What Would You Play If You Had No Sheet Music – or couldn’t even read music

I have taught for well over ten years private students, groups of college students and groups of children, mixed ages and adults.  It is amazing how much the books can’t “possibly” say or explain.  When I have the opportunity to teach piano, I make sure I make music accessible to everyone and I do this by teaching music first and that happens to involve teaching piano technique along the way.


When a student learns conventionally, that is, he or she learns to read and learns what their fingers are called and so forth, I want them to realize that the music truly comes from within, even if the original notes are stored on a piece of paper, in the form of sheet music.


To share this realization, I ask the student if he or she ever plays without the music.  A natural reply might be, “Sure, I learn the piece until I don’t need to look at the music.”  However, what I’m getting at, is “What would you play if you didn’t have any sheet music in front of you and you could just make up anything.”  Chances are good that this will bring a blank and/or scared stare to the pupil.  I reassure the student, “you are seeing a bunch of black and white keys, aren’t you?”  They will likely answer, “yes.”  I tell them, “music is not the keys.  The keys help you deliver the idea that is in your head and in your heart.  If nothing else, think of a rhythm and direction to your musical idea.  Then play that as closely as you can.”  Voila, a musical idea springs to life.


Even if you don’t know how to play, you can play.

Doug Hare
Piano Player, Singer, Teacher and Songwriter



  1. Doug,

    Great observations! I think this is partially caused by the state of our education system. I’ve observed that my son and his friends are being taught to pass the test and nothing more. Creativity and individualism are discouraged.

    Thanks for encouraging our son to be creative!

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