New to the piano? Reading piano notes is your first step to tackling that piece of music – check out these steps from Brooklyn, NY teacher Liz T. to get started…
Step 1: Label white spaces with FACE and EGBDF for the treble clef
We’ll take the treble clef first. This is the staff that shows which notes you are to play with the right hand. If you are learning for the first time, you must familiarize yourself with the letter names of the lines and spaces. On your staff paper, label the white spaces with FACE starting with the first space at bottom of page and going up, then the lines EGBDF, starting at the bottom line going to the top line. There are little tricks to help you remember the names of the lines and spaces – for example, just remember the phrase “Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge.” Work on memorizing this a bit each day.
Step 2: Write the note letter names
Now take a piece of music you want to learn, and underneath the music notes of the right hand in the treble clef, go ahead and write the letter names. (Use a pencil, that way you can erase it later!) This isn’t a great habit to get into in the long run, but it’s perfectly fine for just starting out. Or if there is one note you are having a hard time remembering specifically, feel free to just write that one note letter name. Keep in mind we are only focusing on the white notes at first. Don’t worry about the black keys, your sharps and flats, just yet.
Step 3: Memorize letter names, and move onto bass clef
After you have memorized all of the letter names on the lines and spaces for your right hand (the treble clef), let’s move onto reading piano notes on the bass clef, where the notes on the lines and spaces will be played with your left hand.
Step 4: Name your spaces ACEGB and GBDFA
Practice drawing the bass clef, which will start on the F line. Then with the spaces at the bottom of the page, name your spaces ACEGB (remember “All Cows Eat Grass,” and don’t forget to add your B at the top!). Then name your lines starting at the bottom of page GBDFA (“Good Boys Deserve Fudge Always”). Memorize these notations as well. Now transfer these letter names of the lines and spaces to your piano song from step #2, and name all the notes with your left hand in the bass clef.
Step 5: Or, find a hand diagram, and label each fingers 1-5.
There is also another method with numbers that may be easier for you to read. Find a diagram of your hands and, looking at the right hand and starting with your thumb, label each finger with 1, then 2, 3, 4 and your pinky should be 5. Do the same with your left hand. There are many easy piano songs to begin with, such as “Three Blind Mice”, “Hot Cross Buns”, “Mary Had a Little Lamb”, and “Jingle Bells” that only use notes C-G or numbers 1-5. Starting on middle C of the piano, put both thumbs on the note, and align both your hands so that your right pinky ends on 5 (G) and your left pinky should land on 5 (F). You can write in the numbers next to letter names, if that helps you out more. Remember to begin with only the white notes.
Now, as you read through your song, play and sing the letter or numbers while playing, which will help you memorize the names of numbers of the notes. Once you have practiced this for a while, try erasing the letter names and testing yourself to see if you still remember the playing pattern and tune of song. I bet you will do better than you think!
With these steps, reading piano notes and music will start to become natural to you, and it can even help you to learn other instruments as well as sing! For each piece you learn, write in the letter names or fingers, and then erase them when you get comfortable. Pretty soon you won’t even need to write them in!
If you ever need further instruction on learning to read piano notes, or if you would like to take some beginning piano lessons, schedule a lesson with me today! The earlier you start, the better, but I welcome all students, of all ages and levels!
Liz T. teaches online singing, acting, and music lessons. She is a graduate of the Berklee College of Music with a B.M in Vocal performance and currently performs/teaches all styles of music including Musical Theater, Classical, Jazz, Rock, Pop, R&B, and Country. Learn more about Liz here!
Photo by Basheer Tome