This literature review examines current thoughts, practices, and research on playing by ear, defined here as performance from memory of pre-existing music that was learned aurally without the aid of notation, without the visual stimulus of watching a live instrumental model, and without verbal hints such as being told the solfege. Research has investigated skill development with and without specific training, the correlation of skills with music reading and other variables, and the effects of play-by-ear instruction. There exists more research on learning by rote than learning by ear, and extant research is difficult to interpret because treatment protocols frequently involved a mix of instructional activities. Nonetheless, the literature to date supports the importance and efficacy of aural-based instructional activities, including learning by ear. The literature review concludes with a discussion of teacher concerns, potential resolutions, and suggestions for future research, which might include surveys of current practices, documented strategies for learning and teaching, longitudinal studies, and investigations that more clearly delineate the effects of learning by ear.

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