Do I Need To Be Able To Read Music To Play Piano

For many people the first thing the ask when faced with a set of piano keys is ‘do I need to read music to play piano?’

The short answer is no, you don’t.

This will probably come as a relief to most people,


Do I need to read music to play the piano?


There are a large number of ways that you can start to learn how to play the piano…

  1. Learn the keys and memorise patterns – playing piano for beginners is a case of playing patterns in different orders. Chords are patterns, just as tunes are.
  2. By ear – if you can go up and down the keys, one by one, you can start to put together simple tunes like ‘twinkle twinkle little star’ simply by ear. Isn’t that impressive, when you start to play a tune from nowhere!
  3. From tutorials – nowadays there are more tutorials than ever on the internet and and some especially good ones on youtube. Whilst watching a tutorial is never going to be as supportive to your learning as having a piano teacher sitting next to you; learning piano from a tutorial and demonstration is a perfectly good way to put together some basics quickly.
  4. By using the equivalent of ‘guitar tab’ written music fr piano. This type of written music means you do not need to know how to read music and you simply copy the patterns that are written in the piano tab.
  5. If you already play another instrument, learning the piano will probably be something you will dabble with at some point. If you can read in a clef, whether treble, alto or bass, you can quickly take notes and transcribe any written music into something that you can read and play on the piano.

What is ‘piano tab’ and how does it work? Is it like guitar tab for pianos?

Piano tab is something that has come about very recently and is effectively like a ‘cheat sheet’ way to play the piano effectively and quickly.

It takes a lot of work to transcribe a piece of music into tab for piano but when it is done, the player can simply follow the instructions and produce the tune they are are trying to play!

  • The 1, 2, 3, and 4 on the left hand column correspond to octave numbers on the piano keyboard.
  • Natural notes (white keys) are written as lowercase letters (a, b, c, etc.). Sharps are written as capital letters (e.g., D# is written as D), and flats are all written as the sharps (e.g., Bb is written as A#, which is A in “tab.”
  • Measures are separated by vertical bars (|).
  • Dashes are used to separate notes.

It is very clever and is a new kind of form of written music, suitable for beginners who do not know the first thing about reading traditional music!