How to Learn to Read Music

By Contributor ; Updated September 15, 2017

Things Needed

  • Music Stands
  • Pianos
  • Sheet Music For Piano
  • Keyboards
  • Piano Stool

How to Learn to Read Music. You can play music without ever learning to read a single note, but knowing the basics helps a lot, especially if you want to play with other people who do read music. Learning to read music is easier than you might think.

Notes, Clefs and Staves

Get some simple sheet music in front of you and sit down at a piano or keyboard. (See "How to Learn Piano Fingering.")

Understand that music notation tells you which notes to play and when, how, and how long to play them.

Look at any page of your sheet music. Music is written on horizontal lines called staves. The higher the line, the higher the note.

Look at the sign at the beginning of the stave. This symbol is called a clef. It is usually the G clef for Piano music (and most other music) usually uses the G clef. The clef is on the second line from below, and it marks the position of the note G. The note in the space above is A, the note in the space below is F.

Play the notes G, A, and F on the keyboard.

The second most important clef in music is the F clef, also called the bass clef since it is played on a lower pitch than the G clef. It marks the note of F on the second line of the stave from above and is usually played with the left hand on the keyboard.

Notice that notes can be written with their stems either pointing up or down; this does not affect the way the note sounds.

Play the note F on both the G clef and the F clef.

Play the notes F, G, A in both clefs, saying their names while you play them.

Note that in the G clef, the note C is on the short line below the stave; in the F clef, on the short line above the stave. D is on the space between C and the first line from below, E is on the first line from below, B is on the third line from below, and High C (the octave) is on the space just above B.

Figure out the position of the notes C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C for the F clef, with F as your reference point. It's easy!

Play the C-major scale C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C, beginning on middle C, (the note on the short line below the stave in the G clef) on both clefs up and down, calling the notes by their names.

Play and say the notes C-E-G-E in 4/4 time, silently counting 1-2-3-4 for each separate note, in the G clef.

Play G-F-E-G in the F clef.

Play different notes on the scale, saying each note out loud until you can remember every single note on the staves.

Note Value, Time and Measure

Play any note on the keyboard steadily counting 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4 in 4/4 time, creating a measure of four beats.

Use a metronome to help keep a steady beat. (See "How to Use a Metronome.")

Look at your music. You will see that measures are divided by bar lines (|).

Play the note hitting the keyboard each time on the 1-2-3-4 count. This indicates four quarter notes within one measure.

Play the note counting 1-2-3-4 only on the 1 and the 3. This has the value of a half note. It is exactly twice as long as a quarter note.

Play the same note counting 1-2-3-4 only on the 1, resting for the remainder of the measure. This is a whole note, which is four times as long as a quarter note.

Play 1(E)-2(G)-3(F)-4(rest). What note values are you playing?

Play 1(C)-2(D)-3(F)-4(G). What values are you playing now?

Now play 1(G)-2(rest)-3(rest)-4(rest). What are you playing?

Experiment playing different notes on different pitches and lengths. Have fun!

About the Author

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