To most wondering how to read piano sheet music, it can seem like a daunting task, but once you get the hang of a few key elements, you will be able to read and play music fluently. Music has been around for thousands of years.
I will teach you how to read and perform sheet music in just a few easy steps.
Become A Sheet Music Reading Pro
Have you ever looked at a piece of sheet music and wondered, “what are all of those funny lines on this page?” Fortunately, each one of them means something, and once you get the hang of understanding the context, you will be able to decipher every bit of music you come across. Let’s take a dive in to how to read piano sheet music.
Understand The Symbols
All sheet music has many different symbols. As a language, these symbols work together to instruct you on how to play the piece. I’ll review two critical symbols in this section that will give you the backbone of any piece of piano music.
Even if you’re not a pianist, you are probably familiar with the term “clefs.” There are two types of clefs; treble clefs and bass clefs. These clefs let you know with what hand you will use to play the music. The treble clef looks a lot like a very fancy ‘G”. This clef indicates that you will be playing that particular piece of music with your right hand. You can remember the lines on the treble clef by remembering this phrase “every good boy does fine” as each line on the treble clef corresponds to a note: E, G, B, D, and F.
The bass clef represents the part that you will be playing with your left hand. It’s a half shell with two dots on it, and sometimes it’s called the “F” clef. Like the treble clef, the lines on the bass clef represent different notes. In this case, the lines represented G, B, D, F, and A. The phrase to remember this clef’s notes is “good boys do fine always.”
The clefs sit on a stratum of lines known as a staff. Each staff has four spaces and five lines, and all of those spaces and lines correspond with notes. The clefs and the staff represent the framework of your piece of music.
Knowing The Notes
Up next comes an essential piece of the puzzle; the notes. Each note on the staff indicates what key to press and how long to hold it. Notes have many parts, including the stem that extends from the note, the flag, and the head of the note, which is generally oval-shaped.
Notes will appear on the lines of the staff or in between them. When you look at a piece of music, you see multiple notes strung together across the staff. Once you get better at reading music, you will understand how the song’s basic melody sounds simply from the notes.
Each note has a value, and that value is determined by how it looks. Half notes, or notes that are to hold for two counts, have open heads. Quarter notes are Closed-head notes with lines on them are held for one count. Whole notes or those that are “o” shaped and don’t have any lines coming off of them have four counts.
Although this might seem confusing at first, it will all make sense once you start playing. You will appreciate the cadence of the piece and anticipate how long to hold the notes.
Arcs and Dots
Sometimes, you need a little bit of fine-tuning in the tempo, which is where arcs and dots come in. You might see a dot right after the note, which means you have to add another count to the note equal to half the note’s value. For example, if you see a dot after a whole note, you need to hold it for another count of two.
Arcs, or ties, mean that notes are extended. You see this a lot in choir music, and it simply means that you have to hold the note for the length of all of the individual notes. For example, if you see three-quarter notes strung together, you hold the note for a count of three.
If you are having trouble understanding these concepts, look at a favorite piece of music where you understand the score. Read the music while playing the score in your head, and you will start to see how the notes, arcs, and dots work together to make the perfect melody.
How Long To Hold?
Sometimes, we might want to hold a note for a shorter period. In that case, we give the note a flag. When you see a note with a flag, it means that it’s half of its original value. When you play many of these notes together, you get a staccato feel.
The time signature refers to how fast or slow you play the music. You will see two numbers on the left side of the staff. The top number represents how many beats you will get per measure, and the bottom one indicates how long each note value is. This gives you a good idea of how fast or slow to play the piece.
Naturals, Sharps, and Flats
There are three types of notes; naturals, sharps, and flats. The naturals are the white keys on the piano, and the sharps are the black keys that sit just above the white keys. When you play a sharp, you’re playing a black key to the right of your note, and a flat is a black key to the left of your note.
Learning to read piano sheet music can open up so many new doors to music appreciation. Learn more about this fantastic skill by checking out this video, which illustrates it in action. Once you’re comfortable with the basics, check out our list of easy piano songs for beginners.