How to read music notes: The beginner’s guide

23rd October 2020

While some musicians are blessed with the ability to play music by ear, the majority of people need to learn how to read music notes to play the piano.

Without having formal training, the notes and bars can all seem like an incomprehensible jumble but with a little support and a bit of practice you will soon be able to decipher music notes.

So, if there is a song that you have always dreamed of learning to play – or your life-long ambition has been to learn to play the piano what are you waiting for? With the dawn of the internet and development of easy to use apps there is plenty of support to be had whether you are already having piano lessons or not.

How to read music

The basics of reading music are fairly simple to get your head around. To start with, on the most basic level all music is set out on a stave, which features five lines that the music notes sit in or on.

The stave is then broken into bars that give music its beat – how many beats are played in each bar. This is always indicated in the number at the beginning of a piece of music. Very often this is 4/4, especially when you are learning. That means each bar is worth four beats and the notes need to equal 4 beats.

Piano music is set out for either the right hand or the left and this is again indicated at the start of a bar of music. The treble clef sign is a signal that you will be playing higher notes (usually with your right hand), while the bass clef signals that lower notes on the left-hand side of the piano will be played.

How to read music notes for piano

It is where the notes are placed on the stave that indicates which key you should play – these are different for the right hand and left hand.

Using simple mnemonics it becomes much easier to memorise which order the notes go up or down in and which letter/ key they represent on the keyboard.

Common ones include:

Treble clef: Every Green Bus Drives Fast (for notes sitting on the lines beginning with E on the first line)

FACE – the word is spelt out with the F sitting in the first space and the remaining letters following.

Bass clef: Good Boys Do Fine Always (starting with the G sitting in the bottom line)

All Cows Eat Grass (starting with the A sitting in the first space)

When you have the catchphrase in your mind to remember the notes it is just a matter of matching them up with the notes on a keyboard as shown here.

Music notes for kids

The mnemonic tricks are an excellent way to help kids and adult learners alike remember the notes on a piano.

Developing as a player does mean memorising the notes or at least working out how many keys to move up relative to the notes on a page – i.e., up one line.

Once you have mastered the basics of which note is which, you can move on to establishing timing though crotchets (worth one beat), minims (worth two beats) quavers (worth half a beat) and semi-breves (worth four beats as a general rule), as well as incorporating sharp and flat notes.

Memorising the notes in a bar is certainly the best place to start in your journey as a piano player though.

Pianos for sale

Broughton Pianos is a family business that sells a wide selection of pianos from its base in Stourbridge in the Midlands. This includes grand pianos, acoustic piano, digital pianos and second-hand pianos.

If you are looking to begin your journey as a piano player talk to us about the best choices for beginners.

To arrange a visit to our comprehensive showroom, or to discuss a model that you have seen on our website please get in touch.