5 Tips to learning tunes by ear

When you’re first learning to play by ear, it’s a long, slow, painful process, kind of like sitting in traffic when you’re late for work. But just as it is with traffic you cannot rush the process and you do eventually get to your destination. It just takes a little patience.

I remember the very first time I learned to play a tune by ear. I took a weekend fiddle workshop and my only goal was to learn one tune before the weekend was out. This may sound simple. I mean a whole weekend to learn only one tune, really? If you’re not used to learning tunes by ear, I’m sure you can relate to what a feat that actually is.

Here are some tips to help you more easily learn tunes by ear.

  1. Listen. Listen to the tune you want to learn as much as you possibly can. Listen in the car, while you’re doing the dishes, in the shower, etc. Listen it to it so much that you can sing the tune in your head. It’s much easier to learn a tune that you actually know.
  2. Slow it Down. There are tools that you can use to help you slow down the tune without changing the key. The two that I have used are The Amazing Slowdowner and Transcribe. You can even download an app for this onto your iphone.
  3. Take a Class. Check your  local community music school. The Summit School of Traditional Music in Montpelier offers two great classes called Beginning to Learn Irish Tunes by Ear and Irish Session Repertoire. All tunes are taught by ear.
  4. Practice. If you’re used to reading music, learning by ear can be very challenging. But rest assured it does get easier, it just takes practice. Just like anything, the more you do it, the easier it gets.
  5. Be Patient. To some, learning by ear is easy, to others it takes time. So just be patient with yourself and know that you will eventually get better at it as time goes on.

What are some of your tips?

3 thoughts on “5 Tips to learning tunes by ear

  1. I think you hit the nail on the head. The best way to learn a tune by ear is to listen to it and learn it by heart. The more you do the faster you will get at learning it. I personally like to listen and then practice trying to hum the tune to myself with and without the music. It helps solidify the tune in my head and I can hum when playing if I get lost. However, this might not work if you play something that needs your mouth.

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