It's no secret that having a trained ear is an important part of playing an instrument, and learning tunes by ear is a valuable skill to have. But, what about when you learn a tune from sheet music, and would like to try to step away from it a bit? Here are my tips for depending less on sheet music, and more on your own abilities!
Put it away. If you constantly have sheet music in front of you when you practice and perform, you will almost certainly be dependent on it in order to do well. Try to play through your piece or tune and then flip the sheet music over and test yourself. How far are you able to get through the music without staring at the notes on the page? Who knows... you might even surprise yourself!
Work on memorization. This may seem like an obvious point, since we are talking about playing without sheet music, but that doesn't make it any less noteworthy. The more you practice memorizing music, the easier it will become to ditch the sheet music!
Relate to scales. Most of us do not use sheet music when we play scales. What does this mean? We are playing them from memory! Pieces and tunes are just a bunch of notes from a scale all mixed up anyway, right? So if you can play a scale without sheet music, surely you can also play other music from memory.
Trust yourself. The more we practice with sheet music, the more we condition ourselves to think we NEED it in order to play anything. Trust that you know the tune you have learned. If you have practiced efficiently, your brain and muscles will remember the music and you will be able to rely on it less and less.
BONUS TIP: The more you come away from the music, the more you allow yourself to play with a sense of freedom and will not feel limited by the sheet music. In fiddle and alternative styles, if you are constantly glued to the sheet music, you will likely not allow yourself to be playful with the music by adding anything additional or improvising things that are not written. In classical music, having pieces memorized and being able to play without sheet music allows you freedom as well, in the sense that you can go beyond the notes and rhythms and implement your own musicality and expression, for a more moving interpretation and performance.
I hope that you can use these tips to wean yourself off of sheet music little by little. If you'd like to see my video where I discuss this topic, you can check it out here.