4

I play the piano for over a year ,pretty good, know the basic theory( major and minor scales, inversions and all stuff), can play any pieces,good at sight-reading.

I've seen on YouTube a lot of people who reproduce songs( the ones with Synthesia or recording themselves playing a real piano) from Eminem, Bruno Mars, Kanye West, the list goes on and on ....

Now I did some research, the only thing I could find was how to determine the key of a song.I can reproduce the melody by hitting one key at the time but I want to add chords and things like that.

The problem is that I have no idea how to combine all these things together, I mean how can I notice intervals and the distance between two notes just by using my ear.

The question is simple, how can I overcome all of this?

7

This takes nothing more than practice. What you're doing already -- going note by note through pieces -- is already a great thing to do. Overtime, you'll get better at this and you'll be able to do it more quickly.

As for chords, when you are done transcribing a piece like you have done above, then try the chords. Look at the melody; usually you'll get hints to the chords. You can also try thinking of common chord progressions (like ii V I's in jazz) to help guess at other chords. Or, you could even sit at a piano/guitar and play around until you find something that fits.

For intervals, there are multiple ways to go about this. For a while, I spent some time using online tools that played intervals while I guessed at the type. This is helpful, but something a bit easier is thinking of a song for each interval. Say you want to memorize the sound of perfect 4th. For that, I like to think of the bugle call "taps". Having a particular song/lick down for each interval helps you get them in your ear. This may help you transcribe songs with more speed.

Some people are just born with all of this. I've seen 10 year olds that can hear a piece once, play it on their instrument, and even improve over the chords (this was a jazz piece). Don't be intimidated by these people; achieving this level is skill is certainly possible and realistic.

4

Here are a few of my tips for developing this skill.

The melody

  1. Train yourself to think in numbers. Instead of CDEFGABC, I think 12345678. Then I go beyond this to "hear" every melody in numbers before I ever sit down and reproduce it on the piano.
  2. Memorize the sound of the interval for every possible combination of numbers. Develop a mnemonic for each one. For instance, 1-4 sounds like "Here comes the bride." 3-1 sounds like "door-bell." It will take time to become familiar enough with this that it's automatic, but it can be done.
  3. Once you know the sound of all the intervals, it will become much easier to reproduce the melody line. It will be less of trial-and-error one note at a time, and it will become more of a confident, fluent thing where you're getting the notes right without thinking about it

The chords

  1. At the very beginning, I'd start by doing with the chords what you're doing with the melody. Pick them out by trial and error, very slowly. There is no substitute or shortcut for this.
  2. Map out the possible chords that can go with each note and get to know the principles behind which chords are the most likely to appear in any given position. Let's say you're playing in the key of C. If the melody contains a "C," chances are, it's going to go with a C chord. However, it's also possible that it could go with an F chord, since C is also one of the notes in an F chord. Alternatively, but less frequently, a C in the melody could be backed up by an A minor in the harmony. From there, there are many "colors" and less-common chords that could also be the harmony on a C in the melody. You'll develop a sense for which ones are the most common and which ones appear less frequently. You'll also develop a sense for the sound of a tonic, dominant, subdominant, and other common chords, as well as a sense for when the chord is a "weird chord" in which case you may have have to hunt for the precise chord (e.g. Gsus).
  3. Continue to persevere even when your progress is slower than you would like. It took me 5 years of playing the piano before I suddenly realized that I knew where my hands were at any moment and could place them without thinking and land on the exact notes I wanted to. If you've only been at it for a year, I'd say the amount that you can play is already ahead of most people who have a year of piano under their belt.

There is a LOT more to this that a theory book and a great instructor can teach you. All the best!

3

Preamble

This is a skill that I've taught, as a piano teacher, to many many students. There is an exact approach that you can take that works with a large subset of pop songs; I refer to pop in the most general way as any styles of music that are currently popular.

Here are some of the approaches I use and teach. We're going to take "Closer" by The Chainsmokers as an example throughout. I'll use "ex)" to indicate when I'm referring to how I would use a technique with that song.

Bass Line Approach

The bass line is one of the most important factors in learning how to play songs. For the majority of the time, the bass line is the root of the chord.

1. Determine the key of the song. This always has to happen first, so if you already know how to do this, then this is ALWAYS the first step. For those reading this post that might not know how to determine the key, here are the steps:

Approach #1

  • Choose one or two parts of the song (I'll use the intro and verse of "Closer"
  • Play the song and try to identify at least 4 or 5 different notes played by instruments or sung by a voice
    • ex) I heard an F, Ab, Bb, C, Db and Eb when I played "Closer"
  • Use music theory about keys and key signatures to narrow down your key options (I'll approach this as looking at major keys only for simplicity)
    • ex) since we have 4 flats that we know of, the key might be Ab major (4 flats)
    • ex) we're missing a G, so it could be G or Gb, which means that the key could be Db major (5 flats)
  • play the scales for the keys you've determined when the song is playing...one of the options should "sound" best
    • ex) Db major sounds a little bit off, but Ab major sounds like it fits
    • ex) From experience, some students find this part easy and some can't hear the difference between the two scale options

Approach #2

  • listen to the song for at least 20 - 30 seconds (this helps your brain establish the tonality of the key)
  • try singing a well-known children's song like "Mary Had A Little Lamb" while the song you're trying to figure out is playing
    • "Mary Had A Little Lamb" starts on the 3rd (mediant) note of a major scale
    • the third note of "Mary Had A Little Lamb" will be the tonic of the key
    • ex) when I sing "Mary Had A Little Lamb" over "Closer" by The Chainsmokers I see that my third note is Ab, which is the tonic of the key for the song
  • if you don't want to use "Mary Had A Little Lamb" because you don't know the song, try "Happy Birthday" and the key will always occur when you sing the word "you"

2. Find Chord Lengths. If you have a good grasp on notation, then write out how long each chord is played for. In most pop music, this will be 2 beats or 4 beats. This step will help you figure out when chords change. The tricky thing is identifying how many chords there are and this usually comes with practice.

ex) I noticed that the first chord in "Closer" was 2 and 1/2 beats. The second chord was 1 and 1/2 beats. The third chord was 2 and 1/2 beats and the fourth chord was 1 and 1/2 beats. I've determined that there may be 4 chords because it seems to repeat after these 4 chords.

3. Identify bass notes. This is the most crucial step. As stated before, the bass instrument will usually play the root for the lifetime of the chord. Some people are incapable of hearing the bass note because their "ear" has not developed enough. This can be fixed with lots of ear training.

ex) I hear a Db for 2.5 beats, then an Eb for 1.5 beats, then an F for 2.5 beats, then an Eb again for 1.5 beats. In the key of Ab, we have the following chords: Ab, Bbm, Cm, Db, Eb, Fm and Gdim. If I'm hearing a Db in the bass line for the first chord, then it's going to be Db major most likely. I hear an Eb next, which means the chord is Eb major. Next I hear an F, which means the chord will be F minor. Lastly, I hear another Eb, which means Eb major. The chords are NOT just plain-Jane triads, they have 7ths and 9ths in them as well, but this is beyond the scope of this answer.

Note: There are many songs where certain bass notes do NOT represent the root of the chord. Usually in these cases the bass note is still part of the chord, it might just be the 3rd or 5th of the chord instead of the root.

Melody Approach

As stated in securehope's answer, the melody of the song can be useful in determining the chords for the song, but I don't believe it's the best way to identify chords and here's why:

  • the melody note that you hear at any given time may not be in the chord
    • the melody note may be a "passing note" or "appoggiatura", both of which are known as non-chord notes
  • the melody note may be an extension of the chord like the 7th, 9th, 11th, 13th which will make identification harder if you don't know your theory very well

Don't get me wrong, if this approach works for you, then it's a great approach. I'm just stating problems that I've had with my students using this approach exclusively.

Conclusion

For any of these approaches to work, you need to have a strong foundation in basic musical theory, which means you need to understand how key signatures and keys work.

As stated by securehope, learn the "number system". This is the a system where you take the 7 notes of each scale and assign them a number from 1 to 7, but with Roman Numerals. For example, the scale for C major is CDEFGAB. The chords for C major use those notes exclusively. There are no sharps or flats in any of the "native" chords for the key of C major. The first chord starts on C and it's C major, known as the I chord (pronounced "one chord"). The ii chord is D minor (lower case for minor chords, upper case for major). The iii chord is E minor. The IV chord is F major. The V chord is G major. The vi chord is Am. The vii chord is Bdim. The reason that knowing this is so important is that it allows you to play in any key. If I know that "Closer" by The Chainsmokers is in Ab and that the chords are Db, Eb, Fm, Eb, then I can codify the chords numerically. Db is the IV chord, Eb is the V chord, Fm is the vi chord. So if I want to play the song in the key of C major instead, then the chords would be F, G, Am, G. There are a ton more applications of using the number system. It's absolutely fundamental to everything I do. Here's a YouTube vid I put out on this concept.

Lastly, ignore intervals for the most part, I have not found them useful in identifying keys or chords. They are important as a theory concept for building chords, but that's about it.

I know how frustrating some of this stuff is. I struggled with it to when I first starting learning music. Hope this helps!

2

I'm going to speak solely to the fourth paragraph of the original question, and then show how the answer can extend to cover the other parts of the question.

To train your ear to recognize intervals, you need a somewhat musical friend to drill with you. Start by having them play octaves or perfect fifths, built on random pitches, high low and medium. You sit with your back to them and say, octave or fifth, and they'll correct you if you're wrong. You'll get this pretty quickly. Now add perfect fourths. At first you'll have trouble telling fifths from fourths. But fifths sound 'hollow' and fourths don't, so you'll eventually get this. Once you have it, add in thirds, later sixths, and finally seconds and sevenths. Then learn to differentiate major from minor on the thirds, sixths, seconds, and sevenths. (Don't try to hear a major or minor 'flavor,' just think bigger or smaller. Bigger is major.) Finally add in tritones. All of this is not in a single session of course, or even several sessions. The whole thing could be spread out over weeks or even months. But eventually you'll have it all solid.

Now do the same with triads. Learn to differentiate major, minor, diminished, and augmented. Now add inversions of all those and learn to identify what inversion.

Now study the circle of fifths and learn to anticipate what chord a piece will go to after a certain sequence and see if you're right.

Once you have all this under your belt (and that could be a relatively short time if you're good at it and/or have a natural ear that doesn't need a lot of training), you'll find that the rest of what you want to do falls into place rather easily. You'll hear a song, recognize how it's put together, and that will help you recreate it yourself.

Good luck. I've been doing all this for around 65 years so far and still learn something new about it every day.

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