There’s 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 they’re not that useful when you’re 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 newspaper’s headlines, here’s our advanced guide to Piano Notes II!
Your Guide To Piano Notes
There have been a lot of fascinating studies on music and memory in the past few years. Research shows that music actually helps us remember things. Learning music can even help children with learning disabilities!
Why not turn that to your advantage?
The trick lies in getting the rational and intuitive side of your brain working together. We’re going to give you a bunch of knowledge to mull over in your rational brain to help you bridge that gap.
We’ll start by reiterating one of the most basic but essential components of how to read sheet music masterfully. Practice makes perfect, just like with any other skill.
Even if you’re not an absolute beginner, it’s helpful to label the spaces and ledger lines with their note names. Fill out some blank staff paper with ‘FACE’ for the spaces and EGBDF(Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge) or ACEGB(All Cows Eat Grass) for the spaces and GBDFA(Good Boys Deserve Fudge Always) for the lines.
Make sure to include the notes above and below the main grand staff, as well.
Spend some time with these notes. You’ll start to internalize the note names, automatically. You’ll be able to recall them just as easily once they’re ingrained in your muscle memory.
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 you’re unfamiliar with.
One of the parts that you would notice first is the title of the piece and the author behind it. It’s 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 you’ll see are the ledger lines. They refer to these as the staff (which we will discuss later). 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.
You’ll notice various symbols scattered all throughout the sheet. These symbols would denote the counting (time signature) or which set of notes to use (clef). 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. You’ll 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 you’ll find in here are higher than Middle C. The bottom, called the Bass Clef, is where you’ll find notes lower than Middle C.
Memorize The Note Values
Sight-reading music isn’t limited to melodic content. You’ll need to know how long notes last, as well, when learning how to read piano music.
Learn the difference between whole notes, half notes, and quarter notes. Learn to differentiate between eight, sixteenth, and thirty-second notes, as well.
Just as a reminder, eighth notes are quarter notes with one flag. Sixteenth notes have two. Thirty-second notes have three.
If there are multiple sub-divided notes in a row, they’ll be connected by a bar. Eighth notes have one bar, with sixteenth notes having two and thirty-second notes having three. Just list their flags.
So, some easy shorthand for remembering the length of note values is to remember how many flags each sub-divided note gets. You’ll easily be able to translate that information for connected notes, as well.
Aside from the other symbols that you would see on the music sheet. The notes are the symbols that denote the specific sound that the instrument should produce. The positioning of each note on the staff will tell you the pitch needed.
But those are not the only things that it indicates. Notes have specific durations and timing that corresponds to the beat of the song. There are varying types of notes that you may encounter as you read through sheet music for piano.
Whole notes tend to have the equivalent of four beats. Half notes have two beats per note. Quarter notes have one note each. Eighth, and Sixteenth notes would denote half a beat and a quarter of a beat.
Not only that, but there are also measures of silence as well. These are Rests and they follow the same rules of duration as Notes. With the combination of each, you would know when to play a key or chord, and when you should leave it quiet.
Practice On Both Clefs
Learning piano requires being able to read both the treble and bass clef fluently. While it’s easy enough to learn one or the other, it can be a bit brain-splitting to do them both at the same time.
We’ve already talked about ‘FACE’ and ‘Every Good Boy Does Fine’. You should be pretty comfortable with the treble clef, at this point.
The bass clef simply shifts everything down two steps. The mnemonic ‘All Cars Eat Gas’ will help you remember the spaces of the bass clef. ‘Good Boys Do Fine Always’ will help you remember the lines.
Now that you’re aware of the note names, start off by practicing each clef independently. Develop a routine for memorizing and sight-reading treble clef note names with your right hand.
Then do the same thing with the left hand for the bass clef.
As we mentioned above, the notes that fall below the Middle C make up the Bass clef. To remain consistent with this learning to read music guide, let’s also start from the bottom.
Put Theory Into Practice
Translating the inky blots on the page through your fingertips into actual music is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to reading piano sheet music. Now that you’ve spent some time writing things out on the page, it’s time to start putting that into practice on your actual instrument.
Start with each clef independently, just like you did when you were first memorizing the piano notes. Stick to your regular practice routine, as well. Remember, practice doesn’t only make perfect, it also makes things permanent.
You’ll want to practice with a metronome if you aren’t already. You need to be as comfortable with rhythm and harmony as you are with melody. You should also stay in the habit of focusing on musicality, even when you’re practicing.
After seeing all the symbols and placement of notes. It is time to identify which note corresponds to the key on the piano. The white keys on the piano would correspond to the keys in the C Scale. Starting from C, followed by the keys D, E, F, G, A, B and ending again at a higher C. You would find them in the white keys on the piano.
The black keys are the ones between some of these white keys. Like the Eb being between D and E. Each of these keys has a place on the staff.
By knowing their positions, you will be able to play the notes in the sequence presented in the sheet music.
When practicing these sequences of notes, start slow until you feel the pace. From that point, that is when you start learning the song in its actual pace and tempo.
You can read more about the proper reading and interpreting of the sheet here.
Learn Your Sharps and Flats
On music sheets, you often find the symbols “#” and “b” beside notes. The pound sign indicates a sharp, while the one that looks like a lower-case letter b is for a flat(b flat).
When you see a #, that means you should play the next higher note. Say you see a C#. If this was for a Middle C note, that means you’ll hit the black key to the left of Middle C. If you see a Db on your music sheet, you’ll press the same black key.
There tends to have some confusion when it comes to sharps and flats, especially for a lot of beginner piano learners. Always keep in mind that black keys are always either a sharp or a flat. However, not all sharps and flats fall on these keys.
A white key can still be a flat or a sharp, as well as a major note. For instance, the Middle F (the third white key from Middle C) can also be an E sharp. The Middle B can be a C flat.
So, as a reminder, black keys are either sharps or flats. But white keys can also represent sharps and flats.
Learn The Dynamic Symbols
Now that you’ve spent some time mastering both clefs, you should be pretty familiar with the grammar of music. Now you’re ready to start spinning your vocabulary into actual works of art.
Like with language, music isn’t only about what you’re saying, but how you say it. Something whispered is very different from something shouted, even if the words are the same.
To master the dynamic symbols, start with the basics. P stands for ‘Piano’, which means ‘quiet’. Pp is ‘pianissimo’ which means ‘very soft’. Ppp means ‘pianississimo’, which means ‘more than very soft’.
Loudness follows the same formula. F means ‘Forte’, which means ‘loud’. Ff is ‘fortissimo’, meaning ‘very loud’. Fff means ‘fortississimo’, which means ‘more than very loud’.
Dynamics aren’t static on sheet music, either. There can be build-ups and breakdowns, as well. These are marked with crescendo and decrescendo symbols, which look like open-ended triangles on their side.
To truly master the dynamic symbols, find some sheet music for a song that you like. Read through the sheet music, paying special attention to the dynamics. Now go listen to that recording.
Listening to music with sheet music in front of you will help internalize what the different dynamics sound like. You’ll learn to differentiate between Forte and Fortissimo, which will help you reproduce them more faithfully in your own playing.
When you read sheet music, remember to study the basic symbols. While notes are among the ones that you will encounter.
One of the symbols that is the Clef. These are symbols based on the reference pitches. These are often found at the very beginning of every ledger or staff line.
For example, you have the Treble Clef that has the G Clef pitch as the reference. You also have the Bass Clef, which has an F Clef pitch.
You might also recognize key signatures, which have sharp or flat notations. (Represented as # and the lower case b in respective order). The placement of these notations can also tell you which key you will be playing in.
There are also other symbols you should be on a lookout for. Time signatures are the two numbers after the clef, one on top of the other.
The number on top mentions how many beats per measure. While the bottom one denotes the note that equals one beat. The most common time signature is the four-four time signature.
There are also tempo marks, notations that tell you how loud or soft the notes should be. Examples are p for Piano, pp for Pianissimo, f for Forte, mf for Mezzo Forte, and so on.
Spend some time with these exercises, and you’ll be fluent in reading piano sheet music before you know it.
Learning to read music is like learning any other language. At first, it’s a lot of work. Then it becomes a tremendous amount of fun, as you’re able to articulate your thoughts and feelings in new and interesting ways!
Don’t Forget Intervals
When learning the notes on a piano, you’ll also encounter what we call an “interval.” This refers to the distance between two notes.
To determine what this distance is, you only have to count step-by-step from the first note all the way to the next.
You call the interval between the C and the G note a “5th” because there are five notes from C to G. To be more precise, you call this particular interval is a Major 5th.
The interval between C and F is the “Perfect Fourth” or Major 4th. That’s because you have four notes from C to F.
Keep Practicing to Perfect Reading Piano Notes
These six steps are key to reading notes on a music piano sheet, so make sure you start from them. Keep practicing all these, and in time, you’ll master the piano notes as you read them. You may even learn your pieces by heart that you will no longer need to look at the piano keys!
The most important thing in learning the piano, or any other musical instrument for that matter, is motivation and consistent practice. With these, you’ll soon be on your way to playing even more advanced pieces.
Want More Piano Playing Guidance?
Good for you! Learning to play music is one of the most rewarding and satisfying things you can do. You become a better person while making the world a more beautiful and artful place.
We hope you enjoyed our music notes on reading ‘Piano Notes II’. Make sure to browse the rest of our piano articles for even more guidance!