Things You'll Need
- Written music
- Manuscript paper and pencil
Learning to read music, like so many other worthwhile things, is not a quick process, and requires plenty of practice. However, you can give yourself a good head start by memorizing the basics and practicing the right things. Tenors usually read music in the treble clef, but sing an octave lower than written, as denoted by the figure 8 hanging from the bottom of the clef. Tenors are also sometimes required to read in the bass clef, so it’s worth learning both.
Learn the notes, and their positions on the stave, or staff. For the treble clef, the bottom line is E, the next line up is G, then B, D and F. These are easily remembered by the mnemonic “Every Good Boy Deserves Fun.” The spaces, from the bottom up, are F, A, C and E.
Practice naming notes. Pick a note at random out of a piece of music, and call it by its letter name. Make sure you’re reading in the treble clef. It’s essential to embed the notes and their positions in your memory, so take your time and learn them well.
Teach yourself how the notes sound. Look at the music for a well known tune, and play each note in turn on the piano, whilst singing along. Notice how the higher notes on the stave are higher in pitch.
Learn the different intervals and how they sound. Practice singing alternating thirds, fourths, fifths, sixths and octaves, always looking at the notes you are singing written on the stave. You will learn to associate what you hear with what you see, so use the piano to make sure you’re getting it right and in tune.
Try reading a new tune that is unfamiliar to you. Break it down into short phrases, and sing each one before checking if you were right on the piano. If you weren’t right, listen to the notes on the piano, then try again, still reading the notes from the page. Watch out for key signatures and accidentals. A sharp sign means the note is a half-step higher than usual, while a flat sign denotes a pitch a half-step lower.
Start with the bass clef, once you’re getting comfortable with the treble clef. On the bass clef, the lines from bottom to top are G, B, D, F and A ("Great Big Dogs From Africa"), while the spaces are A, C, E and G ("All Cows Eat Grass").
Rhythm is also important. Learn the different note lengths and how they look written down.
Singing in a choir alongside more experienced readers can boost your confidence, and is a great way to practice sight-reading regularly.
Don’t just follow people around you when you’re singing. Try to read the next note, and hear it in your head before you sing it.
George Reece began writing professionally in 2007 as a music critic at the "Leeds Student" newspaper. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy from the University of Leeds and A-levels in music, theater studies and English literature.