Gospel Piano: Playing By Ear

This is just a quick overview of beginning to learn how to play Gospel piano by ear; and whether it’s Southern or Black Gospel piano, the musical structure of both are basically the same.

play by ear

Many gospel music pianists play ‘by ear’ meaning they can play music after hearing it even if  no sheet music is available—transferring what was heard, directly to the piano keys. 

Learning to play Gospel piano by ear is an ability that for some, comes very naturally, and for others, it is developed and perfected with continued practice.

Here are a few basic tips to help you begin to understand how playing by ear can be crafted, with time, patience and repetition:

Tip #1:  Listen and Listen Well

Pick out a simple song and listen to it three or four times and then attempt to play it.  Obviously, the more comfortable and familiar you feel with a song the more ease you will experience with discovering how it can be played.

Tip #2:  Focus on the Melody

By using individual notes in your right hand, pick out the melody line.  The melody line makes up the harmony of the song; and is vitally important since it is what the lead singer sings.  Hum the melody, as a warm-up activity, and then a good exercise is to hum a handful of notes and match them with the corresponding piano keys.  If the keys aren’t high enough, move to the right; and if the keys aren’t low enough, move to the left.  Try to master a series of notes before moving on to another note progression.

Tip #3:  Figure out the Chords

Chords are combinations of notes that are the accompaniment for the music—an auditory garnishment, so to speak.  Take time to figure out which chords correspond with the melody.  You will add these chords with your left hand.  Chord charts will serve as a useful tool to help you understand how basic chords are created.  As you become more experienced, you will begin to notice that a customary progression in Gospel music is an I—IV—V progression.

Tip #4:  Play Double Octaves

Play double octaves since these are a traditional component of Gospel music. You’ll play double octaves with your left hand most of the time, yet sometimes with your right.  A double octave occurs when you double the root of a chord.  If, for example, you were to play a ‘c’ chord, you would play a  ‘c’ with your pinkie and you would play  another ‘C’ chord with your thumb; and the two ‘C’ notes would end up being eight notes apart.   

Tip #5:   Use Technique with Chord Movement

A ‘walking technique’ should be utilized when you move from one chord to another.   For example, if you are playing a ‘C’ chord and must play an ‘F’ chord, just play the ‘D’ and ‘E’ notes on your way to reaching the ‘F’ chord.

Keep the passion in your heart and the fire in your fingers as you continue your journey with learning how to play Gospel piano.  In less time than you think, you’ll move from ‘amateur’ to ‘astounding’.  Good luck!

About the Author:

Miss Carlson enjoys writing in her spare time now that she is retired from teaching. For more on this topic, check out playbyhear.com

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