Play It By Ear


Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? While we can’t say yes to everything we have ever wanted to do, we are never too old (or too young for that matter), to follow the path of our passion.

My brother pointed out that I am now the same age as the speed limit on Rt 128, Boston (where we grew up). 55. Wow, how did that happen?

I have so much to be grateful for and my birthday seems like the perfect day to count my blessings. For one thing I get to spend this week at Maine Fiddle Camp, an institution that welcomes music lovers of all ages, abilities and instruments.

That’s a good thing, because when I first started coming, I could barely play a tune on my little button accordion. My first accordion teacher Chris “Junior” Stevens, suggested I learn this instrument by ear, rather than by reading music. I am so glad he did.

I have long heard the expression “play it by ear”.

The original meaning was to play songs without sheet music, where you either remembered the music or improvised it. From there, it came to mean other types of making it up as you go along. (source:

There are benefits to playing by ear. For one thing, it trains you to listen closely for notes and patterns. There is magic to what happens over time. You learn faster and faster. Being able to sing, hum or whistle a tune, is a sign you are well on your way to playing it.

In my first year I could play maybe a dozen or so songs. The next year I was up to maybe 50, and I’m well over 100 tunes now.

If I lose my place in the tune, my ear is trained to find a spot to jump back in. It’s also liberating to play outside without fear the wind will blow my music away. The tunes are in my head, not  notes on a page.

Another sign that I am improving is Kathleen suggested recently that I put out a bucket when I was playing outdoors. Apparently she thinks people might put money in. A compliment in any form is still a compliment. Especially when it comes to playing the accordion.

Learning to play a squeezebox was not a life long dream of mine. It started as a crazy idea. A whim even. It has grown to become one of the things I love to do most of all.

Now it’s time to go join the band. I have found my people and they are carrying an wide assortment of instruments, parading to the kitchen in appreciation of the wonderful food we have all feasted on this week.

Ahhh yes. It’s my birthday and it’s a great life, simplified.

Bettina Blanchard

About Bettina Blanchard

It’s not what we have, it’s what we do that makes life fun. Professional organizer, business owner, radio show host, accordion player, I love to live and write about finding the balance between having and doing.