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Is it possible to learn piano without being able to read sheet music?


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I love music. I can sing, and have done so since early childhood. I’m 100% music illiterate, though. If you play a song for me once, I’ll sing it right back to you on-key every time, but I can’t tell you what the notes are called, or anything like that. https://youtu.be/qEOg3-F6F30





I’ve a tendency to notice little things, like when the compressor for the air conditioner kicks on, the hum is the same note as the first note to The Simpsons theme. I can sing acapella on-key without hearing a starter note (there’s likely a technical term for that note, but idk).



Sheet music just looks like a series of meaningless dots with sticks on lines to me.



I’ve always been too intimidated to ever try instruments because I can’t read music. I’m also quite lanky/uncoordinated. My doctor looked at my hand s and said I have arachnodactyly - piano fingers! everyone exclaims- but it’s never been of any use to me. I’m the sort of person who punches herself in the face when she sneezes.




Anyway - I had access to a keyboard the other day, and surprised myself by learning about 10 different songs by ear alone over only a couple of hours. Not anything special, but a pleasant little self-discovery (especially in my thirties).



All kid stuff. One handed, bad technique, but I always knew the right notes the second I pressed the keys.



Here’s an example of what I learned to do that day:

(It’s the theme from an old Disney show, Gummi Bears - Original is here to compare:


I’m very excited about this. Can I learn to play proficiently without ever reading music? Just for personal enrichment, not anything professional. If not, what’s a good place to start learning theory? And 2 handed playing? I should note I don’t have much in the way of income due to chronic medical issues, so cost-friendly routes are the only paths i’m able to explore.


I don’t know enough about piano playing or musical terms to even know what other questions i may need to ask, I’m just groping around in the dark, here.


Any advice is appreciated.

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yes, there are plenty of people who play guitar, bass, keys, trumpet, saxophone etc by ear.

I did [guitar, bass and piano], but my curiosity got the better of me after a couple of years, so I learned to read and write notation.

That said, learning to read music isn't really that hard, and as you apparently have a good sense of pitch, I would venture that you would grasp the basics very quickly as to what the dots [they are notes], lines[they define pitch of the notes the dots represent] and sticks [they help define the duration of the note, relative to the beat].

Take a beginner's music class!

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yes' date=' quite possible, ask paul of the beatle swhether he reads or writes[/quote']


Both John Lennon and Paul McCartney never learned to read music, and while George Martin (who was classically trained) did play many of the more technically challenging piano parts on their records, both John and Paul played quite a bit of the keyboard parts on Beatles records too.


Yes, you can learn to play by ear... but as others have said, learning to read music isn't really all that hard. It wasn't until I learned the names of the musical notes that I was able to identify "by name" what I've been able to hear naturally since childhood (like the pitch of your A/C hum that you equate to the first note of the Simpson's theme - which BTW, is a "C" note) - like you, I could recall the correct "starting pitch" for any song at will - something that's known as perfect or absolute pitch - a very useful skill for a musician to have, and one that makes learning to play "by ear" much easier. But even with that natural ability, I still recommend learning how to read music. Having both skills is far more useful than having either one alone, and learning the language of music - how to read standard notation - allows you to more easily communicate with other musicians, or read the things they've previously written down.


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Can I learn to play proficiently without ever reading music? Just for personal enrichment' date=' not anything professional. [/quote']


Totally! :) History is full of awesome musicians who went professional without training or theoretical music knowledge. Even the possibly most theoretically challenging genre of jazz abounds with self-taught musicians.


From what you tell us, you definitely have some talent to start with, but most importantly you seem to have the passion. My recommendation is that you just follow what makes you excited, because doing what you love will certainly help you learn. Maybe later on you'll also start being curious about why some things sound better than others in music, and this will lead you to wanting to check out some musical theory, but until then you shouldn't worry about it :) Similarly, reading sheet music is required only for professionals, for everyone else it's of course a very useful tool, but do not make it a barrier for you: if one day you'll feel like you really want to play from a written score, that will be the day when your motivation will help you learn it.


If not' date=' what’s a good place to start learning theory? And 2 handed playing? I should note I don’t have much in the way of income due to chronic medical issues, so cost-friendly routes are the only paths i’m able to explore.[/quote']


Music theory and piano lessons are available everywhere on the web for free. Just take a look around and see if anything interests you, but again do not feel like you have to. If you have access to public libraries, you can also check what they have. You do not need to buy anything.


The only thing you need to buy is of course a piano or keyboard :) Please do yourself a big favor and don't listen to people who will tell you that you need something better / more expensive. There are always cheap options that suits beginners well enough. I don't know where you live, but for example in the UK it's fairly easy to find second-hand pianos for a few hundred pounds, and sometimes they are even given away for free (tho usually you'll still have to pay at least a hundred or so for the transportation of it). Naturally, they won't be a Steinway :) but who cares? You don't need one!


For this purpose, I suggest you to try and spread the word among your friends and acquaintances that you're looking for a piano or keyboard but you can afford very little. Second-hand instruments are better for you at this stage, there is always someone who has unused old instruments and no time to play them anymore, and they may be willing to sell them for peanuts or give them away (or if not, you can also ask if you could just borrow them for a while).

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