One of the most valuable skills you will learn as a musician is to read sheet music. While you are learning the piano, learning how to read piano notes will be a necessary addition to this. Reading music will not just help you with learning your chosen instrument, ClassicFM has noted that it can also help with understanding history and culture more generally. Learning how to read sheet music is a wonderfully rewarding experience, and we are here to help you with this! Below we have detailed, in 5 simple steps, how you can begin to learn to read piano notes.
Table of Contents
Step 1: Learn Note lengths
The first step is to learn the different note lengths in music. This step in your learning is based on very simple math.
A full bar is counted as four beats in music, therefore, a semibreve (or whole note) is four beats long. On the piano, this is a long note to play, and your piano pedals will help you sustain this note. Not sure how to play with the pedals on a piano? Check out this article to help you: what do the pedals on the piano do. The four-beat note can then be divided into relevant shorter notes. Each note will be split until you get to a 1/16 of a note, or what’s called a semiquaver. Memorise each of the note lengths until you can immediately recognise them on paper.
Once you have done this, then you should practice counting the beats for each note in your head. Having a metronome will help with this!
Step 2: Learn The Treble Clef
When you are learning to play the piano, you will soon realise that you will need to learn two of the music clefs; the Treble and the Bass clef.
First, let’s start with the Treble clef, which is played by the right hand on the piano. Made up of 4 spaces and 5 lines, we will use this to memorise the note names. The white spaces on the Treble clef spell FACE, starting at the bottom working your way upwards. The lines spell out EGBDF. This one is a little trickier to remember so here is a handy rhyme to help: Every Good Boy Deserves Football. Memorise these note names until you can immediately recognise them on paper.
Step 3: Learn The Bass Clef
Now that you have memorised the Treble clef notes, it is time to move on to the Bass clef. The white spaces on this clef spell out ACEG, and the lines spell out GBDFA. Two great rhymes to remember are; All Cows Eat Grass, and Good Boys Deserve Fudge Always. Memorise these notations, as you did with the Treble clef until you can recognise them without thinking. You are halfway there learning to read piano notes! Well done.
Step 4: Match Notes With Your Hands
Now that you have memorised all the note lengths, and the notes on both the Treble and the Bass clef, it is time to start matching these notes up with the appropriate fingers that they should be played with.
This is a vital step to ensure that your technique and posture is at a high level while you are learning the piano. Starting on the middle C of the piano, your thumbs should correspond with this, i.e. your thumbs will be labelled ‘1’. Follow this procedure for all fingers on each hand. Obviously the fingers you use may differ slightly as you move up to more advanced levels, but at the beginning stage, you should try your best to use the appropriate finger for each note. Practice placing your fingers on the piano in correspondence with each note.
Step 5: Practice, Practice, Practice
Now that you have put the work in towards the basics of learning how to read piano notes, it is time to practice! Practice really does make perfect and if you really want to be able to read sheet music fluently, you will have to put in regular, significant practice. Using beginner-level music, you should practice reading the notes and playing the piano.
First, begin with just the Treble clef, then following this, only the Bass clef, then you should practice playing the hands together. Repeat these steps until you can comfortably play the piece from start to finish. Don’t forget, if you are struggling with motivation to practice, you can always get a piano teacher who will help guide you in the right direction. Check out our piano lessons page for a comprehensive database of fantastic teachers to help you with your learning.