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Do I Need To Be Able To Read Music To Learn An Instrument?

September 5th, 2022 | 1 min read

By Ewan Moore

Lots of people ask us whether learning to read notes is an essential part of learning to play a musical instrument. Learning to read music can be incredibly hard for some people, and there are some out there who, for whatever reason, may find it next to impossible. 

The good news is this: You do not need to be able to read music to learn any musical instrument. Whether you're considering trumpet, piano, guitar, drums, or something else entirely - reading music is not an absolute necessity. 

It's entirely possible to learn how to play 'by ear' without ever going near sheet music, and plenty of the best outside of the classical music world spend much of their time playing and creating music this way! Paul McCartney, Jimi Hendrix, Hans Zimmer, Taylor Swift - these are just a few iconic musicians who never learned to read music, and they all did pretty damn well for themselves. 

There are, of course, some caveats. While you don't need to learn to read music to make music, it is an undeniably vital skill that we would encourage everyone to master if they can. There are also plenty of scenarios where the ability to read music is pretty much expected.

Let's look at trumpet (one of our specialities!) as a quick example. The trumpet is used in a vast array of different musical settings and genres, and many of these do require the ability to read specialised, printed or hand written trumpet music. Maybe you want to join a school orchestra, or a brass band? In these settings, you would largely be expected to be able to play by reading sheet music. 

Conversely, there are genres and styles of playing that would suit people who don't know how to read music. Rock, hip-hop, blues, and folk groups are just a few examples that mostly play by ear. Consider where you want your playing to take you!

This is why we would always recommend a blended learning scheme that includes both playing by ear and ‘reading the dots’ (learning to read music). Both are incredibly useful skills for any young musicians out there, and it pays to be as versatile as possible. 

Find Out More!

Questions? Concerns? Feel free to browse through our comprehensive learning guide, or take a look at the full range of pInstruments to see the kind of resources we offer.

And as always, please don't hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions. We're here to help! 

Ewan Moore

After seven years writing about video games, Ewan made the jump to the music instrument industry to stop his family asking when he was going to get a real job. Mostly, though, he adores music and is passionate about its vital role throughout life - especially in education. He also played guitar in several bands with deeply embarrassing names that won't be revealed here. With a degree in journalism from an NCTJ-accredited university under his belt, Ewan uses everything he learned as a writer over the last decade to help answer any questions you might have about pBone Music in an accessible (and hopefully entertaining) way. Because if you can write 1,000 words on SSDs and ray-tracing, you can explain why plastic instruments are accessible, sustainable, and fun.