Reading Vs Listening to Learn Piano

I have hacked around on a piano for a few years, mainly learning a few chords and "faking" it a bit but I am at a point where I am stuck and would love to learn more.

Despite protests from traditionally trained pianists and their teachers, I unfortunately do not have the time, patience or inclination to really learn to read music.

Curiously, whenever I have been really moved and inspired by someone playing the piano (most recently by a customer in the piano department at Harrods in London)it seems they RARELY know how to read music but will say things like:

"Oh I just picked it up" (?!?!)


"I had a couple of lessons as a kid, but then I just started to PLAY"

With no disrespect to anyone who can sight read Chopin, obviously an amazing skill, that to me seems to be a more technical and analytical exercise.

Musicianship, in my opinion, is ultimately more spiritual and inspirational, than it is technical.

I have had this discussion with one friend who I think can "play" from both parts of his brain, although his intution seems to emerge more on the guitar than the piano.

Despite my protests and references to Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles, he basically said I just didnt "get it."

So two questions please:

1) Do any of you have experience, thoughts on the subject of intuition and improvisation vs reading music, especially for piano, and

2) If anyone would encourage me down that spiritual, intuitive path, what jazz, blues, and/or gospel music would you suggest I listen to, in order to just "pick it up" as mentioned above.

Thank you.
LOL...this reminded me of something that happened to me when I was taking lessons.

Improvising comes very easy to me. Unfortunately, it became a problem when I was trying to learn "the classics."

I was working on "Rhapsody in Blue" and I got to a part that I just couldn't get; partly because it was difficult, and partly because my fingers weren't long enough to do what was written.

So, I just sort of "fudged" my way through the section. My piano teacher didn't say a wrod until I'd finished. Then she said, "That was lovely. Now would you mind trying to play it, this time as it's written?"

My other piano teacher was very big on improvisation. He said that just playing notes on a page is like taking dictation. We'd have lessons where there was no music at all...I'd say, "Hey, I want to learn (song)," and he'd say, "Great!" It was all playing "by ear," I'd guess you could call it.

My suggestion would be for you to try with a particular type of music you enjoy; "pop" tunes would be easiest, I guess. Don't try with things that are really difficult. Do you know all the different chords? Try adding to the chords, like make a 7th a 9th. Fiddle around with the melody. It's a lot of trial and error, at first. Once you get comfortable with it, you'll start to know right away where something will work and where it won't.

I hope this made sense!
I have studied classical piano for 14 years, starting at the tender age of 37 (do the math!). I always wanted to play Jazz, but wanted to learn great technique first. Now I still struggle to find the time for lessons and practice, but without lessons to give you a good foundation (and to make sure you practice!), its hard to be good. Either way you will have to spend at least 30 minutes daily to be able to play. Less than that and most people would not be satisfied with the result. I love playing Classical but wish I had learned more Jazz and improvisation. I am considering switching to a Jazz oriented teacher. I have bought books of Jazz music and I think you can at least get started with some pieces that way. Listening repeatedly to pieces you like and emulating them is one way. Listening to players like Chick Corea and Bruce Hornsby is depressing, because they are so good. Slower pieces that you like are easier to follow. Just a few ideas for you.... I believe that music is the most important part of my life and making it in any way is satisfying, as is listening to reproduced music. I do encourage you to give a good try, at least six months. No matter what happens, you will be better for it. If you would like to discuss it further, drop me a line. Best of luck!
First of all you have to be musically gifted in order to be able picking "something up". Then, still, you need technical skills to put down to a keyboard what you just heard. If you can play a tune after having heard it just once or twice you're definitely in the position to go further.
I would recomend to "invent" own stuff as well, for a start, to find out if you have the skills at all - and, after all, see a teacher. I had good results with adults not being able to read music but trying to "hear-copy" first, then later getting experienced in that "technique". A last thing: I doubt that you get the right chords without any idea of the basics here.
Good luck!
Two books that might interest you are these:

The Pianist's Problems,Newmann

Guided Sight Reading,Deutch(I know,but it is a fine explanation of a sight reading approach for beginners.)

A few years back,I took a jazz history survey course and had to do a paper for the grad credit. I did a biographical sketch of Charles Mingus.

Mingus was a cellist and if he could learn to play string bass,he could get paying work in roadhouses in Southern California. He got a bass and played along with a radio for about three weeks-getting good enough to play semi-pro bass. The rest is history.

It seems to me that if you can learn what you hear,you could play recordings of music you'd like to learn,and play along with them.
Do you remember how you learned to read? Someone,probably a relative, read to you for a half hour a day,while you looked at the book,untill one day,it made sense. No one tried to explain the rules of grammar to you first.

If you ever change your mind and want to learn to read music,DON'T DON'T get caught up in "The lines are every good boy does fine;the spaces are FACE". Get a recording of the JS Bach two part inventions,and the music. Listen to the inventions and watch the music. Do that every day for a year and you might be suprised how much music notation skill you pick up.(Then do the three part inventions;then the Well Tempered Clavier.)

If that approach works for you, pick a piece of music you want to learn,watch the notation,listen to the recording,and play along. Then play and watch the music;then play it from memory.

Now that sounds great! Thank you for the suggestion.

For the one or two music lessons that I obviously did not stick with, "Put Put Goes the Little Steamboat" somehow did not fill me with inspiration as an adult.

I still find it curious that so many people seem to think reading is essential.

Again, how do we explain Stevie Wonder?

And could anyone please suggest a similar exercise to Pragmatists suggestion for the Bach inventions, but in a blues or jazz form?
I'm pretty sure Stevie Wonder can read music (braille) and even B.B. King has a music degree, something he does not like to advertise. Sight reading/playing and being able to read are two very different things (and sight reading itself is a subjective term) and depending where you want to end up is how important reading will be. Developing a good ear (and techincal skills) is most important as being able to hear whats going on with the musicians your playing with (or playing along to) is what what it's about especially if you are looking at going down the jazz path but either way you need to have an idea of what you are doing. This leads to theory, if you really want to progress you must have an idea of what it is you are doing and learning to read is not really neccessary in learning your theory but it being able to read the notes of a scale you wish to play.

The adavantages of beig able to read are that the more songs you learn the harder (impossible for me) it is to remember the chord progressions or structures so at least learning to recognize the chords you are playing is essential for following charts. Another useful tool of being able to read is that you can look at sheet music (and hear it if your good enough) and study what the person is doing...what I mean is if you are interested in what Charlie Parker does you can see on paper what it is he is doing rather than trying to work it out while it flys by you when you are listening. Getting to a basic level of reading is not as difficult as most people think it is. I have had excellent success with teaching students to read by seperating the elements, starting with rythm first (clapping out patterns to a metranome) and waiting till they grasp that then introducing notes.
Hope this helps.
get a player piano. it's probably the best to which you might inspire.
Thanks Rockethouse to point out my view in better words. Otherwise this topic would be getting too much on the light side - to say it in a nice way.
Learning to read vs learning to read/playing piano: while there probably is some part of the brain hardwired for music in some sense, for sure the brain is hardwired for language. You learn to read because you already know the language and its rules of grammar, the basis of which are innate. Think of how many people know a language vs how many people can read vs how many people can play an instrument (percentages). Big difference. But, go for the music! Just don't underestimate the effort that will be involved. Good luck
I guess you can learn both ways. But if tou want to save some time, learn to read. Having studied violin (and piano) at the conservatory for 10 years, I can assure you that knowing how to read is a must. With time, you'll pick up new pieces very fast, and once you're familiar with the text, you'll be able to concentrate on making music and forget the partition. You must not forget that playing a musical instrument involves technical skills that take up a great part of your concentration. You can't do everything at the same time: try to place your fingers at the right place, keep the dynamics right and ask yourself if you're playing the right notes. Knowing how to read will give you the advantage of beeing able to learn a piece a lot faster. It also gives you a visual reference witch to my opinion is a lot easier to memorize than sounds in relation to one another. Try to find a teacher who is willing to give you some ear training. You won't regret it.

Good luck