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How to Read Piano Notes

Duane Shinn

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Reading piano notes may seem daunting at first, but it really isn't if you ground yourself in the basics. The first step is learning the names of the notes. The great thing is that you only have seven to memorize.

All music is the result of combinations of these seven. These notes, named after letters in the alphabet, are A, B, C, D, E, F and G. Specific keys on the piano, associated with these notes, comprise your piano playing toolkit.

These seven notes sit on lines and spaces, called a music staff. Piano music consists of two staffs or staves: the Treble Clef and the Bass Clef. The notes from the upper portion of the piano keyboard sit on the Treble Clef. The notes from the lower portion of the keyboard sit on the Bass Clef.

Usually, the right hand plays the notes in the Treble Clef, while the left hand plays notes in the Bass Clef. The key to reading piano notes is in knowing what key relates to what note on the sheet music.

The note A on a piano is a white key. The A on the music staff corresponds to where the A note is on the keyboard. The notes on a keyboard repeat themselves:

A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A

Each of these notes is a key on the piano. It's that simple, all along the keyboard.

The first A sits on one point of the music staff. As you play along the keyboard, the second A you play sits further up the music staff. As your fingers run up to the upper portions of the keyboard, the higher the notes sit on the Treble Clef. The further down you play on the piano keyboard, the further down the notes sit on the music staff, running into the Bass Clef.

You can group notes together on a music staff vertically. These vertical grouping are chords. A chord is a group of three or more notes played simultaneously. If you play the C, E and G keys at the same time on the keyboard, you play a chord known as a triad. On a piece of sheet music, you will see these three notes as such:

C . . . piled on top of one another so-to-speak.

If the composer wants these notes played separately, he would write them out horizontally on the music staff as such:

C E G . . . moves along the music staff.

Of course, these letters do not appear on the music staff; instead oval notes replace the letters.
When you first begin to read piano sheet music, locate the reference point note of each staff. This allows you to determine the rest of the notes on the staff.

The Treble Clef has the G note as its reference point. This note is on the second line from the bottom of the five line Treble Clef staff. The Bass Clef has the F notes as its reference point. This note is on the second line from the top of the five line Bass Clef staff. Every other note on either staff is easily located from these points.

Reading piano notes will be easier when you study the fundamentals. Learn the Treble and Bass Clefs and where the seven notes sit on them, and your reading skills will improve.

Duane Shinn is the author of the popular online newsletter on piano chords, available free at "Exciting Piano Chords & Chord Progressions!"


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