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How Do Piano Players Learn New Songs w/o Sheet Music?

I don’ know about the other piano player, but we rarely use piano sheet music when we’re playing piano for hire.

I used to use all kinds of Fake Books when I first started out. But not anymore. When I want to learn a new song, I have a bunch of other ways to get the song memorized and into my repertoire. Here are only a few of the methods: 

sheet music, piano music,

Need Sheet Music?

  1. Fake Books are otherwise known as lead sheets. They resemble piano sheet music except that don’t use a full staff. There’s no trebele and bass clefs. There’s only treble clef. Only a melody and lyrics are printed. There will be a chord chart over the treble clef. Those may be in the form of a symbol like a C7 or Cm7 or something like that. Sometimes it will be a chord grid showing the frets and the fingering. That would be more for guitarists not pinao sheet music.
    There used to be fake books when I was learning playing jazz piano gigs. They just had the melody and written out chord symbols.Not so much anymore. We tend to find almost anything we need on a variety of apps or on lyric sites online.
  2. Tabs are used for guitarists mostly. As a piano player I dont have much use for them tabs. Short for tabluture, again it’s like a grid showing which fret and which fingers go where.
  3. Apps are used in force these days. I love ’em. Not only does it allow me to look up songs on the fly when someone requests an obscure hit, I can also leave all my fake books at home. I used to carry a suitcase full of tunes with me to every gig. I would every fake book I thought I might need for that particular gig and inevitably, someone would ask for something I didn’t have in my collection that particular night.Now I use OnSong.com or I go to GuitarTabs.com and download their software. It usually costs $7-10 a year. But well worth it every time.
  4. Play By Ear most times. It’s faster and since most Pop songs are all the same basic 4 chords, the only thing to get is how they phrase their lyrics. The arrangements are all pretty musch the same magic trick. If its in a minor key it will resolve to the relative major. For example, if it’s E minor then the chorus will come around to G Major. Listen to Take Me To Church by Hozier. Listen to Blank Space the new hit by Taylor Swift.If the song is G Major, the turn around or the bridge is going to start on the E minor ….. and so on and so on.That’s pretty much it for how professional piano players learn new songs without using sheet music. Fake books are fading out. Apps are the most popular. But I still rely on my ears and my experience to get a new song ready for performance.

Hope this helped.