This past week, I purchased and took delivery on a Sony PCM-D100 handheld recorder. For me, it is the proverbial "Swiss Army Knife" for "by ear" musicians. In addition to its fine recording capabilities, it also provides a few tools that are perfect for learning by ear from recordings. These features include the ability to slow down the playback to as much as 25% original speed, the ability to change keys (pitch) separately from the slowdown feature, and the ability to quickly and easily set loop points so you can repeat a short segment of the music indefinitely. In addition, the PCM-D100 has two function buttons that you can assign to most any function. I have them assigned to the slowdown feature and the loop feature respectively, making for very quick and easy operation while playing piano.
My piano is digital, so I can connect the output of the PCM-D100 to the audio inputs on my piano and listen to both the piano and recorder through headphones, making it very easy to match the notes I am playing with the notes I am hearing on the recorder.
You can purchase software such as Transcribe! or Amazing Slowdowner to do this on your PC. However, though I have used these programs, I really prefer easy to use dedicated hardware that can sit on the music holder on my piano (replacing any sheet music).
So yesterday and today, I took a break from the 52 week Crash Course to learn a tune I have always wanted to play. I will probably just stay with that tune until I learn the whole thing. It is really motivating to be playing the music I listen to all the time. I must have learned something about fingering from the work I have been doing, because my hands just seem to know where to go to play this music.
The particular tune I picked to learn is by Michele McLaughlin called "I Love You". I picked it because I really enjoy listening to it, but also because it is slow and relatively simple so it is a good way to get started playing by ear.
Duane Shinn says to play lots of music, especially music that we really want to learn, so this is mine. New Age solo piano, the melodic music that has definite song form, is at the top of my list of styles to learn. I think the best way to learn this particular style is to do so by ear because the style is really about self-expression as in making your own music. Several of the artists in this style, from what I have read, are self-taught by ear, learning off their favorite recordings of other artists.
I find that I have a much easier time memorizing music that I learn by ear than that from sheet music. From what I understand, learning by ear uses a different part of the brain than does playing from sheet music, so maybe this does make sense.
Once I finish this tune and get it out of my system and into my fingers, I will get back on track. This raises an interesting question - is it "incorrect" to follow your heart and play the music that you really want to play, or is it better to put that off for some time in the future when you are done with a given course of study? Time will tell.