THE EARS HAVE IT!
Saturday, November 2, 2019 by William Suit | Uncategorized
I'm not a great pianist, but I love to play the piano. As a child, I played piano almost exclusively by ear. I would hear a song, go to the piano and spend all of the time it took to teach myself that song. I even fooled my piano teacher for a time. She would play the lesson each week and I would carefully make a mental note of what she played. As soon as I got home I would go to the piano and play the song over and over until I had it down tight.
Could I read the music? Barely! That became my downfall for a time with that teacher. One day I walked into my piano lesson only to have my teacher turn the page and say, "This week we are going to do things differently. You are going to take your song home and learn it all by yourself." I looked at the song and smiled at her. That didn't bother me, because my mom played this song.
Later that night I asked mom to teach her version of this song to me. A week of practice passed and I walked proudly into my teacher's studio to play the song. Throwing the book open, I played it with all of the passion and artistry I could muster. She sat back and the room fell silent. She smiled for a moment and then commented, "Well, Will, that was just amazing! Now play the song as it is written in your book." She caught me at my game. My days of playing these songs by ear were over!
Yet, she didn't set a strict regimen of note reading in the days ahead. Instead, she did her homework and I imagine she spent a great deal of time planning that week before I returned. At my next lesson I reluctantly played the boring little song from the book for her before she set it aside and said, "I have something for you." She pulled out a little blue book. I can still see it in my memory. It was a Psalter book.
As she opened the book I noticed that there was only a treble clef of melody on each song with lyrics underneath and the occasional mapping of letters which I came to know as chord symbols. What on earth was I suppose to do with this? She explained to me that my ear for music was so great that she was going to play off of it for my lessons. Thus the time of my greatest growth began. To this day, that is my preferred method for playing a song - basically a fake book, but she and the college professors after her also grew my interest and abilities in reading notation.
As the years have passed I've still relied heavily on my ear to guide me through a song, but more recently I've challenged myself over and over with something unfamiliar that I will learn entirely from the staff. I'm at the mercy of the grand staff and my ability to read the score. I have several students with very, very strong musical ears. Sometimes I have them in tears (not intentionally) with my insistence that they look at the book and read the notes. I always recognize what's afoot with them when they stumble through a piece, stop, look at me and say, "Will you play it for me?" Sometimes the answer is yes, but the answer is often, "Next week after you've explored it!"
I value a student with a good ear for music. They, in my opinion, often have the greatest chance at being artistic and flourishing at the piano or whatever they're studying. I will always meet their tears of frustration with encouragement and hope that this is all part of the growing pains of becoming the grand musician that's hidden inside.
So, play on to the orchestra and band hidden in your mind. Let the creativity flow and keep playing what you hear! Also take the time to explore and learn how to play what you see. Then you will have the sheer pleasure of enjoying what others have heard as well. After all, the eyes and the ears have it when it comes to music!