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#33469 - 11/20/06 06:55 PM playing by ear
wondering Offline
New Member

Registered: 11/20/06
Posts: 2
Loc: Sacramento, CA
I see that this forum is not used much, but, I am a parent who has a few questions and am not sure where I can ask them.

First, the background:
I have 2 kids, a son almost 10 and a daughter 7. They have been playing piano for 1 and 1/2 years now. Their teacher is using the Piano Adventures series, and my son is half way through 3A. My daughter is going a little bit slower (the keyboard is harder for her tiny hands) and is in 2B.

They practice approximately 30 minutes a day 5 days a week. My wife has some music background and is able to sit with them 3 times a week to insure they are doing it correctly.

We use a digital piano, and I "feel" it is a better choice since we can use the accompaniment MIDI disks to help them get the "feel" of the music.

My son's teacher has told us that he is doing so well that he should consider playing a second instrument.

This has brought to my mind, a multitude of questions because I don't understand the music development of a student.

The questions:
1) Why is it bad to play by ear? My nephew never learned to read music, yet he is the life of a party, able to play most any song, and able to create songs. That is the direction I'd love my son to take. Does the formal training teach those skills? and if not, how do I get him that training?
2) Do other instruments truely provide a benefit I'm missing? I am more interested in my son learning "pratical" instruments that will be used throughout his life, i.e. piano, guitar or something he could play in church. I don't really see him in an orchistra or as a professional pianist.
3) Back to question 1, wouldn't playing by ear keep the child interested longer? I see so many people who quit piano after 2, 4, 9, etc. years. They still can't really play because they haven't practiced a song and don't have the music. Wouldn't the ability to play by ear alleviate that?
4) What is the difference between classical training, and other forms of training? And does it matter which you do?

I don't really want to ask their teacher, because I don't want to offend her, I'm not sure if she could answer me, etc. etc. She's not very informative either.

I'm happy with the progress so far, but I wonder what path it should be taking.

Sorry for the length of this post, and thanks for your reply.

#33470 - 11/21/06 01:48 AM Re: playing by ear
Dolce Offline
Mainstay Member

Registered: 06/04/02
Posts: 934
Loc: USA
If you are trusting this teacher with the musical education of your children, why don't you trust her to answer your questions?

And if you can already speak English, repeat stories you already know, and make up new ones, why bother to learn to read and write?

Unfortunately, students leave piano after a couple of years because they do not understand that it takes many years to become a proficient musician, as well as be able to sightread easily. Most of the time it is because they lose interest in practicing, because practicing is not FUN. And it is only through practice that you can become good at the technical/coordination aspects of playing the piano.

I think you have some concerns that need answers, and the first place you should be able to go is to your child's teacher.

And if you are happy with your childrens' progress so far, why do you feel that it needs to follow a different path? IMO 1 1/2 years is not enough time to decide "what path to take", because you have not even scracthed the surface. Relax, and let your children enjoy making music without the stress of having to meet your expectations.

What instrument do you play?

#33471 - 11/21/06 04:31 AM Re: playing by ear
Jon Administrator Online   content

Registered: 12/16/04
Posts: 593
Loc: Ann Arbor, MI
Hello, and welcome to the discussion forum! You are welcome to ask questions here anytime. A good ear is important for any kind of musical learning. The ability to play with your fingers what you can hear in your head is a great skill. This frees you up from reading note by note, and is very helpful in memorization as well.

It's true that, at the extremes, there are two "camps" in the teaching community, one set teaching "classical" music written out in full, one set teaching "pop" music lead sheets, with just a melody line and chord charts printed. I like to think that neither approach is enough on its own, but that the most rounded musical instruction blends reading and improvisation (the Fabers call this holistic philosophy Analysis, Creativity, and Expression, or ACE).

The Piano Adventures series offers many opportunities to go "off book" and improvise or compose, or play by ear. Just look for the Creative! or Discovery! symbols for ideas.

As far as a second instrument goes, there are a number of things to think about. There is a lot to be gained from experiencing music-making in a variety of ways (e.g. breathing learned from singing or wind instruments, fluid arms learned from strings, etc.). At the same time, it can be a huge endeavor to manage practice time between two instruments. Are your children interested in playing another instrument? You don't want it to become a battle.

I hope that you are able to ask their teacher your questions. As a teacher, I would not be offended, but glad that a parent was interested and involved. Good luck!

#33472 - 11/21/06 05:36 AM Re: playing by ear
Karisofia Offline
Resident Member

Registered: 08/29/06
Posts: 138
Loc: Wisconsin
As a teacher, I will second Jon's advice. I would prefer a parent come to me at the beginning with questions rather than waiting until the frustration point and pulling the student. I would at least like the chance to address the concerns. If I cannot, then they can find a different teacher, and we will probably both be happy with that.

You are asking a lot of the right questions. You will get a number of different answers. Maybe that's why those questions get asked so much. The good part is that you are asking, and you do want your children to continue with (and enjoy!) music.

If I may make a couple of my own suggestions...

#1 Make music a "happy" part of family life. Put on music and enjoy it. Encourage (especially the 7-year-old) to sing or dance with it. Listen to music when travelling. Get your children to put on a special concert for you in your home. Dress up like you're going to a big affair. Basically, have fun. This is the biggest thing that keeps kids in music for life--more than ear training or sight reading.

#2 You are looking for a well-rounded music curriculum. Bravo! PA is a good choice. If you feel that the ear training is still not to the level you'd like (but want to stay with this teacher), you can supplement on your own. Go to the piano with your children and try to "figure out" a favorite song. That's how I learned. Draw their attention to the sounds of music. ("Doesn't that sound just like your last recital song/favorite tv theme/a door bell?") If they try to make up a song or play by ear, gush some praise. They'll do it again... and again and again. And that's how they learn.

#3 Beyond Piano Adventures... still looking to keep their education balanced and complete? Consider the Royal American Conservatory Examinations . Your teacher should not mind since a number of PA songs are on the early lists. This system includes ear tests from the very beginning and advances to college level training. There are resources--including CDs--for preparing the ear.

Enjoy all the music in your house.


P.S. Did I mention having fun? \:D

#33473 - 11/21/06 06:42 PM Re: playing by ear
wondering Offline
New Member

Registered: 11/20/06
Posts: 2
Loc: Sacramento, CA
Wow, thanks for all the great responses! The last post in this category was in 2004, so I wasn't expecting any.

So many thoughts scrambled in my brain now. \:\)

Dolce, I hadn't really considered that I was trusting the teacher with the musical education of my child, just that I was trusting her with the introduction of the beginning of piano playing. After reading some of the other threads and forums here, I see teachers interviewing the student, and parents interviewing teachers. Frankly, it never crossed my mind to be that thorough. Although, I'm still not sure I know what I would be looking for. We bought a Clavinova CVP-208 and people thought we were crazy for spending that kind of money on 2 kids that had never touched a musical instrument before. We asked the store owner if he recommended any teacher, and he gave us a name. She was full, but refered her mom. And wala, we began.

I play no instrument, and have had no musical training. My wife has a couple years of piano, and some High School marching band playing the flute.

Your example of reading and writing suggests that as with language, after becoming proficient at reading and writing music, the student would be able to play by ear. So, all methods should produce, at some level, a student who could play by ear? Is that true? Or, do some methods not teach that aspect? Or were you talking about the problem of students not learning to read and write because they lose their motivation if they play by ear?

I guess, at the heart of some of these questions is that I don't know how a typical student would progress, or if my children are progressing appropriately. i.e. a good student would be at level x in 3 years, y in 5...

Jon, my son is asking to play the drums. At first, I thought this was just a fad (I think he first asked at about 4 years old), what boy doesn't want to play the drums? But, he does seem to want to -- at least he is still asking. The main issue with that is.... NOISE. \:\) I haven't really thought through how to handle this, or if this is the right choice. (Yes, I know, relax and let him enjoy music. \:\) )

At some point I want him introduced to the guitar and to have some education regarding the other features of the digital piano (i.e. recording tracks, splitting the keyboard to play multiple instruments, using the rhythms, playing with midi, etc.). I'm not sure when or how to do that. Maybe these are more high school activities, so let him do drums now? Suggestions?

Karisofia, thanks for reminding me to have fun. My son enjoys playing, but my daughter does have a tendancy to get frustrated when she can't play it right, or if my wife corrects her. She would enjoy putting on a concert, and I'll play it up more when they want me to listen.

Thanks again for all your responses.

#33474 - 11/21/06 07:14 PM Re: playing by ear
SharonAdelle Offline
Resident Member

Registered: 05/26/06
Posts: 234
Loc: Central Valley, CA
I would like to put in that I think those people who can play by ear without ever reading a note have a different type of skill than musicians with formal training. I've basically played piano all my life, then flute and sax when I was older, I started with Yamaha lessons, and my parents had music around the house so it was fun, just like all these recommendations--but I never learned the skill of playing by ear. It is a lot of work for me to pick out a fairly simple melody. I have become a very good sightreader and can basically play whatever is put in front of me.

As a parent I would just caution you to be careful to look at your child as an individual. A child can be a track star at long distance, but not sprinting..... We all have our talents in different areas...our kids are not robots.

#33475 - 11/22/06 04:51 AM Re: playing by ear
Karisofia Offline
Resident Member

Registered: 08/29/06
Posts: 138
Loc: Wisconsin
A note on the drums...

Most of the kids in our area practice on "drum pads" instead of the real thing. This is much quieter. A percussion teacher I know says this is much better because the students can hear their mistakes.

It sounds like music has a good standing in your house. Way to go!


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