• Tia Brown

How to Finally Ditch Sheet Music: The Honest Truth No One Told You

Dreaming of playing sheet music free? Want to toss chords around and “just play” like the rest of your church worship team seems to do so easily?

I learned to play both by ear and by music. Here are my personal thoughts for anyone struggling to play by ear after starting out with sheet music.

I made this for anyone who wants to play on a worship team, but I hope it’s helpful for other music goals as well!

We Need to Talk...

Do you like coffee? Go ahead and get some real quick. I’ll wait.

Please don’t freak out when I say this but…

Out of the 15 years that I have been playing "by ear," it took me 13 of those before I could actually play by ear. And I’m still not that great at it.

I’ve been using chord sheets my whole life, but that’s not the same as being able to play by ear. I was chained to pieces of paper like you are--a slightly different type, but still.

Then something just clicked. It suddenly all made sense. My fingers flew. I could identify chords and notes without any reference. I could play any song without relying heavily on sheet music.

Now that I know the secret, I’m going to share it with you. But first, there are a few things you should know… *sips coffee*

Not all of us can (or even need to) actually play by ear

Bottom line: most people on worship teams can’t really play by ear.

True, it requires some measure of “by ear.” You have to be able to use the lyrics to keep on the beat and remember how the song goes, but you already do that when you sing.

The skill is already there. You just need to learn how to use it for piano. It’s the exact same amount of “by ear” skill that singing without sheet music requires.

I know it looks like the worship team is being spontaneous, but the majority of it is just habit seasoned with a little bit of logic.

Instead of needing a separate, detailed sheet of music for every single song, they just learn ONE single way of playing music that can be applied to every single song thrown at them.

For you, that would be like playing ONLY Moonlight Sonata every day for the rest of your life, varying the key and the order of the bars now and then.

Not all that glamorous or magical. Sounds pretty boring, actually. Trust me: you have NO idea! To go from Chopin to playing the same three notes over and over like a broken record was NOT my idea of fun.

Worship team playing often does not need very much playing by ear. If the team uses numbers or chords sheets, has good communication, and plans well beforehand, then you can get by without ear skills. The rub comes in when the team is used to “just winging it” or often breaks into spontaneous. Communicate with your worship leader about your limitations and ask for help. All you really need is to be able to see it on paper.

Side note: If your church doesn’t have CCLI, they should! You’ll never sweat about where to find a chord sheet again! It even has lead sheets if you still need a sheet music version. And also, it protects your church from copyright strikes. [Not sponsored. Yet! lol]

Not all of us can “hear melodies in our head” as we play