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  • #12036 Reply


    I’ve been playing the violin for just about 5 months now. So far i’ve been learning via sheet music (and learning to read sheet music at the same time) and I was wondering about learning to play by ear.

    I see some people that can listen to a song and pick out the various notes and play the song without having to read sheet music. I can’t do that at all.

    Is that something that develops naturally over time as you get more experienced playing? Is it something that has to be specifically learned? Or does it just come naturally to some people and the rest of us have to live without the skill?

    #12077 Reply

    Raven Stovall

    I think it you can get it through experience and/or learn it but I don’t think only a select few can do it (that would make me feel special (*´∀`*) ). When I tried the piano I couldn’t read sheet music at all so when I wanted to play a song it was more effective to me to just find it myself. Though I only found the melodies…background music was a struggle. Now that I’m playing the violin I now have some idea how to read sheet music, but when I practice the violin there were quite a few times when I played two notes together and a light bulb lit in my head realizing that I can probably play a certain song right now so I try to find it. Two weeks ago I found the song that group of violinists (I believe there was a cellist too) played in Titanic :3. I think it’s something you develop over time. Mine only developed because looking at music sheet made my brain eat itself, set itself on fire and jumped into a pool of anti-freeze.

    #13788 Reply


    For some people it comes naturally, for others they have to work really hard at it. You could try something like looking at the first several notes in a simple song that you have heard a lot and then trying to play the next several notes by ear.

    #13789 Reply

    Dianne Adkins

    Hi Anteros! People usually fall into one of two categories. They either play by ear easily, or they read music easily. It’s probably related to brain networks that develop over time from a young age. But to be a well rounded violinist, we should try to do both.

    Music is learned like a language. When you start young, you learn a language one word at a time. You hear it, you imitate it, you build on that. You mispronounce words, you refine as you get older and have more practice. Not until you are 4 or 5 years old, speaking your ‘mother language’ for 2 or 3 years by ear, do you begin to learn the abstract meanings of letters and, finally, to read.

    Young students play by ear wonderfully. We can all do this in learning violin by using the same method. Hear it lots of times, try to repeat it on your instrument. If the violin itself is a new thing, it will take time to become comfortable with learning to play by ear because you have to first become comfortable with the instrument.

    My point, listening is key. You should hear what you want to play many, many times, if you want to play it by ear. Anything you can sing, you can find on your violin. I have watched 5 year olds learn this skill. They can pick up any tune they want to play by listening to the notes and picking the ones that sound right, then redoing it to correct the melody. They usually come from a family where older siblings have played violin while they were babies, so they had early exposure to music.

    I also think it’s really important to memorize your work pieces. It builds neural networks that reading music does not. If you play memorized exercises and music without looking at sheet music, you can watch what you’re doing better, and improve the quality of your playing. If you’re always stuck to the written page, it is too easy to forget to check bow grip, watch the bow arm and even listen to the sound you’re producing.

    Two examples in my own life that illustrate the permanent nature of this type of learning by listening. When I was in high school, I took French as a subject. The teacher made us sing in French, every day, over and over. To this day, I can still sing the French National Anthem, every word, in French. I don’t remember much else about the language!

    When I was in graduate school, my professor challenged me to learn a piece without looking at the music AT ALL. Just listen to a recording and learn the piece totally from sound. This would teach me how my students who couldn’t read music had to learn. The piece he chose for me was J. S. Bach Courante from Suite I in G Major. It’s in Suzuki Violin Volume 7. I also have never forgotten this piece, nor any piece I have learned by listening.

    #13790 Reply

    Thank you Dianne

    #13793 Reply

    Dianne Adkins

    You’re welcome my friend Vyshakh!

    #13811 Reply


    learning to play by ear ! vert interesting

    #13824 Reply

    Emma Jones

    I’ve been playing for almost 15 years now. I didn’t know how to read music back then until my 3rd or 4th year, so I had to mostly learn to play by ear. In my experience over the years, I’ve gained this understanding of learning to play by ear:

    -Some people will automatically be better at it than others. I was mediocre; definitely not another Mozart! But the more I did it, the better I got. I am in college now for music performance and can remember music much better. I can recognize the pitches and my hand flows more freely now than before because I have played a lot.

    -Sometimes it takes training. There is a requirement of music majors to take music/aural skills in which you have to train your “inner ear.” In one exercise, we are given a melody and have to dictate it correctly for a grade. It’s scary at first because it’s so new, but with practice you become faster and more accurate.

    I hope this helps a little bit. Don’t be discouraged by any bumps in the road. It’s a part of music that makes you a stronger player in the end.

    #13868 Reply


    Thanks for the excellent encouragement folks. I’ll be sure to try out some of the suggestions given.

    If you play memorized exercises and music without looking at sheet music, you can watch what you’re doing better, and improve the quality of your playing. If you’re always stuck to the written page, it is too easy to forget to check bow grip, watch the bow arm and even listen to the sound you’re producing.

    I definitely notice this myself. If I take the time to memorize, I do find that I can play it better as I can spend more effort watching my fingerings and watching where my bow is in relation to the bridge.

    #14068 Reply


    I am struggling with this also, just on the other side of things, being that reading sheet music is making me insane. I am trying so hard, and I know that it will come in time. It is the biggest challenge/obstacle I am trying to overcome at this point, because my ear/brain just wants to take over and find the notes and play them by ear, because it comes instantaneously to me. I realize however that this is self deprecating, and that I need to learn and understand sheet music is order to grow as a musician. The struggle is very real on both sides of that fence.

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