A strong aural ability is essential when playing pop/rock piano - a style of music that often uses little or no written music.
Jamming is the prime example. When playing in a band, and the drummer and bassist start a groove without saying a word, and then the guitar chimes in - what do you do? It’s up to you to find the key by ear, to hear the chord progression and melodies that your band members are playing, and come up with your own, complimentary part.
It’s the subtle nuances in time, rhythm, and expression that make the difference between a good and a great pop/rock piano or keyboard player, and the best way to achieve these are through listening to lots of pop/rock music, all the time.
Chances are good that your music collection is already providing your inspiration for learning to play pop/rock piano, but how closely do you listen? Focused listening, hearing each individual musician, and especially the piano and keyboard parts, will strengthen your understanding, and will naturally have a significant impact on the subtleties in your piano and keyboard playing.
To begin developing your aural ability, try to make it a habit of:
Listening to pop/rock music everyday: Listen to your favourite bands, but also be ever on the lookout for new music. In particular, spend some time listening to pop/rock bands that feature piano or keyboards, and look for the similarities and differences between your favourite pop/rock piano and keyboard players’ styles.
Singing: Singing is the best test of how well you are listening/hearing. Sing along to both the vocals and the instrumental parts. Sing along with the bass to better hear the chord progressions. Listen carefully, and try to match your voice precisely to the pitch you hear.
Exercising you ears: Sit at your piano or keyboard as you listen to some of your favourite music. By trying a few notes, see if you can figure out what key the song you’re listening to is in. Can you figure out the main chord progressions? Try playing along.
In your pop/rock piano lessons, your pop/rock piano teacher can teach you the secrets to learning from recordings. One of the best methods is to start by learning the most general aspects of a song, and gradually progress to the details, and exact notes that the musicians are playing.
Look at the form: How many different sections are there, and how long are each of the sections.
Look at the chord progressions: What key is the song in, and how often does it change chord? How many different chords are there?
Once you know the basic framework of the song you can look at the specific parts: What exactly is the piano or keyboard doing? Are there multiple keyboard parts? What is the vocal melody? What are the guitar, bass, drums, and other instruments doing?
The better your ears are working, the more capable you will be of reacting in the moment when playing in bands, and playing expressively on your own.