How to Read Piano Music

Updated: 3 days ago

How to read music:

For the beginner in piano study, there is a multitude to learn- notes, rhythms, keys, scales, pedal technique and so so much more…

The beginner in piano studies is like a caterpillar in the tropical rainforest… a tiny organism attempting to survive, thrive and flourish in an environment inundated with enormity, intricacy and exotic colours woven into the fabric of the dense and lush forest that can only be described as an out of this world paradigm…

…That paradigm is MUSIC

Here are some popular methods for teaching pupils the musical language…

The clef model

Most commonly referred to in western music as the Treble Clef, this clef was originally called the G clef. It was created in the 10th century and was the pioneer in bringing forth a uniformity and universality to pitch recognition for the western world. It emerged out of the musical genre of Gregorian chant, of which the performers of the ancient chants utilised a paper trail of chant tunes using a basic pitch recognition system known as neumes (9th century practice). This system was basic and was replaced by scribes in the 10th century by the introduction of a horizontal line to indicate a base pitch or tonal anchor. The pitch of the horizontal line was represented by the placement of a letter at the start of a score. G indicated a higher pitch (Treble). Neumes now represented a standard system as opposed to a relative system (a tune/ pitch passed down by aural tradition or location- specific musical training). The treble clef sits on our current 5 lined staff system with either a tail like line or circular dot going through the second line up from the bottom of the staff to indicate the tonal base of G. Students may find that once G is found, the utilisation of the musical alphabet (ABCDEFG-ABCDEFG-ABCDEFG-ABCDEFGA) and common sense will aid in the recognition of musical pitch.

The Bass clef follows suite from the treble clef concept and origination history… The bass clef was used to help recognise a specific pitch base. In this case, the pitch is F. This clef was known as the F clef. As above, we can use it in tandem with the musical alphabet (ABCDEFG-ABCDEFG-AABCDEFG-ABCDEFGA) to help us to logically figure out what the musical pitch (alphabetical note letter) is above or below the base line (F).

This method works well for some pupils but for others, it is a nightmarish headache initiator… the next method is one that is popular among the younger generation and most students have heard different variants of this same concept. This next method is the Sentence Construction Methodology…

The first thing to note is the construction of the western musical staff- The musical staff contains, quite basically, 5 lines and 4 spaces… Each space and each line represents a specific musical pitch. In the Sentence Construction Methodology, the lines and spaces are assigned words corresponding to the respective pitch indicators, which in total form a sentence that may be construed as rather humorous or nonsensical.

Here is an example of treble clef Sentence Construction:

Lines (from bottom to the top):

1) Every 2) Girl 3) Buys 4) Designer 5) Footwear

Spaces (from bottom to the top):


(this is an exception to the sentence rule because, ultimately, each space corresponds to a letter that in sum, forms the word face.)

Here is an example of bass clef Sentence Construction:

Lines (from bottom to the top):

  1. Grizzly 2) Bears 3) Don’t 4) Fear 5) Anything

Spaces (from bottom to the top):

  1. All 2) Cows 3) Eat 4) Grass

Book Methodologies

The final methodology is taken from the Dogs and Birds music series, which is a methodology aimed at young children, 6 years and below, though its learning technique may be adapted so that it is accessible for older children and even adults.

I thoroughly recommend that teachers and parents educate their children or themselves using the training philosophy of Dogs and Birds which can be summarised as follows- Find the musical pitch indicated in the book on the musical staff (in the methodology, they use animal names for each note), Place an animal card on the correct positions for that particular pitch on the musical staff and then find the note on the piano, place a card on the piano note to say that you have found that note and then repeat the method daily until you have learned both the practice and theory behind piano studies.

This methodology ensures that the student of the piano is thoroughly acquainted with the keyboard layout and theoretical process of determining pitches.

Good luck in your teaching and Learning!

Authored by Mark Dowling

#pianoteacherslondon #pianolessonslondon #pianotuition #musiclessonslondon #pianolessonsforbeginners #pianolessonsforkids

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