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Play Music by Ear: You are Never Too Old or Incapable

It doesn’t matter what type of music a musician plays, whether it is rock, jazz, bluegrass, or country music. Even if they have learned to play music by reading music, they have still listened to music and plucked it out on their instrument.

Hey, I am an accomplished piano player who plays the piano (keyboard, for you modern listeners). And, even though my mother handed me a program to learn how to play by ear, written by an accomplished professor of music and a college known for their music program, it was not the zing that put the learning in my soul. Instead, it was getting down to business and simply tinkering with the piano and playing what I heard. There was really no “program” that did it. Instead, doing it did it! Does that make sense?

You may be afraid that you are too old to play music by ear. But you are not! You can do it!

Where to Start

The key to where to start involves listening.

Even though there are no methods per se that work as well as just doing it, there are tips that may help you on your way.

Practice the Basics

Even though you are going through the process of learning to play by ear, don’t discontinue the basics, the foundation. Keep practicing your chords and challenging yourself of your progress with mastering the instrument.

All of this will help you in the long run when it comes to playing by ear. Also, it helps to make you a great musician.

Method 1: Slowing Down the Music

For example, one tip is to slow down the music so that you can hear it slowly and apply it to your playing on the instrument.

In some cases, you probably don’t have to slow down the music. For example, there are ballads that are already quite slow and you may be able to pick up the tune just by listening to it at normal speed. But, if you cannot, and need to slow down the song, don’t worry. You are still normal and possibly exceptional 😉

It used to be a lot easier years ago when slowing down the music. For example with reel-to-reel, you could just use half the speed of the normal speed. Of course, reel-to-reel is basically ancient these days.

reel-to-reel recording

Some of us may have had the privilege to use reel-to-reel when being trained as a sound engineer, but there are so many digital options that it is not often used these days.

The challenge, when using the reel-to-reel back in the old days was that slowing it down affected the pitch as well. So, it was not necessarily a perfect solution.

And, even with the slowing down that the reel-to-reel provided, at, say, half-speed, it was often too fast for some to catch the music by ear. It has been said that a one-tenth speed is a better speed for most people to learn to play by ear.

The Migration to Digital Recording

While reel-to-reel was convenient, like a flip of the switch, we are actually fortunate that we have moved into the digital age. Fortunate for the reasons listed above, but also because we are more likely to be able to reach the goal of one-tenth the speed or whatever speed we want.

And, you can slow down the music without affecting the pitch! That is huge! I mean, what are you learning to play be ear (notice the “ear” and hearing part of that) when the pitch isn’t right? Are you learning to play something incorrectly?

With digital recording technology, you don’t have to worry about it as much. But, the scope of the how-to is a bit beyond the scope of this article. Usually, it is a slider in the software, where you can use your mouse to change the speed. Of course, it depends on the software, but it is usually fairly easy to find, especially with the user guide that comes with the software.

And, with digital music, it is often fairly easy to import the music into your software. Again, be sure to consult your user guide.

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Method 2: Humming the Music Back to Yourself

It is also normal to be confused when listening to a whole band (or orchestra). It can be confusing when you are hearing several notes. If you find yourself drawn to a particular aspect of the song, feel free to go with it. You may be learning the harmony part, but that is ok. It is still complementary to the song and will work for that role. In the case of trying to separate out the different instruments and harmonies and melodies, the “humming” method (below) may help.

Also, slowing down the music may help you to separate out these different parts.

But, another method is to use the humming method. That is where you listen to the music, pick out the melody, and then hum it. You can keep humming as you find the notes on your instrument. The advantage is that you can manage the replay with minimal effort. You can slow down your humming back or speed it up again.

You can also use this method while you are doing something else (like cooking 🙂 ). And, if you have the words typed out and printed, you can stop to write in the chord (note) as you figure it out, but of course that is easier with your instrument than with a pot full of spaghetti, eh?

Do you need some help in reaching your goals for home-cooked meals? Check out the once-a-month meal-planning for 30 days that is done for you! (This is an affiliate link, but love it because it helps me with my once-a-month cooking.)

Why Don’t I Just Buy the Songbook

Surely you could buy the songbook if you like. But, will that make you happy? There is a certain satisfaction that accompanies playing something by ear. Instead of giving credit to those who transcribed the music into a readable sheet music form or included in a songbook, you have cracked the code yourself! You have accomplished it all yourself!

There is some pride in learning to play music by ear!

Granted, if you learned how to play music from a songbook, like I did, as a child (three years old or so), then playing music from something printed in front of me can be relaxing and enjoying. It is like sitting next to a comforting, peaceful stream.

If you cannot see anything above it may be because you have an ad blocker on for your browser. What you are missing would be a preview of Deborah's music from iTunes. You may also listen at Deborah E, Jazz Singer


If that describes you, then sure, play music with the songbook or sheet music. But, then likely you are not reading this article because you already have it all figured out, playing music by the book or playing it by ear, or any combination thereof, as you please.

But, this article is about the process of learning (or acquiring the ability) to play music by ear.

Method 3: Combination Approach

If you are able to read music, you can use that skill, in combination with your music by ear skill. Use the songbook or sheet music as a quick look to see what the notes are. You can also use it confirm that what you have been coming up with is right on target.

Don’t feel like you are cheating. You are still accomplishing your goal of the ability to play music by ear, but you are using the resources available to you. That is a good thing!

The “Fun Factor”

Part of the reason that it is good to learn how to play music by ear is that it is fun! Just think of the blast you can have at parties. Someone pulls out a guitar and you join right in on the musical fun.

If playing an instrument isn’t your thing, you can practice singing. Sure, it may seem easier but in this case, you can learn how to replicate the tonal aspect of the singing and the little tricks of the voice 😉

Afterall, the voice is an instrument as well!

Of course, as with everything, the more time you spend working on your skill, the better you will get and the faster you will get there!


So, in summary, here are some tips for learning how to play music by ear…

  • Slow down the music so that it is easier to break down the music.
  • Hum the music back to yourself and continue to do so as you repeat that on your instrument.
  • Use a combination method of learning to play by ear and confirming it with a songbook, if that is something you are comfrotable doing.

How Deborah E Made it to #1 and Stayed There for Over a Year

It all started, the promotion that is, when we enrolled in a team challenge where a bunch of us musicians decided to follow along together through Ariel Hyatt‘s Music Success In 9 Weeks (affiliate).

Oh, we had already produced the album, thanks to our friend Alan O’Day and Denny Martin. The album turned out even more wonderful than we had anticipated. I guess that helps when you are attempting to do well in the stats, eh?

If you cannot see anything above it may be because you have an ad blocker on for your browser. What you are missing would be a preview of Deborah's music from iTunes. You may also listen at Deborah E, Jazz Singer

Granted, there have not been as many efforts to reach #1 since then and Deborah E has still stayed at #1 for much of the time and even recently hit #4 (and then #3) in the world! But, that is where the quality product comes into the picture.

So, if we broke this down into steps, it is fairly easy:

  1. Create a quality product.
  2. Learn the process of promotion and getting your music to #1.
  3. Maintain your status. This is usually done in the same way that the first step was accomplished.

Now, it is time to go get the book that started it all 🙂 . I don’t say that because of the affiliate status but because Ariel Hyatt and the Music Success In 9 Weeks may not have started it (that was Deborah E) but it definitely got Deborah E’s music out there and provided the opportunity for hitting #1 in Jazz on Reverbnation (and keeping it).

Deborah E Top of the Charts

How to Make Your Own Bandcamp Download Cards

Hey, all.

Here is an idea that many of you musicians have probably already thought of yourselves, but if not, it is a helpful tip to make your own Bandcamp Download Cards. 🙂

If you have a Bandcamp account, you can offer discounts on your music. So, maybe you want to offer a holiday discount or a CD launch discount. Oh, Bandcamp isn’t the only way, but it is fun 🙂

Step 1: Login or Register at Bandcamp

First, you would need to login to your Bandcamp account. Or, if you don’t have one, it is an opportunity to sign up for one. At the time that I (Deborah E) signed up for the account, it was free. I can’t guarantee that that is always the case, as times change rather rapidly in these internet times, don’t they? But, check it out and consider whether you want a Bandcamp account. 😉

Bandcamp Login

Step 2: Setup Your Bandcamp Profile / Page

If you already have a Bandcamp profile, now is the opportunity to beef it up a bit. If you just registered, it is pretty much essential that you build some sort of profile or home on the Bandcamp site. This is the time to do that.

Ensure that in the process, you upload a high-quality headshot, as well as any other high-quality images you can add. Create (or have one designed) a professional header. This is something that you can reuse on other profiles, or modify to work for other profiles. Also, upload your high-quality digital music and post your bio. These are tips for starters, but if you have been there and done that, you probably already get the idea.


Create Your Special “Download Code”

One of the real beauties of a Bandcamp account is not just the eCommerce, but the ability to create download codes. That is the real secret behind the download cards!

Here are the two steps. It is that easy. The steps are described here, followed by the screenshots.

  1. Under “settings” click on “tools.”
  2. Scroll down a small distance and look for the codes section (as shown in the below image). Read the fine print and follow the instructions to create the codes. Then, from there, grab the link that they give you so that you can provide that to your fans, as well as the code that you chose. You are all set!


    Step 4: Design/Create Your Download Card

    Now, to create the download card. You may want to create a short URL to use for the long link for the download code. By doing that, your link will fit better on your download card. You could also put your home page from your main musician page and give a link there, to redeem the codes. But, if you want to keep it a bit secret, or special, you may want to do the short link thing for the download card.

    For example, I use for my short link for my Deborah E links. So, I may create something from that link and it will fit nicely on my download card. You can do a Google search to find places, like bitly, where you can create your own short link (or shortlink).

    Then, there are a myriad of places where you can create the card. You could print it out on a color printer and laminate it. You can do it manually and cover it with contact paper (anyone remember doing that as kids?). If you plan to do this frequently, and with quite a few cards, probably purchasing a lamination machine would be your best bet, along with a nice paper cutter of some sort.

    Be sure to create a digital version, using your favorite image program, and make it available for people to download the doanload card from from the internet. Maybe you want to offer the card as a treat for those who purchase another one of your albums. On Bandcamp, you can create a smaller album or EP and offer it as a free “gift with purchase” for those who purchase the LP.

    With a digital download card, you may not even have to create a printable version. You could just go with the digital. Isn’t that where we are headed as a culture anyway?

    In Closing

    There you have it, your own download card for your music, as well as a couple of promotion ideas to get you going 🙂

Hey Musician – Are You Thinking Like a Label?

You are in a good place. You are doing what you love and makin’ a few bucks on the side. You get to write your own music, perform it the way you want to perform it, choose when you play and who plays on the band. So, why would you want to give up all that independence as an indie artist to sign a record deal? I mean, they are going to steal your money and rob you blind and then tie up all your music so you can’t use it, right?

Besides, who needs those attitudes… I mean we have all heard about those attitudes of the big wigs at the top who think we are just a commodity that will help them buy their next Mercedes Benz, right?

Wait, don’t write it off, just yet. Ok, go grab your favorite drink, or your ax, and let’s have a chat for awhile, just a friendly conversation about record labels and some possible benefits of signing with one. You ready?

What Does the Label Have To Offer Me?


The label is likely to have deeper pockets (finances) and a team of (hopefully) professionals.

• Deeper Pockets

Unless you are making oodles of money in music, or even with a “day job.” you may find that a record company may have deeper pockets than what you have. And, if you are doing really well with your day job, and making that 6 figure income, are you finding the time that you need to gig and write the next big hit, or are you spending all your time and energy on that job? If you are making the six figures with your music, well, eh, maybe you should be starting the next record label, eh?

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