If you’re reading this, you’ve probably got more than a passing interest in tickling the ivories.
Many people are put off though by the thought of learning how to read piano sheet music.
Do not despair! It’s easier than it looks. Follow our step-by-step guide, put in some practice, and soon the notes will come to you as easily as, well, reading this article!
Key Words To Know
Take a few moments to become familiar with these few keywords:
This is the symbol that you see at the end of the line. There are two different clefs in piano music – the treble and the bass.
These are the 5 lines that the notes are written either on, between, or below.
Also known as the ‘G’ clef (more on that later), in piano music, this is usually played by the right hand and forms the ‘top line’ of the music.
Also known as the ‘F’ clef (more on that later), the notes on this stave are usually played by the left hand and form the ‘bottom line’ of the music.
These are small lines used to show the position of individual notes. The lines and spaces of the stave are limited in the range of notes they can show. These lines indicate other notes.
The Starting Point – Treble Clef
Let’s focus first on the treble clef (the one that looks a little like a dollar sign). We can call this the ‘top line’. This will usually show you the notes from middle C upwards.
We mentioned earlier it’s 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.
The one shown below is a traditional mnemonic, starting from the bottom line up:
First line – E – Every
Second line G – Good
Third line B – Boy
Fourth line D – Deserves
Fifth line – F – Favor
Some prefer a chant as a memory aid. Try out:
EGBDF – These are the notes of the Treble Clef.
The spaces of the treble clef spell out the word FACE, starting from the first space and going up.
We also use the space below the bottom line for the note D, and above the top line for the G. Remember the notes go in alphabetical order, line/space, and line/space at all times.
Outside the Stave
As we can only write a limited number of notes on the 5 lines and 4 spaces of the stave, we’re going to have to use some extra lines to show notes outside of this.
Let’s start with the note we all start with – middle C. Slap bang in the middle of your piano keyboard, it’s also right in between the top and bottom lines of the piano sheet music.
This should be the first note you learn when learning how to read piano sheet music. It has its own little ledger line and sits below the bottom (E) line of the treble stave.
Please note – ledger lines are much shorter than lines of the regular stave and are only used for one note.
You can also use ledger lines to write notes below middle C, and above top F (the ‘Fun’ line). But let’s stick to cracking the basics for now.
Moving On – The Bass Clef
You’ve started doing battle with the treble stave and now its time to drop down a line, and pay attention to the bass stave.
Working from bottom to top again, we’ll use another mnemonic to help you:
1st line – G – Good
2nd line – B – Boys
3rd line – D – Deserve
4th line – F – Favor
5th line – A – Always
It’s important again to learn middle C. This time it’s on its own ledger line above the stave. This is the same note as the middle C that sits on a ledger line below the Treble stave.
We mentioned earlier it’s also called the ‘F Clef’. This is because the symbol starts on the ‘F’ line – fixing its position.
The spaces of the bass clef sadly do not helpfully spell a word. We use another mnemonic for them.
Again, starting from the bottom space and going up:
1st space – A – All
2nd space – C – Cows
3rd space – E – Eat
4th space – G – Grass
The space below the bottom line is for note F and above the top line for note B.
Getting to Grips with How to Read Piano Sheet Music
OK, you know the names of the lines and the spaces – what next?
First, take a piece of piano sheet music you’d like to learn. You may find a piano method book helpful for this.
With a pencil, label the lines and the spaces at the beginning of each line.
Now go through the piece and start reading. Work a line at a time. Using the two mnemonics, try to work out on your own first what each note is and write the name next to it.
At the end of each line, check the labels you wrote at the start and see if you’re right.
Now carefully pick out the notes on the keyboard. Just at first, you might find labeling the piano keys helpful too.
Now, either rub off your notations or use a clean copy of the sheet music. Carefully try to reinforce what you’ve learned by picking out the piece again on the piano.
Conclusion: How to Read Piano Sheet Music
We have seen that the key to learning how to read piano sheet music is memory aids.
It takes just a few minutes to commit them to memory and they will serve you well as your brain makes the connections between the keys and the notes on the stave.
Your next lesson should be to learn the various notes placed on and in the lines and spaces you’ve just learned and how they relate to each other.
There’s no need to go it alone. Speed up your progress and have fun with our piano lessons. Check out the great range of options we have by taking piano lessons at Merriam Music.