Hitting a Plateau

Hi there,
I’m very sorry if this is covered elsewhere, but I wanted to reach out to see if anyone has overcome this feeling. I’ve cruised through the majority of the beginner’s level course, and I’ve noticed a huge improvement in my retention speed and knowledge of theory. I started with zero piano experience, and now, my fingers move around the keyboard much easier than they did in March.

However, if I try to play a melody by ear and put some chords under it, I’m totally lost. I’m not much better with a lead sheet either. I’ve learned so many voicings in the past 9 months, but I haven’t held on to them. And I have no idea how to play by ear…

Does anyone have any recommendations? I feel like I’ve taken a wrong turn.

Thanks a lot!
Theo

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Hello Theo

I think theres a intermediate step for going to play bye ear on keyboard . Transcribing knowing and hearing intervals, bass movement is a step, playing it on the piano by ear is another
So you are on the right way, but maybe take a bit time to play what you hear in your head on the piano, outside any deeper exercice with error and learning process.
I think its a process and some player like Chet Baker Birelli Lagrene to name some, have develop their skill and mastering firstly by this exercice of playing what they are hearing.
Nowadays we are mostly doing the inverse process learning more theory and then applying it to the instrument.
About learning some very interesting book is Victor Wooten “the music lesson” a great book for musicians in between.
We have a little insight with his interview about the process of learning https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=48Owmaxh0cM

So keep working and add more time to play whats in your head on the instrument … time will help , but being able to play all what we feel and hear is a life time process … so be kind with yourself :slight_smile:

hope it help you,

@Tuomo will probably have more deep insight

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Hi @Theo-D and @Pierrot, thanks for tagging me into this, I’d love to give my contribution to the subject!

Like Pierrot mentioned, there are helpful steps in the development you can follow, and find what works best for you.

First, go check out 5- minute masterclass on the subject:

Here are few suggested beginner steps, that when followed correctly and thoroughly, will show progress already over few weeks:

Step 1. Intervals

First step should always be to be able to hear all the intervals within an octave fast and without struggle.

Intervals are the main building blocks of any chord, melody, or harmonic movement, thus learning to recognize them instantly will help you with all the following steps, as well as with transcribing, playing by ear, or pretty much anything related to music.

You can start with the Beginner Ear Training Exercises, the Part 2 is always intervals:

Step 2. Basic Melodies In Major, Using I - IV - V Chords

Second step is to start to recognize the intervals from a simple melody. I recommend to start with a single major chord, again you can start with the Beginner Ear Training Exercises, the Part 1 is all about that:

Now, after you start to feel more comfortable about hearing melodies over the major chord, you can follow up with the following exercise:

Take any key that you feel comfortable in, I’m using C major for the example.

Play the basic I( C) - IV(F) - V(G)

in any order you like. Then, try to sing notes of the C major scale over the cadence, and be sure you know which note you’re singing at any moment. If you sing a note you’re not sure of, you can find the note on your instrument and listen to it carefully as a relation to the three chords you’re playing. This helps your ear to get more independent, you will fast notice that you don’t anymore need piano to hear the notes over the major scale in a relation to the I, IV or V chord.

Step 3. Basic Harmony - II - V - I

Now, you can start with the basic harmonic building block, the II - V - I.

First, play the cadence on the piano in every key. Use only 3-note voicings, and the 2 inversions, here in the key of C major:

While playing, listen carefully to the cadence, the voice leading, bass notes, the top note etc. This makes your ear familiar with the sound of the II - V - I, and helps to detect them in other situations.

After this you can try the Intermediate Ear Training Exercises - Part 2. Find the ones that mention having ONLY 3-note voicings, for example:

After finishing the 3-note voicing exercises, you can move to the other ones of the Intermediate Part 2.

Step 4. Simple Melodies Over II - V - I

Now you can start to hear and play things over the II - V - I.

You can apply the method mentioned in the Step 2, just this time over the II - V - I, or any other simple cadence.

You can also start to work on the Intermediate Ear Training Exercises - Part 1s, as they are all melodies over II - V - Is, or other similar situations.

At this point you should have a pretty good understanding of how to hear music, and how to play by ear. Applying this to anything while playing, voicings, melodies etc. will hopefully give you more freedom and imagination to do things by ear instead of approaching things from a theoretical point of view.

Thanks, let me know if you have any further questions!

All the best,

-Tuomo

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Hi Tuomo,

Thanks so much for your help!
I’ve been trying this out and seeing a lot of improvement. Thank you!

I’m arranging now with the rootless voicings covered in the ‘mastering left-hand voicings’ section. I can put the chords under the melody all right, but I can’t put much movement in. I’m just playing the block chords on the 1 of each bar. I’m also coming into trouble when the melody goes low and runs into the chord. What would you suggest?

You’ve been very helpful. Much appreciated!

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Hi @Theo-D, first few questions,

Can you give me an example of the voicings you use?

Do you want to have movement in the chord tones (voice leading)?

Let me know if this helped,

-Tuomo
In general, if you go low with the melody, you basically have two main choices:

  1. You can either play the left-hand voicing, or parts of it, in another lower inversion, here example on I VI II V in Cmaj:

  1. Simplify your left-hand voicing; you can play only 3rds and 7ths of the chords, or for example alternate betwee rootles left-hand voicings and roots/ main chord tones:

The main thing with left-hand voicings still is to support your melodies on the right hand; thus whatever sounds good and complements the right hand is allowed :slight_smile:

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We’ve all been there @Theo-D (and still are, at every level! I’m struggling with transcription right now) The brain can only hold seven new pieces of information at once, so the trick is to make new information as familiar as possible so that it is immediately retrievable. Keep going over information you learned yesterday until you can reach for a Cm9 chord without thinking because your hand automatically stretches to the the pattern, then the change from Cm9 to F13, making that automatic too, then its resolution to Bb. Then instead of having twelve separate notes in three chords to think about, you have one cadence that comes automatically and your brain is freed up to do another six things with your right hand… I know so many adults who took music lessons as children and can’t play a note because they learned every piece of music by memory, without any understanding of what they were actually playing, and as their memory faded, their ability to play did too. But once you understand the theory behind the music it stays with you forever.
Don’t give up! You’re exactly where you should be right now. When the “AHA” moment comes it will feel brilliant!.
Aye,
GeorgeM

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