Learning to Play Music by Ear vs. Sight Reading

Updated: Dec 20, 2020

There are plenty of famous musicians out there who do not know how to read sheet music, but that did not hold them back from completing their compositions by playing music by ear. Why should you go through the trouble of sight reading to play music? Well, it is not as simple as it sounds! Sight reading has its way to improve your music playing. Here’s how playing music by ear and sight reading works, and which is better.


Playing Music by Ear

It is only natural that every musician begins playing music by ear. All you have to do is listen to the music, memorise it and try to copy it with your instrument. To accomplish this process, you start with some ear training exercises until you learn to figure out the relative pitch. After ear training, you will be able to play any melody that comes your way. From the melody notes, construct a suitable set of chords and find the chord progression. Then, improvise over the chord progression. You must develop your sense of rhythm by analysing the time signature and hit the melody or your improvised notes at the right time. This requires some practice and you will soon be able to play any music just by listening to it!


Learning music by ear is the fastest way to learn to play any song. It helps you create new ideas that may push you to composing music. Composing music by ear is similar to solving problems by the process of elimination. You go through every possible way and finally settle for the one that you like the most. Like discovering new tunes.


Playing Music by Sight Reading

Sheet music or sight reading is a form of written instruction for playing music. By reading the notes, you are able to play it without having to listen to how it sounds like first. Music theory is involved with sight reading. Sheet music works with a set of symbols, notations, and terms that determine the musical notes, tempo, rhythm, crescendo, decrescendo, volume, and more to help you play the music. However, you have to study them all first. For some of us, the process of learning sheet music might take much longer compared to learning to play by ear. If you can read sheet music and play by it, it will give you an extra advantage in learning music theory. Most people think of sheet music and music theory as a set of rules that you must follow strictly, but truth is, it is a tool to help you better understand how music works. You can see Music theory as a set of ideas that you can use to add more technique into developing your music-making ability.


Which one is the best?