Melody Ear Training Exercise 2: Playing By Ear

This exercise might be more is fun and practical than exercise 1. We will play by ear, but slowly. The goal is to figure out for yourself how to play a song. I’ve given you a list of simple songs that use the major scale, and I’ve given you the starting note. If you are using the C major scale (any major scale will work), and the starting note is “five,” then you would start on the fifth note in C major, which is G. Feel free to just give this a try. But you might find the following process useful.

  1. Play the scale you will be using, to orient yourself to the sound.
  2. Play the starting note.
  3. Sing the song in your head, or out loud, and notice when the melody goes up or down. Notice the first time it goes up or down. This is the second note in the melody. For example, in “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” the first syllable in “Mary” (“Ma”) is the starting note, and the second syllable, “ry,” is sung on a lower pitch.
  4. Focus on that second pitch. By using your relative pitch skill, or just by trial and error, figure out what that second note is. (“Mary Had a Little Lamb” starts on the third note of the scale and goes down to the second. Now you have a head start!)
  5. Play the first two notes of the song, and use the same process to find the third note.

This process may seem excruciatingly slow at first, but you will get better and faster at it. You may eventually notice that you don’t have to think very hard, you just know what the next note is supposed to be. Pretty soon you’ll be able to play melodies by ear without hesitation, and without making mistakes. You will simply sing the song in your head and play along with what you are singing in real-time. This is fluency!

Song Title Starting Note in the Major Scale
Happy Birthday 5
Mary Had a Little Lamb 3
Twinkle Twinkle Little Star 1
Jingle Bells 3
Somewhere Over The Rainbow 1
Frere Jacques 1
I'm a Little Teapot 1
London Bridge is Falling Down 5
Old MacDonald Had a Farm 1
Row, Row, Row Your Boat 1