Learning how to read piano music is a hugely important skill that every aspiring pianist should try to work on.
There are countless benefits to doing so, and while it may be a bit of a bore reading piano music at times, to get good at practically anything you’re going to have to go through some monotony at one point or another.
Reading piano music for beginners is just like learning a foreign language is at first.
You’ll need to get to grips with the different notes and symbols associated with reading sheet music, and this will give you a solid foundation in music theory to work from.
If you’re sat there wondering ‘why should I learn to read sheet music?’, then it’s time to look inwards and identify what possible motivations you could have for doing so.
For example, once you’ve mastered the basics of music sheet reading, you will be able to better collaborate with other musicians, learn new music more quickly, and feel like you are able to play with more precision.
But before any of that, you’ll probably want a brief overview of what exactly reading music notes is all about, and that’s what this guide is for.
We’re going to take a deep dive into musical notation and provide you with the basic information you need to know to get started on your music reading journey.
We’ll end by suggesting a few useful resources and places where you can take music reading lessons for further learning.
Know your notes
Before anything else, we need to establish what the key notes in play here are, and how to read them.
Even if your knowledge of reading music is minimal, you’ll surely be aware of roughly what a music sheet looks like.
They’ll be a page with a number of lines of it, and a series of large symbols and notations within those lines and spaces.
Just like learning a new language, we’re going to start by learning the alphabet, or in this case, the basic notes and symbols you’ll need to be familiar with.
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The staff isn’t so much a note or symbol as it is a structure within which all notes reside.
In layman’s terms, the staff determines the pattern of lines on a sheet of music.
Every individual staff will be made up of five horizontal lines, and four spaces in between those lines.
Almost every note you read in music will be within or on the lines of the staff, and their placement will tell you what note you need to play.
For example, if the note is on the bottom line on the left, it will be different from the note on the top line to the right.
Each note is indicated by a letter of the alphabet and played by either the left or right hand depending on whether it is in the bass clef or treble clef.
There are some exceptions to this rule, including notes which go outside of the staff, but we’ll get to those later.
As we alluded to just now, the bass clef and the treble clef are going to tell you what hand to play each note with, and each has its own symbol at the beginning of each staff.
The bass clef will sit on the bottom staff while the treble clef will reside above it. It looks kind of like a backward ‘C’ with a colon to the right of it.
When you see the bass clef on the left of a new staff, you’re going to play the notes you see with your left hand, and they will be low-pitched sounds.
With both the bass clef and treble clef you have a series of five notes which go on the lines, called line notes, and four notes which go between the lines, which are called space lines.
For both line notes and space notes, they will go from left to right in ascending order, so when you see the letters written out be aware that the first will be in the bottom left corner and the last will be in the top right corner of the staff.
Do your best to remember both sets of notes for both the bass clef and treble notes, since they form an important part of this new language you’re learning.
The line notes of the bass clef are as follows: G, B, D, F, and A.
The space notes of the bass clef are: A, C, E, and G.
The treble clef is located to the left of the top staff, and is indicated by an elaborate symbol which looks like, well, you’re going to have to look this one up for yourself!
As you can imagine, the treble chef indicates the notes that you will need to play with your right hand, and unlike the bass clef, they will be higher in pitch.
There isn’t much to add that we haven’t already gone over, so let’s take a look at the line and space notes of the treble clef.
The line notes for the treble clef are: E, G, B, D, and F.
The space notes are: F, A, C, and E. (This one is easy to memorise!)
Ok, now they’ve we’ve gone over the basics, it’s time to cover the additional line which resides outside of the staff.
Don’t worry, ledger lines aren’t all that common, but they’re still worth knowing.
A ledger line, simply put, is a line for notes which are outside of the normal staff range.
You will still see them as either treble or bass clef notes, but they can be above or below the lines of the staff.
An example of a note that takes its place on the ledger line is Middle C, which is in between the bass and treble clef, you could even say it’s in the middle.
You will find more of these the deeper you get with sheet reading, but it’s simply a case of tracking up and down from the notes you already know to determine what the ledger line note will be.
Put it into practise
Once you’re fully familiar with all of the notes and everything else you need to know for reading piano sheet music, it’s time to put it into practise.
Of course, one way to drill in the names and placement of the notes is rote memorisation, but a visual approach may be more engaging and effective.
A great way to remember the notes as a pianist is to number your fingers, either in your mind or literally with a pen, from 1-5.
Now you should have a general idea of which notes to play with which fingers, as the notes C-G should correspond with the numbers 1-5.
You can then read basic piano songs and play them to the best of your ability.
It can be overwhelming when you first attempt to read sheet music and translate it into perfect playing technique, so it’s not a bad idea to enlist the help of some free online resources along the way.
Using online resources is one of the best ways to learn how to read piano sheet music, short of working with a piano tutor.
There are a whole host of resources, which range from comprehensive piano-playing courses to databases of sheet music to browse, and here are our favourites.
Sometimes, the best way to motivate yourself to practice reading sheet music is to find songs that you really want to play.
Think about your favourite songs, and then search the large database of the 8Notes website to see if there’s a note sheet for them.
There are a whole range of categories on the website, which include classical piano, rock and pop piano, and jazz piano.
Once you find a song you want to play, there’s a playback feature which several settings including tempo, so you can listen to the song as you follow along and read the notes.
If you’re looking for a comprehensive course to take your level from beginner to experienced in no time at all, then head over to the playground sessions website.
Playground sessions is a well-rated website for learning how to read sheet music and play piano, and it includes both practical and theoretical lessons.
It will also track your progress as you go, so you can see how well you’re doing and how far you’ve come.
This is a big deal as a beginner since you can make real progress in just a few days or weeks, which will provide extra motivation to carry on.
If you’re wondering how to read piano music and you’d prefer to work alone rather than with a tutor, this is one of the best ways to do so.
This course is available with a paid monthly subscription, so if you have the money to spare, it’s well worth a shot.