Unless you plan to play music by ear, you’ll need to learn how to read sheet music for piano. Sheet music displays the notes of a song and musicians interpret it as if they were reading the words of a speech. It isn’t difficult to read piano music notes once you understand the basic structure of sheet music because no matter the song, the structure is always the same. And although sheet music may look bizarre to the beginning pianist, experience will prove to make the process easier and almost natural over time.
Musicians interpret sounds or pitches recorded onto sheet music as notes, but to the layman, notes look like circles — sometimes solid circles and sometimes hollow circles. It’s when these circles are placed onto a staff that they begin to make sense, represent notes, and suggest a song. In music, the staff is the group of five horizontal lines in which notes sit. There are two main staff in piano: Treble and Bass. Usually these staff are together to denote the higher and lower notes in a music piece. Below are the two staffs (called the Grand Staff), notes and their corresponding pitches on the piano keys:
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The next logical piece is to know which pitch or tone belongs to which line/ space on the Grand Staff. And then maybe you think it is too difficult to remember all the names of the notes. Don’t worry! There are ways to help you to memorize the five notes corresponding to the five lines. For example:
For the notes on the lines of the Treble Clef (from bottom to top):
Every Good Boy Drives (a) Ferrari
Every Good Boy Does Fine
And For the notes in the spaces of the Treble Clef (from bottom to top)::
The Notes spell the word F-A-C-E:
For the notes on the lines of the Bass Clef (from bottom to top):
Great Big Dreams For America
Good Boys Do Fine Always
For the notes on the space of the Bass Clef (from bottom to top):
All Cows Eat Grass
Piano music notes can do much more than just suggest a pitch or tone however and at times, they can look quite complicated once you understand them. We’ll start off with the basic note and then describe how they can become pretty intense with just a few minute changes.
The basic note looks like a lower case letter “d” with its circle filled in. That kind of note typically represents a single note or one beat. When the circle is hollow, the note is played for two beats. When a note looks like a lower case letter “o” however, the note is played for four beats. The first note that we described is called the quarter note, the second is called the half note, and the third is called the whole note.
When played by themselves, these piano music notes don’t mean very much. It’s only when they’re placed on or between the lines of a staff that they represent different sounds or pitches. A note that appears on the bottom line of a staff for example will sound lower than a note that appears on the top line of a staff.
It isn’t sufficient to write or play piano music with notes alone. Other symbols are needed to create interesting rhythms or tones. So you may for instance, see a small dot next to a note. This dot means that a note should be played longer. If a dot sits next to a half note, the half note (which is normally played for two beats) is then played for three beats.
A tie is another symbol that affects the way that piano music notes are played, and it looks like an arc connecting two notes beneath it. The tie indicates that the two notes beneath it are to be played as one.
Other times, you may see a pound sign (#) or small “b” next to a note. The pound sign is actually a sharp sign and it indicates a note’s sharp pitch whereas the small “b”, or flat sign indicates a note’s flat pitch. To sharpen a note, simply go one half-step up and flatten a note, simply go one half-step down.