Learn The Locations Of The Keys
Before attempting to read any sheet music, there needs to be a clear understanding of what all of those black and white keys mean. This is one of the first things I outline in my piano course which you can check out here. The black and white keys represent all of the different tones of the piano.
As you look at the keyboard the first thing that should stick out to you is how the piano keys are organized in a pattern.
Looking at the diagram above its clear that there are groups of two black keys and groups of three white keys. That pattern of two and three repeats up and down the entire piano.
The first white note located in front of the group of two black keys is called C. Every time you see a group of two black notes, that first white key will always be a C. The lower the C you play on the piano, the deeper the tone will be. The higher the C on the piano, the brighter the tone will be.
The note located in front of the group of three black keys is F. The same logic applies here too. Because the piano is designed around the musical alphabet, its easy to see how the pattern repeats.
The seven different tones on the piano are A B C D E F G. These are the basic notes of the music alphabet, and they can be augmented in many ways which well discuss later in the steps.
How To Read A Lead Sheet
In todays episode of PianoTV, well be building on all the chord information weve learned to far, and putting it all together with this episode about How to Read a Lead Sheet.
All the chord videos weve done major and minor, 7 chords, diminished chords and suspended chords can be found by following the links, so if theres anything youre a little lost with in this video, you can check those out and get caught up.
There are a couple sheets that go along with this video Below theres a printout of all the major and minor scales, which is helpful when youre figuring out how to build chords. Theres also sheet music for the piece well be using today as our example, the very famous jazzy piece You Cant Take That Away From Me by George and Ira Gershwin.
Lets get started!
Reading Piano Sheet Music For Beginners
Learning how to read music as a beginner simply means learning what the symbols on the page are telling your hands to do. This includes knowing the names of the piano keys, the notes on the musical staff, time signatures, note values, and different musical symbols.
But, before we dive into basic music reading skills , youll want to make sure you have all the supplies you need. This means some blank staff paper, an erasable pencil , and a keyboard instrument of some kind. You dont need a Steinway to get started a small keyboard will do fine for learning the basics of music reading. You will, however, want at least 66 keys to play complete most pieces of music.
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What Are Dynamic Marks
Dynamic marks are another important aspect of music reading skills. These are the musical terms and symbols that tell you the quality of each note or phrases of music. Dynamic marks can tell you to play very loud, very soft, or somewhere in between. They are usually written in Italian. We wont go into the details of dynamics marks, but you can find everything you need to know about them in the article below.
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Typical Piano Sheet Music
Piano music tends to have 2 staves. Usually , the top stave is written in the Treble Clef and the bottom stave is written in Bass Clef. The top stave shows the notes that should be played with the right hand, whilst the bottom stave shows the notes to be played by the left hand.
It helps to remember this when practicing as you can practice one hand at a time and make significant progress with whichever piece you are wanting to play.
The numbers placed underneath certain notes are suggestions of what fingers to use you will often find these when reading music for piano.
Some contemporary piano music has one stave for the right hand and chord symbols above or below the staff. This is very similar to a Lead Sheet. In this case, you would play the tune with your right hand and improvise the chords with your left hand.
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A Little History Behind Reading Music Notes
Sheet music is read from left to right. The reasoning behind this is that music began as an exercise most focused on the progression of notes in a scale or mode in a horizontal fashion. When more than one voice was sounded together, they usually sang in unison it was not until the 9th century that musicians became increasingly concerned with vertical harmony and polyphony.
Keyboard instruments, such as the organ, the harpsichord, and ultimately the piano, were instruments developed to satisfy this changing aesthetic and the increased importance of vertical harmonies. They were adapted into a notation that had been developed to address primarily horizontal concerns . This means beginner piano students must learn to think about the music on the page differently from the words on a page.
What Does It Mean To Sight Read Music
You are sight reading when you play music that you have never seen before by reading it off a page. If you listen to a tune and try to replicate it by remembering how it sounds, you are playing by ear, not sight reading. Sight reading is just like reading a novel – you are reading new material that youve never experienced before. At the piano, you arent just reading you are reading the notes and translating them into physical motions that interact with the piano keyboard.
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Once You Start Dont Stop
Once you begin to sight read and play a piece of music, dont stop, even if you make mistakes. Just try to play through the piece a few times, mistakes and all, noting the areas that are giving you trouble. Start slowly, and dont expect to be able to play the piece up to its intended tempo when you are first starting out with it. The more you practice the piece of music, the better a musician youll become!
Tips To Learn Piano Sheet Music More Quickly
While the step by step tips written above are helpful, they can be time-consuming. There are some strategies to help cut down on the learning curve of reading sheet music. Below are a few ways to speed up the learning process.
Learn How To Play Major And Minor Scales
The majority of composed sheet music is based off some collection, variation, or nod to a scale. The passages at times will even fold in and out of various keys so that they make harmonic sense.
A good way to get a grip on whats going on is to learn how to play major and minor scales. Scales are a great technical aid and can be played using very specific fingering. Once that fingering is mastered, it will be much easier to apply that fingering to the notes in the sheet music.
The eyes and ears will also be better prepared to recognize when a scale is happening in the music leading to faster learning of those sections.
Music is made up of patterns, and its best to recognize those as quickly as possible in your sheet music. With a highlighter, label all of the sections that visually look the same to you. Then compare those notes to see if theyre the exact same pitches or a variant.
A lot of times pianists will find that certain passages will repeat themselves again later in the piece. Even on a basic level of musical form, one can expect the main theme of a piece to present itself in the same hand, another hand, or even the inner voices.
Memorizing The Sheet Music
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Matching Piano Keys To Notes
Here’s where everything should start to come together! You’ve done well to get this far. This next part may feel challenging, but you’re doing something new, and it’s normal for new things to feel difficult at first. You’ve got this.
Things to remember: When reading, always determine the letter name first. If the note happens to be a G, then the next step is to figure out which G it is on the keyboard. To figure out which G is the correct one on the keyboard, use other keys like “Middle C” as landmarks. Then think your way through logically to find the actual location of the key by using the landmarks as a reference.
Enjoy The Power And Freedom Of Chords
Now youre ready to play using chord symbols! One of my favorite series for children that uses chord symbols is the Wee Sing books, with melody lines and chord symbols for many favorite childrens songs. For older learners, you can find many collections of sheet music written with just a melody line and chord symbols. This is called lead sheet style. Large collections of lead sheets are often sold together in whats called a Fake book, so called because once you know the chords you can fake the accompaniment. Id prefer to say make your own accompaniment. Theres nothing fake about that! You can also look for music that says for Vocal/Guitar, which will always include chord symbols. Explore the world of chords and have fun making music in a whole new way.
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Understand The Parts Of The Sheet
The first step that you need to undertake is to understand the parts of a music sheet. If this is the first time you have seen a music sheet, there might be some symbols youre unfamiliar with.
One of the parts that you would notice first is the title of the piece and the author behind it. Its usually centered along the bottom edge of the top margin with the first letter names of each word capitalized. At times, there may be a subtitle printed in a smaller font with the author names below it.
The next parts youll see are the ledger lines. They refer to these as the staff . These lines are where you find the notes. All indicating the sound played on the instrument.
For the piano keyboard, the position of the note will tell the pianist which key to press.
Youll notice various symbols scattered all throughout the sheet. These symbols would denote the counting or which set of notes to use . Some of these will need further study to understand how they behave and how you will proceed with the piece.
Now, look at a music sheet. Youll see that there are two sets or groups of five horizontal lines. These are what you call the staffs.
Bar lines refer to those vertical lines. The horizontal lines that separate them are the measures.
The staff on the top is the Treble Clef. The notes youll find in here are higher than Middle C. The bottom, called the Bass Clef, is where youll find notes lower than Middle C.
The Starting Point Treble Clef
Lets focus first on the treble clef . We can call this the top line. This will usually show you the notes from middle C upwards.
We mentioned earlier its also called the G Clef. This is because the main curl of the symbol wraps around the G line fixing its position.
Many find learning a mnemonic helps them to learn the names of the lines and spaces.
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Understanding Dynamics Rests Articulations And Tempo
In all types of sheet music, there is a wide range of instructive symbols that help the music sound a certain way. Some of the symbols refer to how soft and loud a passage of notes are.
Others indicate when a pianist should be silent, and that exact duration of time. Articulations help when it comes to the character of the piece, making it sound more percussive or more lyrical.
Finally, there are indicators at the top of a piece of music as well as in the middle of certain sections of a piece.
Below is a list of the common symbols you will find in any piece of sheet music, and what they mean.
Piano Not to be confused with the instrument name, piano is an Italian word meaning soft. The symbol can be found in between the treble and bass staff when it applies to both hands. If the composer intends for one hand to be soft such as the left hand, they will put the symbol under the notes in the bass staff only.
Forte When a pianist sees this symbol, they should play that section of music loudly. The same rules apply for knowing whether one hand or both hands play at this level.
Mezzo forte & Mezzo piano These two dynamic markings indicate medium loud and medium soft.
Andante For slow and lyrical pieces, the Adante tempo marking is often found. This tempo operates between 76 108 BPM. A much slower tempo can be found in Largo which is at 60 BPM. A little faster tempo thats not quite allegro would be Andante Moderato which taps in at 92 112 BPM.
Piano Notes: The Ultimate Guide To Learning To Read Sheet Music
Theres more to a piece of music than notes, rests, and repeats. Progress with your work. Read this advanced instruction to reading piano notes.
All cars eat gas. Every good boy does fine. These mnemonics are all well and good, but theyre not that useful when youre playing a Schubert concerto at 135 bpm.
Between the treble and bass clefs, there are a lot of different musical notes on any given page of sheet music. Reading those piano notes is made even trickier with additional music symbols.
To help you sight read as easily as you can read a newspapers headlines, heres our advanced guide to Piano Notes II!
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How To Read Sheet Music For Piano
Learning how to read sheet music for piano can be quite daunting at first because it looks like a series of lots of lines and dots with several random symbols thrown in for good measure.
The key thing to remember is that piano music simply uses the basic elements of sheet music it just has a lot of them because a piano player has 2 hands and a total of 10 fingers and therefore the potential to play a lot of notes at any one time.
Learn The Order Of The Notes
Reading sheet music is centered around interpreting the notes on the page. So you need to know your notes! The good news is that there are really only 12 notes you need to know. All the keys on your piano or keyboard are just the same 12 notes repeated over and over. Say them with me:
C, D, E, F G, A, B. Got that? I know its strange to start with C, but thats what we need to do for piano purposes. And it isnt too hard once you get the hang of it.
But wait Jacques, you might be asking. You said 12 notes, but you only mentioned eight. Where are the other notes? The answer lies in the way your instrument is set up. Take a look see those black keys? They are sharp/flat keys, and they get their names from the keys they are between. The black note between C and D can be called both C sharp and D flat . With those black notes included, you have your set of 12.
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Clapping And Tapping Rhythms
Most beginner pianists have a habit of jumping straight into playing the music on the page. While the notes are important, rhythms are equally important.
As you look at a new passage of music, begin by clapping or tapping the rhythms on the page. For a beginner, I recommend clapping the rhythm of each hand separately. This helps ensure that you have a firm grip on what rhythms each hand is responsible for.
As you clap the rhythm make sure to count out loud. Counting out loud is an important part of playing any piece, and it helps solidify that youre in the correct time meter. Using your voice to count also helps with establishing a steady rhythm.
Putting the hands together while playing can be a challenge. This is also the same when it comes to the proper execution of the rhythms. To helps with this I ask many of my piano students to tap the rhythm in their lap or on a flat surface.
When tapping the rhythm its important to count and make sure the hands enter at the correct time. If a pianist can tap and clap the rhythm correctly, it increases their chances of playing the notes correctly in time once they are added in the next step.
Broken Chords And More
Instead of playing all the notes of a chord at the same time, you can play them one at a time. If youve played arpeggios on the piano, this is exactly whats going on. Youre playing a chord one note at a time. This can add a really nice sound to your accompaniment pattern. You can play the root first and go up, you can play the top note of the chord first and go down, or you can mix it up and make any new pattern you like. One famous accompaniment pattern common in classical music, known as the Alberti bass, plays: root, 5th, 3rd, 5th, root, 5th, 3rd, 5th. This pattern continues through the whole song, shifting to a new root with each chord change. The Alberti bass creates a nice classical sound in your accompaniment. A good march beat can be made by alternating the root and the fifth. To make a waltz accompaniment pattern, play first the root only on beat 1, then the third and fifth together on beats 2 and 3 to make a kind of oom-pah-pah sound. As you play songs using chord symbols dont be afraid to try different things and find accompaniment patterns to create a feel that you like. Once you know the notes in the chord, you can play any of those notes in any rhythm that sounds right to you.
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