Treble clef, bass clef, chords and musical notes, oh my! For any beginner new to music, the clefs and other music theory notations may seem hard to learn or very confusing.  

Don’t fret, though, you won’t need to learn music theory to play the piano 

There are a few ways in which you can easily play your favorite tune on the piano without music theory.  All it takes is a little practice, your ears, and a piano. 

What is basic music theory? 

 We can divide music theory into three parts, with the first being the most essential. First, it is learning the various notations such as time signatures, the different notes, the key signatures and more. Second, it is the study of various musical compositions and their history. The third is where aspects of music are defined and the underlying music principles more thoroughly examined. 

What is the purpose of music theory? Basic music theory, in the case of the piano, is merely learning the treble clef, notes and their lengths, time signatures; tempo in which to play a piece of music, how loud or quiet to play a particular part, and the various symbols used throughout the piece of music.  


Do I need to learn music theory to play the piano?

You do not need to learn music theory to play the piano. Many people, both young and old, can learn the piano without needing to learn music theory. Music theory is just one part of learning how to play music, but it is not essential to any beginning hobbyist.

In fact, the most common method of learning the piano without music theory is to play piano by ear. Playing by ear is not the best method, however, as you won’t understand the notes behind your melodies. To play music by ear essentially means you play the instrument, the piano, to the sounds or tune you hear and then try to replicate that sound or tune with the instrument. This won’t teach you the basic chords and keys, and it won’t help you understand how to play the song properly. Many keys can sound alike, especially to a beginner, so it’s important to learn the keys and chords involved in a song.  

Famous people who played music without relying on music theory 

Many people may tell you to learn music theory for one reason or another.  Afterward, you are probably asking yourself, “Do I need to learn music theory to play the piano?” You’re in luck! Many famous people never knew music theory in the beginning, or at all, during their music careers.   

A few impressive examples are:  

  • The Beatles
    Specifically, John Lennon and Paul McCartney did not know music theory or knew very little of it.
  • Jimi Hendrix
    Even though he is a guitarist, Jimi Hendrix never knew music theory and still went on to become one of the most well-known guitarists of his era.
  • Danny Elfman
    This composer of many of Tim Burton’s and other films was once even in a rock band of his own.  

There are more people than just these three examples. So, the next time someone tells you about needing music theory to play the piano well, you can tell them all about these great people and their successful careers playing music without music theory.   

When do I need to learn music theory to play the piano?

The only time you may need to learn music theory is if you want to understand why you are playing in a particular manner. Another reason you may have for needing music theory is to have a better understanding of the style of the music you are attempting to perform or to read a piece of music that lacks an example audio. When you want to discover how to learn piano fast, though, sometimes ignorance of music theory is bliss.  

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