Introducing the World’s Shortest Professional Pianist

Byvu lita

Jul 15, 2023
Jon Michael Ogletree lives in a world not easy to navigate for someone his size. On top of that, he’s chosen to make a career out of playing an instrument that isn’t built for someone his size either: the piano.

The Alabama-born musician is 3 feet 8 inches tall and was born with dwarfism, a condition that affects around 1 in 15,000-1 in 40,000 people across the world. And despite the obvious challenges that come with navigating the piano-playing world as a ‘little person’, as Jon Michael calls himself, he says his circumstances have given him opportunities and blessings aplenty.

“I knew I would be playing [the piano] my entire life,” he says, “but I never imagined I would have the opportunities that I’ve had. The digital age has thrusted me in front of a world-wide audience, and I have been blessed to play for so many cool people.”

Jon Michael has been playing the piano since the age of 3, but the likelihood of becoming a professional pianist looked bleak for a long time. He had major back and neck surgery at 16 years old to correct 88 degrees of Scoliosis and 66 degrees of Kyphosis. The surgery ultimately saved his life.

“Had my scoliosis continued to progress, my organs would have slowly been crushed, giving me a life expectancy of just 25 without surgery.”


Jon Michael as a youngster


Technological advancements in the 21st century have been a huge help for his mobility as well. The existence of things like segways, electric wheelchairs and even razor scooters has made day-to-day navigation a little easier.



He’s now 38 and holds the title of The Shortest Professional Pianist in the World.

“I had a crazy idea of reaching out to the Guinness Book of World Records to apply for the Shortest Professional Pianist in the World. After they researched for 13 months, they determined that there was a shorter professional pianist who was a few inches shorter than me, but was no longer living. So I asked if I could we could add the word ‘livin’” to the title, and they said that it was too specific to officially register.

“I am the height of an average 4-year-old, and it would be very difficult for any 4-year-old to be a professional pianist. I have a rare form of dwarfism, making me even shorter than the average little person. So the likelihood of there being someone shorter than me is very rare. I am extremely involved in LPA (Little People of America) and of all the registered members, I have not encountered a professional pianist shorter than I am.

Watch ‘The Sight of Sound (Mini Documentary)’


“I do have an outstanding application for an official Guinness title of The Shortest Professional Harmonica Player in the world, as I play harmonica too!”

As a 3’8 pianist who plays a full-sized piano, there are of course a fair few adjustments that Jon Michael has had to make in order to adapt.

“[When] taking piano lessons I could not reach the pedals. So I played it like a harpsichord or organ, sustaining the notes by leaving my fingers on them as long as possible. It wasn’t until I dropped piano lessons and switched to playing entirely by ear that my parents found a pedal extension in a magazine. That device single-handedly unlocked so much in my progress.”


A pedal extension similar to the one Jon Michael’s parents bought him


“The pedals are the only modification that I’ve made, although I do sometimes need to adjust which seat I’m in, as the keys sometimes can by eye level with me, which is not ideal.”

Along with adapting his keyboard with the pedal modification, his size does also give him a unique playing style.

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“Since I sustained my notes for so long without pedals, I still do that, but I also use the pedals, creating somewhat of an “over sustained” sound,” he explains.

“Additionally, I don’t use a lot of large chords. I stick to ranges that are comfortable for me to reach, which is a fifth. It’s rare to hear advanced piano arrangements with such small ranges in the right hand.

“Finally, my left hand has to do the work of two hands, and the way I accomplish that is a lot of hand-eye coordination. I can strike a low bass note and pop back up in milliseconds to help my right hand with notes that are out of reach. Visually, this is very noticeable, and my community on Twitch calls it a ‘Ninja Strike.’ When my hand is up above the keys, I can strike any note I want with pinpoint accuracy.”


“It’s so cool to be involved in the little people community to inspire young musicians who may be easily discouraged from pursuing their dreams, as there are so many unique challenges to overcome.”


We have the ‘ninja strike’, but we also have the ‘catapult’!

To get from one end of the piano to another in a short amount of time, Jon Michael has to – like it says on the tin – literally catapult himself up the piano. Watch below as he explains exactly how that works. It’s a fascinating technique.

There is a sense with Jon Michael that, despite being born with a condition that holds him back in a lot of ways, he was perhaps always destined to be a pianist. The American was born not just with the more common type of dwarfism that many of us know about, but with a rare form called Spondyloepiphyseal Dysplasia. SED affects approximately 1 in 100,000 people globally. It is a rare form of dwarfism that has actually partly contributed to him being able to play the piano.

“Many little people are unable to make a fist, have a lot of pain in the joints of their fingers or simply have hands that are incredibly small, all of which would prohibit one from being a professional pianist.” SED doesn’t affect Jon Michael’s fists in the same way other types of dwarfism affect other people’s fists. This has allowed the American to be able to play the piano.


“I knew I would be playing [the piano] my entire life.”


If that wasn’t a big enough sign that he was destined to be a pianist, he also has synaesthesia.

“I was on America’s Got Talent Season 12 (which wasn’t televised), and it was in the audition process that a producer identified my gift and called it Synesthesia. I had never heard this term before, and upon researching it, it put into words perfectly how I listen to music.

Synesthesia essentially means that something meant to be consumed by one sense is consumed by a different sense. So in my case, music is not only heard, but it is seen. I see the musical notes in my head, with numerical values attached to each note. This makes playing a song right after hearing it very natural, as it feels like I’m able to break it down and play it almost immediately on the piano.”

As someone who is representing the little person community in the piano world, it is naturally important to Jon Michael that he gives back and helps encourage others to also take up the piano. This summer, he’ll be playing at the Little People of America National Convention in Austin, Texas.

“It’s so cool to be involved in the little people community to inspire young musicians who may be easily discouraged from pursuing their dreams, as there are so many unique challenges to overcome.”

He’s also in the process of setting up his own organisation, Sycamore Trees; the aim being to ‘Equip the Small, Educate the Tall and Encourage All.’ Details are still being sorted out, but the project should be off the ground in 2024.

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