Ear Training, improving as a teacher, Resources

Playing-By-Ear Activities

Learning to play by ear is one of the most natural ways to develop the ear – and one of the most fun!  Below are some lists of familiar tunes you can assign at the lesson for the student to learn to play by ear.  I found this valuable information about playing-by-ear activities to assign students in the book, Professional Piano Teaching, by Jeanne Jacobson.   I hope you find this information as useful as I did. 

What to tell the student:

  1. Where to begin.  Example: “Start with finger 3 on Middle C.”
  2. The first interval.  Example: “The first interval is a fourth.”
  3. Which keys they will use to play the song.  Example: “You will be using the notes A, B, and C.”

Familiar tunes to assign:

The easiest songs are those that can by played entirely on the black keys, such as:

  • Old MacDonald Had a Farm (start on F#)
  • Hot Cross Buns (Bb)
  • Mary Had a Little Lamb (Bb)
  • The Famer in The Dell (C#)

Next, assign songs that stay within the five-finger position:

  • When the Saints Go Marching In
  • Ode to Joy
  • Jingle Bells (chorus)

Then, assign songs that utilize the entire scale:

  • Away in a Manger

Harmonizing familiar tunes:

Once the student has basically mastered playing familiar tunes by ear, the next step is for them to harmonize melodies by ear, using tonic, dominant, and subdominant accompaniments.

Songs using tonic and dominant:

  • Itsy Bitsy Spider
  • Merrily We Roll Along
  • London Bridge
  • Skip to My Lou

Songs using tonic, dominant, and subdominant:

  • When the Saints Go Marching In
  • Amazing Grace
  • Bingo

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