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Let's return to the example of how learning a language is the same as learning music. Look carefully at the sentence in the picture above. It is a very elaborate description. Now try improvising this elaborated sentence using your own words. You will realise that you actually need to simplify the sentence to its simplest form first before you can re-improvise it with your own phrasing and vocabulary. Back when you were first learning the alphabet, you were learning a language in its simplest form first before learning more advanced stuff (words and sentences). So for music, we begin with the simplest forms of songs, which are fake sheets or lead sheets.
Fake sheets are very common today, they are available online and in bookstores. Musicians rely on fake sheets because they contain the gist of any piece of music. A fake sheet (or lead sheet) is a score sheet that consists 2 elements, the basic melody and the chords. Sometimes, song lyrics are written above the staff for vocalists' use. This basic melody and chords are what musicians rely on. With them, you can learn to improvise and build the song up. Chords are a combination of notes grouped together and are the foundation of harmony in every song. And every melody is based upon a series of chords (also known as chord progressions). If you have a firm understanding of melody and chords, playing by ear becomes much easier. Learning to play by ear starts with learning to improvise.
Improvising = Speaking.
Speaking is the best way to learn any language. When you speak, you are also listening to yourself at the same time. So the more you improvise the better you become at listening. These abilities are closely related to each other. But why do we need scores when we are supposed to play by ear? Because we do not play by memory. There are millions of songs composed from early history up till modern times today, and it is impossible to remember every single song. If we recongise a tune, we can actually 'predict' the chords in our head and play by ear without any written notes. Keep in mind that we can't possibly remember the nuances of every single song. The fake sheet is used as a reference for a musician to improvise.
So the usual question goes: "So I have to read music notes?" If you studied classical piano and are able to read notes, you have an advantage. But it certainly doesn't mean that if you cannot, you can't play the piano. Most people dislike reading music notation and we understand it is one of the primary reasons people eventually give up. Fake sheets are remarkably different and simpler as compared to traditional classical score sheets (which consist several chunks of complicated notes). Fake sheets are much easier to read . A fake sheet only shows you the fundamentals of a song, the rest is up to the improivser. Even if you dislike reading notes, you should at least have at a basic sight-reading ability. This will open up your musical field even to songs you may have never heard of.