older couple at piano laughing

You Don’t Have to Read Music to Play Piano!

Being a good note reader is not a requirement to becoming a good piano player.

If you want to become a concert pianist and play concerts with symphony orchestras for a living, you probably need to learn how to read music. But assuming your interest lies instead in playing just about any and every other style, be it pop, jazz, blues, country, gospel, etc. for purely recreational reasons, you do not.

Music is what you listen to, not what you read. Sheet music is simply a recording device.

How do you notate accurately the incredible swing feel of Oscar Peterson’s melodic lines while improvising, or the great, funky syncopation of great New Orleans Style players like Dr. John?  The answer is: you can’t.  The “words” simply don’t exist in the language of traditional music notation. The fact is, for non-classical styles of music, even if you become a good notation reader, traditional sheet music will not give you the information you need to play the style correctly due to the lack of “words” in traditional notation to describe non-classical techniques. Let there be no mistake, notation is an incredible aid in telling you what notes to play. It just can’t tell you how to play them.

Don’t forget the ultimate goal, is to become a good player, not a good reader. I have found lead sheets to be a great way to get the majority of people to a point where they can have fun right away.

3 Comments
  • Cathy Mroris
    Posted at 14:27h, 11 January Reply

    I’m having a terrible time! I find myself totally relying on the music sheet. I can play the right hand without looking, but I never know when to change the chords in the left hand. So, should I be just trying to memorize the songs without looking? I just can’t seem to get it together and I’m really getting frustrated. please help!

    • Hannah Derleth
      Posted at 15:34h, 12 January Reply

      Hey Cathy! This might sound a little odd, but I recommend listening to the song on YouTube several times a day— the better you know the song, the better your intuition is for when you should change chords. I’ve done this in the past and it has helped me. Good luck!

      • Cathy Mroris
        Posted at 19:06h, 16 January Reply

        Thank you Hannah! I will definitely do this. I appreciate your help.

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