Ear Training Exercises Without Accordion Sheet Music


Update: Check out the January 2021 Monthly Challenge, where where more than 30 accordion learners contributed their own ear-training exercises! 

The Problem With Accordion Sheet Music...

Students tend to rely on accordion sheet music.
Now, accordion sheet music is a good learning tool, but not a tool for performing a song.

Remember that scene in Anchorman when Ron Burgundy reads exactly what's written on the teleprompter?

Ron Burgundy and Accordion Sheet Music example

That's what performing with accordion sheet music is like.
Robotic, as written, with little room for variation or emotion.

You can get really good at playing accordion sheet music, but do you find that:

  • You can't take your eyes off the sheet music for more than a moment?
  • Your playing sounds a little robotic?
  • The piece doesn't  feel like it's your own?
  • If someone asks you to play a song by memory, you freeze up?

If you said yes to any of these, then I have a solution for you. It begins with training your ear.

Training Your Ear

Ear training exercises familiarize your body to common musical phrases through short playback exercises. I say “body” because your ears, as well as your fingers, become familiar with your instrument.

When I hear a musical phrase going up a few tones, what do my fingers do? They go up the keyboard a few times. When I hear three notes being played quickly, what must my fingers do? They play three notes quickly.

Ready To Unleash Your Inner Maestro?

Explore our jam-packed membership designed to revolutionize the way you learn, empowering you to become a truly exceptional accordionist.

Ear training is a process that improves the more you do it.
It’s a skill, and like other skills, it takes time to become proficient at it.

The lucky thing is, you can do ear training exercises on your own. They’re easy, fun, and fast.

You perform ear training exercises along with your traditional exercises in your 15 minutes of practice: Scales, triads, and arpeggios.

Once you are able to play back simple musical phrases, you’ll play back more difficult ones.

After doing these exercises for a period of time, you’ll find yourself being able to play longer musical phrases correctly, without having to rely on accordion sheet music. Hear a song on the radio? You’ll be able to play it on your instrument.

Couple that with song forms, and you can play back songs whenever you hear them.

Are you saying we don’t need accordion sheet music?

Sheet music is written for classical music and complex pieces

It’s written for learning exact notes with others, or passages that have to be played exactly like this.

The popular music we hear today, and for the last 100 years, are not classical pieces. They are predictable and repetitive and you can most likely sing them in your head if you heard them enough.

What does that mean?

“It means you don't have to rely on sheet music to play popular songs.”

In fact, I’ll argue that learning these songs through accordion sheet music will slow your learning process down. 

Learning the songs by understanding the principles behind them will make the song your own. You’ll play it with more emotion. You’ll play it with your eyes up, instead of down. Even better, your song recall - being able to remember the song months from now - will improve.

There is still room for sheet music, for particularly difficult pieces, or to be used as a guide. But not for performance.

I’m in! How do I train my ear to play without sheet music?

Below you’ll find simple ear training exercises. Listen to each one - I play the same phrase twice - then play back what you heard. 

File No.

Playback Exercise










Update: Check out the January 2021 Monthly Challenge, where where more than 30 accordion learners contributed their own ear-training exercises! 

Were those accordion exercises too easy?

I’ve recorded some ear training exercises - 14 of them! There are some tough ones in there, too. Click the button below to access them.

What did you think? What was easy about these exercises? What did you find difficult? Leave a comment below and let me know.

And what about the Christmas concert?

Ken and I figured it out. He plays off the sheet music, and I'll play along to him. Less improv on his part, while I get to play around with harmonies and ornaments. It  works! I'll post a video of our next practice.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked

  1. Awesome, Christina. Glad you’re finding them useful. Would love to know if you find them easy or hard. Thanks!

  2. Hi Ronen,
    Thanks for the exercises and the post. Good stuff. I’m still a beginner, have been playing since February, but I have a decent ear. These were fairly easy for me. Usually got it within two tries. The last one was a bit tougher

      1. I played trombone in HS and college, and have been a singer for most of my life. I did musical theater for years, and learn most of my vocal music with a combination of basic music reading skills, and using my ear.

  3. Just tried the first of those practice tunes .. sounded familiar, an old gospel jingle: it’s me it’s me it’s me o Lord, standing in the need of prayer. Thanks for all your help .

    1. Oh, that’s interesting. Which tune is that, Bill? Glad you recognized the tune. How are you finding the exercises? Too easy? Too hard? Just right?

  4. I have NO EAR for music so can only read from when I took organ lessons 60 years ago. I just want to learn and memorize a few tunes on my little 8 chord accordion. I was hoping to get from you some sheet music to play Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen) and Ode to Joy so I can play along in a family musical. Can you provide me with this sheet music? Thank you?

  5. Hi Ronen,
    Bruce here from St Louis.
    I’ve never logged on to AL on my iPhone before. Either I haven’t found all this stuff on my desktop or it isn’t there, but what you have here looks like the mother lode.
    After a hiatus from accordion for several months, I was (willingly) drawn back thanks to Sunday live streams.
    So spent yesterday on listening and Anniversary Waltz. Wished there were more listening exercises. Voila! Thanks for all!

  6. Your stuff is so interesting! It opens my eyes ( I’m a 74 year old granny!). My brother and I are both considered ‘musical’. I envy him and he envies me. This is because I am classically trained and he plays by ‘ear’ ( although he has had a few lessons).

    We laugh and say that if we could combine the two talents we would be awesome! Although we did get together for my mums funeral .He played a soulful harmonica and guitar and I played keyboard.

    I play church organ ( which is fabulous for pulling all the stops out and letting rip) Iam an associate of the London College of Music, play Mediocre flute and guitar. Mum was the accordion player ( by ear) so I just messed around with it. My brother can just pick it up and play …….I need music!!!! So there, you can see how your thinking resonates with me. I also picked up the wrong fingering!………but……..now I have your lessons and advice it’s going to be an interesting adventure to see if I can improve……so hard to change bad habits of a lifetime……but I’ll have a go!!!😂

  7. I really appreciate the structure and clarity of the lessons. I feel like they build skill on skill. Thank you.

  8. I’m so glad to have found you! I am a recently retired gramma wanting to improve on years of playing accordion. I am that person you describe on your site. The one who freezes up when asked to play something without the music. I draw a complete blank. I am lost if I glance away from my music for even a second! I like to try and play in jam sessions but find that difficult because after all the years of just reading dots, I never really learned chords well. I am going to try to free myself from sheet music with your help. Thank you for teaching us to be free!

    1. I can say just the same as you. About m y self. I am good reader on sheet music but not good by hearing and playing . I really get blanc and very scared.
      Thanks for share.

  9. No, that was very far from too easy. Rhythm was easier than pitch, particularly the starting pitch. Finding the starting pitch wasn’t easy. The intervals after that were very difficult from no 3 onwards.
    I’ve been tied to the dots for ever and find comfort in it. I’m Dip Mus qualified and for both piano and recorder grade exams failed through all the Associated Board grades at aural tests quite spectacularly. I’m under no allusion, but am trying.

    Best regards

  10. I enjoyed this exercise. It was fairly easy at first but for me the longer ones forced me to really hear the notes. I did the extra 14 ones also. I have been relearning the accordion as a mature adult since August 2020. I find the sound beautiful.

  11. I admit I was 'paper trained' during my 3 years of piano instruction as a young child.. My mother was a piano teacher for 50 years. She always told me "you either can play by ear or not". And since I couldn't just sit at the piano and play a rich embellished piece at will, I assumed I was under the 'or not' category. That is until I boldly taught myself to play accordion the age of 50. Not being able to find a local Cajun, Zydeco, blues accordion teacher (this was pre-zoom and internet) I had no choice but to try to learn from records. With each song I figured out my confidence grew. I'm completely self taught and only play by ear. And actually good enough to play professionally. Who knew??!!! Thank you Ronen for busting this myth my dear mom ascribed to. I know she's looking down saying "well good for you"! You're a wonderful insouring teacher. I'm enjoying my accordion even more after finding you and your community. Aren't we the lucky ones 😁 🎶

  12. Thank you for the exercises! It is very interesting challenge to repeat by ear. These ones were easy. The first of the next 14 ones was a little bit difficult but I solved it. 🙂

  13. The first playback exercises 1-9 were easy to follow, although i found a couple in the following 14 exercises a bit more difficult and had to listen over and over, i found this overall very good and will definitely help me. Thank you.

  14. Thank you Ronen, excellent exercises. it takes several attempts to get it. i can the difference put high and low is harder to distinguish. however once i get it i know it.

  15. Ronen, I also was paper trained as a child. I love the accordion and am jealous of anyone who can pick it up and enjoy it with others! You are the VERY FIRST teacher I have had that emphasizes ear training. I am now a hopeful 70 year old, that I will be able to play like my heart wants to! You are so right–sheet music paralyzes you as a musician. If you lose your place, ugh, what an embarassment. You are THE BEST! My only problem now, is trying to absorb everything at once! I feel like a kid in a candy store, where to begin? I’ve only been truly trying for a couple of days, even though I have been on your class role since February. I just liked your style, but until I looked intently at your content, I had no idea I could do this. I was thinking it was another sheet music teacher, Was I wrong! Just one question, are you Moshe or Ronen? I see 2 different names on YouTube? Maybe you have a twin? Just kidding! Different last names. 🙂
    Vicki in Pittsburgh
    Annndddd I love all types of music, but hoping to play a really good polka one of these days. And some Cajun, and some Irish, the list goes on! Hopefully our LORD lets me live a bit longer. 😉

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}