The Lost Art Of Reading Sheet Music
Notation reflects the elements that reflect the music. These elements are made up of tone, pitch, duration and intensity. Sheet music is made up of symbols that represent the elements. You will need to know the different types of notations. For example there is the Breve ,Quaver ,Minim ,and classic tinny of the semiquaver, and onward towards the Semiquaver.
It sounds like a foreign language, right? It is actually very simple and the notes can be broken down into easy-to-learn pieces. Musical composition isnt just a form of art, its also based in science. Writing a composition requires precision and detail of its form. Science teaches us that sound vibration, and that frequency tells us what sound it is. We all love that sound and are drawn to different ones constantly. Every single note has its very own unique meaning like that song you love to sing in the shower all the time. When the notes are perfectly blended together, you get the product of something timeless and unique.
How Do The Lines & Spaces On The Staff Relate To The Piano Keys
Every note found on piano sheet music corresponds to a piano key. While there are 88 keys in total on a full-sized instrument, they are made up of 12 tones that simply repeat moving up in pitch. To learn how to read music notes, youll need to learn how to recognize the notes on the staff, and find them on the piano keyboard. Check out this piano notes chart of the keyboard notes below the music note letters correspond to the piano keys in a repetitive pattern.
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.
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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.
Mental Flip Approach To Match Musical Notes And Their Corresponding Piano Keys
Below is a complete diagram that shows you how each piano key matches to a specific musical note.
It may seem overwhelming at first, so I dont encourage you to remember all the connections.
You will find this approach below is easier to read the musical notes with their corresponding keys:
This is called: The Mental Flip Approach.
From your original sheet music, flip it 90 degrees clockwise.
Then, the order from the low note to the high note in a music sheet transfers into the left side to the right side of the keyboard.
The flow of your music sheet now is from top to bottom.
I will leave the diagram here for your imagination without any further explanation because Im sure that you already get the concept of this approach.
Thats it for my guide on how to read musical notes and their corresponding piano keys.
If you have any question, please leave a comment below and I will try my best to answer it for you.
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Reading Dynamics And Expression
Musical Notes On A Piano Keyboard
There are 7 core musical notes in music, which are represented by the first 7 letters in the alphabet:
A B C D E F G
Now, lets match them with the keys on a piano keyboard.
First lets talk about the structure of a keyboard:
A standard piano keyboard contains 52 white keys, 36 black keys, 88 keys in total.
It is divided by 7 octaves, an octave is a set of keys which has 7 white keys and 5 black keys.
Lets dive deep into an octave:
Youll see that an octave is divided into 2 groups:
- Group 1 has 2 black keys and 3 white keys. Lets call this group chopsticks group
- Group 2 has 3 black keys and 4 white keys. So, we have fork group
Okay, now, lets match the notes with the keys:
- The first letter of Chopsticks is C. So, the first white key in the chopsticks group is C.
- Similarly, the first letter of Fork is F, then the first white key in the fork group is F.
Its so easy to remember, isnt it?
To name other white keys, lets start at C. Then, well count from the left to the right by the order of the alphabet:
C, D, E, F, G, A, B.
Repeat that pattern above then we will be able to read all white keys on a keyboard:
Thats it for reading all white keys on a keyboard.
To avoid overwhelming in the beginning, we wont learn the names of black keys.
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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
How To Read Piano Sheet Music: The Basics
If youre like me and the sight of a treble clef makes you nauseous, youve certainly come to the right place. When I was first starting out as a musician, I would have done anything to avoid having to read a score. Now I genuinely cant play without them theyve dramatically improved my playing ability. Learning how to read piano sheet music isnt too different from learning a new language. At first, it can be overwhelming. One minute youre feeling very French, ordering a croissant in your beret, the next minute you have a new pet fish called Liza. What Im trying to say is that it requires a certain amount of practice, but once youve established the basics, youll have access to a whole new way of expressing yourself, a musical language, if you will.
Were going to cover three important points to help demystify sheet music and make it more accessible for you!
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How To Read Music For Guitar
If you want to play a song on guitar, there are a lot of online resources to help you learn to play it. Knowing how to read music will cut down the time it takes to learn the song.
The first thing you need to understand is there are different ways of writing music for guitar. Its important you know which way is right for you.
There are three different types of written sheet music for guitar and you need to learn how to read each one differently. The three ways music can be written for guitar are Standard Notation, Guitar TAB, and chord diagrams.
In this guide, I will explain all of the different ways music is written for guitar and which way is right for you. Ill also include a link to a full lesson explaining how to read each type of sheet music.
Familiarizing Yourself With Key Signatures
One last step to take before embarking on playing through piano music is to familiarize yourself with key signatures. Key signatures can be found at the beginning of each staff.
They are an indicator of which notes are going to be augmented with a sharp or flat anytime they occur in the piece of music. Unless otherwise instructed to be a natural note, those notes will take on the blanket settings that the key signature asks for.
Take a look at the example below.
In this example, the key signature has two flat notes. They are B flat and E flat. As you can see the actual notes dont have any symbols next to them.
However because the keys have been identified by the key signature, you will make that application to all the notes. So in this case, the B and E shown in the image would need to be played on the black keys.
The reason composers use key signatures is that they help make the music much easier to read. They also set the entire key for a piece and help with the entire harmonic structure of the music.
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How To Tell The Clefs Apart
The clefs are those somewhat abstract symbols that can be found on the left of the score, at the beginning of each stave. They enable you to work out which note to play.
On the piano, we use the G key and the F key .
Depending on the clef used, the notes on the staff will have different values. This brings us to the most important step in deciphering a score: working out the value of the notes according to the key.
The keys are easy to distinguish because theyre big and pretty distinct.
Here comes the treble
The treble clef is found on the G line, the second line from the bottom of the stave.
All about the bass
The bass clef is found on the F line, the second line from the bottom of the stave.
The bass clef is found on the F line. You can use this as a visual landmark.
How To Read Piano Sheet Music
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Playing piano by ear is a quick and easy way to learn the instrument. Knowing how to read piano sheet music is much more useful though. Reading sheet music opens up the amount of repertoire a person can learn.
Theres a common misconception that reading piano sheet music is hard, but with a clear strategy, its actually quite easy to learn.
Heres how to read piano sheet music in 11 easy steps
Next, Ill talk about each of these steps and the best ways to implement them into your practice routine. Learning these strategies will allow anyone to pick up a piece of sheet music and read through it with ease!
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Pulling It All Together
Musicians traditionally learn to play by earcopying sounds they hearand only later learn to read. So dont worry if you havent yet learned to read sheet music. Its probably better that you dont start grappling with learning to read until you are ready for it since the process also comes with a certain amount of frustration and will take patience and persistence.
Learning to read can also feel confusing due to variations in how music is conventionally written. Different styles, geographic regions, and cultures may interpret musical symbols slightly differently. The more music you see, the more adept you will become at interpreting what is written.
Some music students begin reading from day one. For many others, its best to start reading when they have some performing skills already in place.
Understanding The Treble Staff
Unlike most instruments, pianists have the tough task of reading two different music staffs. Together they create the grand staff, however, they contain both the treble and bass clefs.
The treble clef is often referred to as the G clef. The bottom line of the staff is E, and each line after that represents a skipped note. For example, the bottom line is E, the second line is G, the third line is B and so forth. The top line is F.
The spaces of the treble staff also are separated by skips. The first space is F, followed by A, C, and E.
One way to memorize the notes on the treble staff is to use the saying Every Good Boy Does Fine. The first letter of each word represents the order of notes on the lines. For the spaces simply remember the word FACE.
The location of the notes on the treble staff is anywhere from middle C and upward. Middle C is the fourth C on the piano, usually where the brand logo appears.
Characteristics of notes in the treble staff are higher pitched compared to the bass staff. Most melodies you find in sheet music whether its Classical or Pop originate in this area.
While the right hand predominantly plays in the treble staff, there are occasions where the hands can switch roles. This includes hand crossing and occasionally playing pieces up or down an octave from their original location.
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How To Read Guitar Sheet Music: Traditional Notation
As we explained in the intro, traditional sheet music involves the staff, which is what most people think of when it comes to the term sheet music.
Mastering playing sheet music requires you to learn each of the notes on the staff so you know exactly what to play.
This is a whole other level of learning how to read guitar sheet music, but have a look at the example below for an outline:
In this lesson on learning how to read guitar sheet music, were just going to cover the basics so you can look at sheet music and understand some simple melodies.
Each circle represents a different note.
- Each line does not represent a certain guitar string, unlike tablature, so following it as if it does will not work.
- Instead, each line represents a different musical note.
- Some sheet music will have numbers near the note to indicate that you should use a certain finger to play the note, but that is not always the case.
Some staffs will also have three possible symbols after the clef or before an individual note which will change the notes you play:
Reading traditional music is quite a bit different than learning how to read guitar sheet music like what you primarily find online. For a more in-depth understanding of traditional notation, check out our full guide.