Playing by ear (music)
"Playing by ear" is a term describing the ability of a musician to reproduce a piece of music one heard, without having observed another musician play it or having seen written music. It is the common way to learn to play a musical instrument in cultures that do not use musical notation. Playing by ear is also common practice among those who use notation extensively. Musicians in cultures that use notation learn to play by ear and ear training. This often occurs using a musicianship course at a music conservatory or college, and alternatively by the use of Solfège.
Learning music by ear is done by repeatedly listening to other musicians and then attempting to recreate what one hears. This is how people learn music in any musical tradition in which there is no complete musical notation.
Audiation involves hearing sounds mentally, although on a different level than just "hearing a song in one's head". In addition to mentally hearing rhythms and pitches the skill of reproducing those sounds involves melody, harmony (chords) and bass line.
In the West, learning by ear is associated with folk music, and pop styles including blues, rock, and sometimes jazz. But many classical music forms throughout the world lack notation, and have therefore been passed from generation to generation by ear.
The Suzuki method of teaching music has a highly developed focus on playing by ear from a very young age. In his book "Teaching from the Balance Point," Edward Kreitman, a US-based Suzuki teacher, clearly distinguishes "learning by ear" as a separate, completely different process from "learning by rote".
References and notes
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