Play by Ear

Can you learn to play by ear?


How do i know?  Because I have taught over 100 musicians to do it over the past 15 years.  These are musicians of all ages and levels of ability on various instruments.  You can be one of them.

Playing by ear is a thrilling experience.  With this skill, your instrument can reproduce any song you can whistle or imagine, in any key.

New Ears Resolution has helped a generation of musicians learn to play by ear.  And now, the Second Edition offers scores of new innovations designed to make your learning experience more enjoyable, effective, and thorough.

Whether you work with a jazz combo, rock group, or big band, or just play for your own pleasure, “New Ears Resolution” will help you become the musician you have always wanted to be.

i’ve taught this method for years and have used it in my own performances.  i’ve researched extensively in order to improve its design and have thus developed a comprehensive approach to the art of playing by ear.


New Ears Resolution” is a hands-on method.  Learn to play by ear by playing, rather than studying abstract theory! It’s fun, and it’s practical, and it utilizes what I refer to as
hand-ear coordination.”

The audio contains 26 enjoyable play-along tracks in many different styles: swing, bossa, bop, rock, folk, country, jazz waltz, ballad, and fusion.

The 78-page book includes charts for each of the 26 exercises along with clear, simple instructions and lots of handy tips on how to succeed on the gig or in the jam session.


Learn to use these scales:

  • Major
  • Natural Minor
  • Harmonic Minor
  • Melodic Minor
  • Blues Scale
  • Extended Blues Scale

Learn to use the following modes:

  • Ionian
  • Dorian
  • Phrygian
  • Lydian
  • Mixolydian
  • Aeolian
  • Locrian

Learn to improvise over these chords:

  • Triads
  • Major Sevenths
  • Dominant Sevenths
  • Minor Sevenths
  • Minor 7 Flat 5 (Half Diminished)
  • V7(b9)
  • sus b9
  • V7#9(#5)
  • Diminished
  • Augmented

Learn how to navigate key changes (modulations) smoothly and effortlessly.

Learn techniques for improvising.

Learn about harmonic context.

Understand how to play over these progressions:

  • The ii-V-I progression
  • The I-vi-ii-V progression
  • The 12-bar blues progression

Learn the art of melody embellishment.

Learn how to play polytonal passages.

Master rhythm and learn to swing!

PDF Book & Music – $9.99
Or Printed Book & CD $19.99

Thanks to the reliable FastSpring delivery system, you can begin your ear training study right now. You will receive the 78-page “New Ears Resolution, Second Edition” ebook (as a pdf file) along with the 26 mp3 audio files, all in a quick downloading zip file.

Or purchase the physical book & CD via PayPal.


There are two ways a person plays by ear. Either you are born with perfect pitch or you learn to play by ear using relative pitch.

One in 10,000 people is born with perfect pitch. These rare individuals can hear any note and tell you what that note is. Some folks say perfect pitch can be learned, but I am very skeptical of these claims.

Relative pitch – by contrast – is the ability to name any note once you have been given a reference pitch. You figure out the second note by calculating its distance from the given note. I can teach you to do this.

In order to improvise, you must be able to transfer any melody you hear (on the radio, in your memory, or in your imagination) to your fingers and your instrument.

How do You Do It?

My “New Ears Resolution” ear training method is based on the “movable Do” system as elaborated by my teacher, Alvin Learned. Al was Dean of the legendary Westlake School of Jazz, which trained many of the leading Los Angeles musicians of the 1950’s, including Paul Desmond, Les McCann, and Billy May.

By playing along with the “New Ears” audio tracks, you learn to discern the relative position of various notes in a scale, and you become adept at finding any scale degree on your instrument in any key. The difference this makes in your playing is immediate & dramatic!

Visualize two typists, one laboriously “hunting & pecking” for each letter, the other effortlessly “touch typing,” spinning out error-free paragraphs. Now imagine two musicians, one painstakingly searching for each note (by trial & error), the other soaring through a melody as if it had been carefully memorized.

A very talented and ambitious young student told me he was trying to memorize one tune per week in all 12 keys. I responded, “That sounds like a mountain of work, and it will take you 10 years to build a repertoire!”

When you play a song by ear, you do NOT memorize the sheet music. Rather, you hear the tune in your imagination, calculate the tune’s formula in real time, and translate the formula into actual notes in any desired key on your instrument, also in real time.

This may sound like it would consume a staggering amount of brain power, but the process becomes amazingly simple, once you have worked through the exercises contained in the “New Ears Resolution” package. The 26 exercises on the CD (or mp3 download) start out quite simply and grow increasingly complex as your ability and confidence grow.

You will play along with the 72-minute audio a minimum of three times.

  • The first time, you read through the charts given in the “New Ears” book while you play along with the audio track. This also helps refine your sight reading ability.
  • The second time, you play along with the recording without looking at the book. You are now playing the exercises by ear. This increases your confidence.
  • The third time through, you improvise variations as you play along with the recording. This builds your improvisatory vocabulary.

While this method is primarily designed to teach you to play by ear in all 12 keys, many other benefits are derived from practicing with the “New Ears” recording.

  • Your sight reading grows stronger.
  • Your tone develops.
  • Your intonation improves.
  • Your rhythmic sense increases.
  • You begin to develop an improvisational vocabulary.
  • Your confidence blossoms.

While the majority of my students incorporate the “New Ears Resolution” ear training method within a series of 12 or more one-hour private lessons, scores of self-motivated students have found they can learn on their own from the book & audio tracks.

The brand new, comprehensively redesigned Second Edition answers numerous questions which more than a hundred students have asked me over the past 15 years.  Its 26 audio tracks and 78-page book are packed with helpful tips to prepare you for the gig & the jam session.

Students who encounter questions or road blocks along the way need only send me an email, and the issue will be promptly addressed.

PDF Book & Music – $9.99
Or Printed Book & CD $19.99

Thanks to the reliable FastSpring delivery system, you can begin your ear training study right now. You will receive the 78-page “New Ears Resolution, Second Edition” ebook (as a pdf file) along with the 26 mp3 audio files, all in a quick downloading zip file.

Or purchase the physical book & CD via PayPal.

17 thoughts on “Play by Ear

  1. I recently bought your jazz course! Thank you for developing it, it is very informative without so much theory which can become discouraging sometimes. Its upbeat and positive!

    Ken Harper


  2. Hi Craig…..Happy New Year! Just wanted to tell you that your “New Ears Resolution” is wonderful. The Mi-Ti-works great. Finally have something that works on the flute without having to relate to piano. Kinda like learning a new language….speak in the new language, not back and forth to what we already know on piano. So far I am having fun with the scales understanding, feeling and applying what you set out in your book on flute. All makes sense, so far.



  3. I am a keyboard player pro with music education degrees I use recordings to hear and take off soloes and changes How is your course different?


    1. Please forgive me for the delayed response. I was on the road, and only just now saw your question.
      It sounds like your extensive training and experience give you an exceptional background.
      Before I answer your inquiry, let me ask you two questions:
      Are you able to play any song you have heard in any key on your instrument?
      If you were to imagine an improvised idea, would you be able to play it on your instrument without having to search for the notes?
      If you answer “yes” to these questions, then you have already mastered the material.
      If these are goals toward which you aspire, then “New Ears Resolution” is for you. It teaches musicians to transfer musical ideas from their imagination to their instrument.


  4. This is a great book. I was never taught this approach before, it will defenetly help my ears connect with my playing. Thank you so much.


  5. Hi Craig,

    I have just bought your New Ears Resolution program for Bb (Clarinet).

    I hope to improve my ability to play by ear and subsequently my improvisation skills.

    I play a lot from fake books sometimes with others. In my experience these are always written in concert pitch. My music reading skills aren’t all that fantastic but over time I have learned to read and play directly from the fake sheets written in concert pitch and transposing in my head for the Bb clarinet.

    Having had a quick look through the downloaded e-book, I was wondering If I might be better off using the Treble Clef concert key version. I am not concerned about the cost of buying another version.

    Your opinion would be appreciated.


    1. Hi Tim,
      Wow, it is impressive to hear that you are able to transpose from concert to Bb while sight reading! That is a most valuable skill which few possess. You may already know that there exists a “C melody sax” which was developed for people wanting to read concert key charts. However, it never sounded very good and was not much used, except by the great Frankie Trumbauer.
      By the way, “The Real Book” series – perhaps the best respected of the fake books – is now available in 4 editions, treble, bass, Bb and Eb.
      You will definitely learn to play by ear with “New Ears Resolution,” regardless of whether you use the Bb or concert key version. (The audio is the same for all 4 books.) However, if you plan to join a reading big band, you will probably want to learn to read Bb charts.


  6. Hi Craig,
    I am new in this concept of “movable do”..i play saxophone and transpose licks ,patterns,phrases , arpeggios etc..takes a lot of time and calculation( numbers ..) to go through all twelve keys.
    How can i do with the “movable do” concept to transpose easily and quickly what i need to transpose in all twelve keys?
    If i want to transpose some Headline like “Confirmation ” from Bird ? Is “do movable ” the solution ? How do you do that?
    Thank you very much!


  7. I had a great teacher in New York City, and I had a masters degree in music Ed. I used to teach in the NY city system, and I told my friends, “When I retire, I am going back to school to study.” I studied with a great teacher who – although younger than I am – was a great concert pianist. He could play stride piano with the best. He reminded me of my uncle, who was a concert pianist, but who also played piano for Chick Webb back in the day. Anyway, the first thing this teacher told me was, I do not teach licks.” He had me transcribe a recording of Horace silver playing with early Miles and Bird. Even though I had a good ear, I did not know what was going on in that solo! I saw all these chromatic notes over a Cmaj7 chord and wondered, “What’s that?” A couple of my younger buddies called them “approach notes.” Anyway, whatever I wanted to do, I had to work out and do the homework under my teacher’s guidance. As a result, in order to teach students to hear, I came up with what I sent you. By starting with only approach notes and chord tones, a student should be able to create melodies a la Bach. In a Cmaj7, using just CEGB, all chord tones sound well by themselves. So like you become a creative teacher as well as player after lots of ear training, Charlie Banacos style.
    You can check out some of my uncle’s solos, if you Google chick Webb or YouTube recordings around 1934. One album cover has chick Webb band on it, and my uncle is sitting at the piano. These are the songs I know he took solos on:
    Darktown strutter’s ball
    If dreams come true
    Spinning the web
    blue Lou
    My ex-principal, himself a former music teacher, told me recently he did not know that my uncle played Jazz. He saw my uncle in concert at Carnegie hall as either a soloist or accompanist for various singers.


  8. Craig,
    I’m very glad I picked up your New Ears Resolution book. It’s refreshing my memory on many things I learned long ago but forgot, and also teaching me new approaches and information. I know theory, the scales/modes etc., and I know my instrument, but always had a weakness in the “play what you hear” department so I think this will be perfect for me. Thanks!


    1. It is so encouraging to hear this from a musician of your high caliber. I spent a full year revising the second edition and endeavored to make it as comprehensive, understandable, and hands-on as possible. During that same year, I was intensively studying Mark Levine’s 400-page jazz theory book. That book is definitely comprehensive, but often quite challenging, to the point of being daunting, even for advanced players.
      By the way, I am currently listening to Victor Wooten’s book “The Music Lesson.” Both profound and also hilarious! Not really music theory in the traditional sense; It’s more the psychology of being “musical.”


  9. Hello, Craig:
    Thank you very much for your response to my question ..there is long time ,month i think..but my life was pushed aside..I will stay in touch and continue practicing ,see you soon


  10. 1. Regarding exercises involving arpeggios, inversions, or scales on saxophone: When using movable DO, should I think of each tonality as if it were C Major? For example, when I play in E major, do I think, “DO RE MI FA SO LA TI DO”? Is it as if there were only one Major scale on each starting key? This is a revelation for me!
    2. How is the plan to manage and remember the gap between two notes like in “BLUE MONK,” the gap between the last note of the bar 4 and the first note in bar 5? It is a 5th, but if I say Re LA, as in Do movable, it does not give me the sense of a 5th interval.
    3. “On Green Dolphin Street,” what syllables would you put on this melody?
    For the first two lines I have this, right? First line: C C Ti La So Té or C C Ti La So and new key of Bb: C Second line: A A Lé F Ra SO? or A A and new key of Ab) C A F, and new key of C C
    4. And another question about “Mohawk ” from Charlie Parker Can you Show me how you put the syllables on this song?
    5. In the case of blues do I consider each dominant chord as a Myxolidian chord to put the syllables? In II- V7 progressions without the I Major chord like: C-7 F7 / A-7 D7 / Bb-7 Eb7 / D-7 G7 / CM7, Or: F#-7 B7/ E-7 A7/ D-7 G7 / CM7 Should I consider in each measure the Mixolydian or Ionian mode to use syllables?
    6. And also I am lost when I want to put syllables on Cherokee
    7. and Moment’s Notice, can you help me?
    Thank you a lot Craig!


  11. Hi Craig
    Thank you for responding to all of my questions!
    Does your explanation mean I must play and study all twelve major scales naming in my mind just one set of syllables “DO, RE, MI, FA, SO, LA, TI, DO”? I learned the “Fixed DO” system. For example, when I am playing in E Major, I have been taught to think: “mi, fa#, sol#, la , si, do#, ré# mi.”
    Are you telling me that – when in the key of E Major – I should instead be thinking: “DO, RE, MI, FA, SO, LA, TI, DO” mentally ?
    This point was not clear for me and it is important point, because it can change the way i think and open a new world.
    I was trained with fixed DO, but I don’t have absolute pitch. And i can understand the limitation (for me ) of this “fixed” system compared to DO movable as you teach it.


    1. Thank you for bringing this point up, Pascal.
      This also is an extremely important question you have asked.
      My teacher was the great Al Learned, founder of Westlake College of Music in Los Angeles. He said, “Fixed DO is useless. We really need to use “Movable DO.” Here’s why:
      Your brain is like a file cabinet. If you just throw papers into the cabinet, you cannot find them later. So you put each paper in a folder. Each folder has a label describing its contents. You put the paper in the folder that has the label describing what is on the paper. That way, it is very easy to find what you are looking for.
      In the same way, your brain stores sounds…the way they sound and the way they make you FEEL. You need to give that feeling a name, so you can identify it. That’s what playing by ear is all about.
      One person in 10,000 is born with “perfect pitch.” If you play a note, a perfect pitch person will tell you, “You just played a C#” (or whatever the note is). For the rest of us, we must develop “relative pitch.” That means we hear the note in RELATION to the harmonic context surrounding it. That note makes you feel a certain way because of the CONTEXT, the harmonies surrounding it. If you play the arpeggios D-F#-A-C-F# and G-B-D-G, I cannot tell you what NOTES you are playing. But I CAN tell you that the chords are SO-TI-RE-FA-TI, DO-MI-SO-DO. (This is “Exercise One” in your “New Ears Resolution” book and CD titled “TI-DO”.) You learn to hear TI DO…what it sounds like and what it feels like. Then you can play it in ANY key. Then, when someone asks you to play a familiar song like “Happy Birthday,” you know that the melody is: SO SO LA SO DO TI, SO SO LA SO RE DO. and you can play the song in any key. Does that make sense?


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