Learning to read sheet music for piano is a great skill that will serve you in more ways than you might at first think.

While the majority of aspiring musicians want to focus solely on mastering the practical element of playing their instrument, there’s a lot to gain from taking the time to study musical theory and sheet music.

This is especially true of the classical instruments like the piano and the violin, as we hope to show you in this series of articles on reading piano music.

If you’re wondering what you could possibly hope to gain from reading music notes instead of just playing, think about music as more than just sound.

Much like a lot of activities, if you know how something works from a theoretical standpoint, you will be a lot more likely to fully understand it and be able to approach it from new and exciting ways.

Without adequate knowledge of reading sheet music, you will be less able to collaborate with other musicians, write your own music, and master the piano.

With this in mind, let’s dive into the how, why, and where of reading sheet music, so that you can develop the skill for yourself and reap the rewards.

How to read piano music

sheet music
Getting to grips with the basics is essential if you want to make your way to music mastery.

First, we’re going to get technical.

We’ll do our best to provide the building blocks for a solid foundation in piano sheet music, so you can go forth with all the confidence you need to read it to the best of your ability.

Learning how to read piano music doesn’t have to be a chore, you can see it as a way to work on your piano-playing proficiency.

The more you know about your instrument, the greater your potential as a musician will be.

Or you could look at it another way, do you want to be that person who has spent years honing their craft yet hasn’t taken the time to learn how to read the music they can play so well?

Not that it’s any reason to feel ashamed, but it’s always nice to have a well-rounded knowledge of something you’re so passionate about.

Take Notes

Notes and symbols are like the Tetris blocks of the music world.

You’ll have to first take the time to get familiar with the basic symbols of notation, so that you can learn the language you’ll be reading in.

Just like you can’t learn Mandarin without learning its alphabet, you can’t hope to write, or even understand, music sheets without a foundational knowledge of the notes.

So what are the most important notes to know?

Well, piano music is divided up into staffs, and within these staffs, you’ll find either a bass clef or a treble clef.

This will indicate whether you need to play the notes with your left or right hand.

Staff

The staff provides the structure for the notation, and is made up of five horizontal lines and four spaces within those lines.

Each line corresponds to a different pitch, and at the start of each staff you will have a cleff that indicates to the piano player what hand to play the notes with.

Bass Clef

The bass clef, otherwise known as the F clef, generally gives you low-pitched sounds and requires that you play notes with your left hand.

Treble Clef

The Treble clef, or G clef, as you might have already guessed will indicate what notes you need to play with your right hand, and is associated with high-pitched sounds.

Ok, are we all clear on that?

Good.

Now, it’s also necessary that you know your notes.

Both the bass clef and the treble clef have their own series of notes, you’ll want to be very familiar with these notes.

It might even help to write them out a few times, and then do so without looking it up, so you can learn to memories them off by heart.

The notes for both clefs are divided up into two types; those which go on the lines, and those which go in the spaces between the lines.

Naturally, these are called line notes and space notes.

  • Line Notes

Line notes for the treble clef are: E, G, B, D, and F.

For the bass clef, they are: G, B, D, F, and A.

The best way to remember the placement of each note is to think of an ascending stairway going from left to right.

So that would put the ‘E’ and ‘G’ at the beginning of the treble clef and bass clef respectively on the bottom line furthest left, and the ‘F’ and ‘A’ on the top line furthest right.

  • Space Notes

Space notes for the treble clef are: F, A, C, E. (Not the hardest set of notes to remember!)

For the bass clef, they are: A, C, E, G.

For the space notes, the principle is the same as with line notes, except this time the circular note goes in between the lines rather than on them.

The ‘F’ and ‘A’ respectively go in between the bottom two lines furthest left, while the ‘E’ and ‘G’ are located in between the top two lines furthest right.

Why should you learn to read sheet music?

instruments together
If collaboration with other musicians is something that interests you, reading sheet music will help you do so.

Your motivation to read sheet music will likely depend a lot on what your reasons are for doing it.

If you just want to learn it because your piano tutor or parents told you to, then your motivation is likely to ebb and wane, which isn’t what you want.

Rather than rely on drawing motivation from external sources, ideally you want to be able to connect it to internal desires.

Think about what you stand to gain from learning to read sheet music, and once you have those reasons, keep them in mind whenever it seems like a chore.

The following are some of the most popular reasons for learning to read piano sheet music, so you can cherry pick the ones which you resonate with most.

Pick up new music faster

If you’re able to read sheet music for the piano, then you’ll have an extra tool for learning new music.

Think about it, if you know how a piece is constructed from the inside out, you’re going to have a much better appreciation for how it was created.

As a result, you may be able to pick up new music more quickly, as that odd note or chord you can’t quite place shouldn’t hold you back for long.

Collaboration

One of the most exciting parts of knowing how to play the piano is collaborating with others.

Knowing how to read sheet music and identify notes by ear will feel like you speak a universal language, which will allow ou to communicate with other musicians seamlessly.

Writing skills

Not everyone gets into music to write and perform their own songs, but it can be an incredibly rewarding process to at least try.

The hard truth of the matter is that without knowing how to read sheet music, you’re not going to be able to write your own music.

As we’ve mentioned already, the notes that make up sheet music can be likened to a foreign language, so how can you expect to write in a language you don’t yet understand?

Where can I take music reading lessons

piano keys
Reading and playing sheet music is a lot easier with a tutor or course.

If you’re keen to get start reading piano music now, then it’s worth finding a few good resources you can draw upon to get inspiration and accelerate the learning process.

There are plenty of good tutorial videos on the internet, as well as websites that break down piano sheet notes into simple steps to follow.

But if you feel like you want someone to guide you along the way and tailor the learning process to you, then you’ll want to take music reading lessons with a tutor.

This way, you can go as fast or as slow as you want, and you’ll have someone on-hand to ask questions when you get stuck or can’t figure out what you should be working on next.

You can take music reading lessons one of two ways, in person or online.

In person

The availability of in person classes will depend largely on where you live, so this is something to keep in mind if you choose to take this route.

If you live somewhere remote without a piano teacher in sight, then this might not be the best option.

However, if you live in a town or city, then chances are you can track down a good local piano teacher to show you the ropes in person.

Online

Taking music reading lessons online is helpful since you can work from the comfort of your own home, and should have no trouble at all finding a great tutor.

Scheduling should never be an issue, and you can find some very competitive rates online, which will be a relief for those just looking for affordable classes.

Any questions you have regarding how to read piano sheet music will surely be dealt with if you have an online tutor helping you out.

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Daniel

A student by trade, Daniel spends most of his time working on that essay that's due in a couple of days' time. When he's not working, he can be found working on his salsa steps, or in bed.