how progressions and patterns are derived by playing the chords in different sequences. So to get better at recognizing the patterns, I have to practice the patterns according to the rules of music.
Life is the same way. It’s like the saying goes – Art imitates Life and Life Imitates Art! You have to know the rules intimately and keep practicing so you can Play It By Ear!!!