How to Learn Music by Ear on the Flute

Do you want to learn music by ear? I love learning by ear because I get to play songs by my favorite pop singers.

How to Learn Music by Ear | Hannah B Flute

That’s right, you don’t have to just play classical music. Read on to learn how you can learn a melody by ear.

Listen to the Music a Lot

Before I try to learn music by ear, I listen to the song or piece in question. I like to listen to it multiple times to internalize the melody. If you’ve already listened to something a lot, you may not need to do this.

Now, you don’t want to listen so much that you make yourself tired of the music. That can make it even harder to learn by ear.

However, try to find a balance. You could listen to the song multiple times in one day or once a day for a week. Once you can sing the melody in your head, that’s a good sign you’re ready to try and play it.

Start With the Key

I’ll admit that I don’t always do this. However, figuring out the key is an excellent way to help you learn the music. It will help eliminate certain notes, especially if you want to learn pop songs.

Most pop songs don’t change keys and don’t use a ton of accidentals. So if you can determine the key, you can limit the possible notes.

Even if you want to learn classical music by ear, the key can help. That will at least help you know what notes probably happen on cadences.

Sing the Melody

Singing the melody is another great exercise to help you learn music by ear. I’ve found that it helps me narrow down where notes could be. Since I have a good idea of my own vocal range, I can use that to my advantage.

I’ll try and feel if a note is a bit too low or high. If it’s in my range, I’ll try to figure out if it’s more in my chest voice or head voice.

Knowing those details can further eliminate potential notes. Then, you can use what’s left to figure out the starting note and subsequent pitches.

Try Matching the Bass Line

If you can’t figure out the key, you may want to try playing the bass line or another harmony part. As a flute player, you may need to transpose the octaves, but you can at least play the same note names.

This can help you figure out the key. I’ve done this for a few songs with instrumental interludes. It can be fun to play along with more than just the singer, like when I’m playing pop music.

Focus on Intervals Over Notes

When I learn music by ear, I focus less on the specific note names. Instead, I listen for the intervals between notes. It’s not easy, and I don’t always get the intervals correct the first time (or the first few times).

This is particularly important when I don’t know the key yet. I can sometimes use these intervals to deduce the key of the song or piece.

Learning the intervals can also help if you still have to take ear training tests. If there’s an interval you can sing from a pop song, you can use that to help you figure out the interval in class.

Choose the Right Artist

I’ve tried to learn a lot of pop songs by ear. Unfortunately, I can’t always do so, and some artists are easier for me than others. The two singers I find easiest to learn by ear from are Selena Gomez and Sofia Carson.

They’re both mezzo soprano singers, so their ranges line up pretty close to that of the flute or the alto flute. I’ve tried to learn songs sung by men from ear, but it’s not as easy since their voices are usually lower.

You may find other artists are easier for you to learn by ear from. Odds are, if you like a certain singer, you’ll know their voice better. That can help you learn music by ear.

Play Multiple Songs

A quick tip regarding artists: play multiple songs of theirs before you determine if you can easily learn based on their voice.

Grab Your Flute and Play

At some point, you’ll want to pick up your instrument and try to play along. You can do so with a recording on YouTube or any other streaming platform.

Put the recording on and try to follow the melody. You might luck out and get most of the notes on your first try. I know for me, it can take a couple of tries to get all of the notes of the melody.

Some songs are easier and more intuitive than others. Don’t give up if you can’t figure out the melody. You can always try another song and come back to the one you first tried.

Make It Karaoke

If you want to really challenge yourself, try playing the melody with a karaoke version of the song. I’ve done this with a couple of pop songs, and it’s nice not to have the melody.

You can experiment a bit with runs like how a singer would. But you also don’t have the melody to reference. I’d only do this for a song I know very well and have played multiple times.

Repeat the Song

When first learning a song by ear, I try to play it at least a couple of times. After I play through it once, I’ll play the song again. That helps me catch any notes I didn’t get the first time.

However, it’s also useful for reinforcing the correct notes. Then, the next time you practice and want to play the song, you’ll remember the notes.

Sometimes, if I don’t play a song a second time, I feel like I’m starting from scratch every time I want to play the melody. Most songs are a few minutes, so you don’t need a ton of time to go over it again.

Test Different Flutes

I’ve found that it’s a lot easier to learn music by ear on my alto flute. That’s the case with pop music, anyway. The alto flute’s range is similar to many pop singers, which helps.

But you may find it’s easier to learn music by ear on your C flute or piccolo. Be sure to try all of the flutes you have available to you.

Then, you can use the flute that’s easiest to learn music by ear. If you want to play another flute, you can transpose the notes accordingly.

Keep Experimenting

It took me years of playing music to be able to learn music by ear. And I still don’t always have success with the songs I want to play.

If you struggle to learn by ear, that’s okay. Give yourself grace, and keep practicing a bit each day.

Eventually, you’ll get better. You can learn how certain notes sound and find artists whose voices have timbres that are easier for you to recognize.

Use Sheet Music

Learning this way is different from using your ear. However, I spent about a year or so learning some pop songs with their official scores.

I think that helped me learn what notes sound like, especially in the context of pop. As classical musicians, we’re not used to learning with our ears, so it’s not easy.

You can start with a subscription to MuseScore PRO+ to get access to scores. Then, you can practice playing those songs. In a year, you may be able to learn pop songs without the score in front of you.

Why Should You Learn Music by Ear?

You should learn music by ear if you want to learn more music. This is particularly true when it comes to pop songs.

There are websites out there with the notes or full scores to pop music. But you may not find all of the songs that you want to learn on those sites. Your ear is your best tool.

How Long Does It Take to Learn Music by Ear?

The time it takes to learn something by ear depends. First, learning pop songs with simple melodies will probably take less time than learning classical music using your ear.

You also may get faster at learning by ear with practice. So if you’re new, it could take a while to learn without the printed version of the music.

Will You Learn Music by Ear?

Knowing how to learn music by ear is vital for pop musicians. But it’s easy for classical musicians to ignore.

Don’t let this essential skill slip by. If you can learn by ear, you can play almost anything you’d ever want to play.

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