How to Read Sheet Music course available now!

All musicians need to learn to read music if they are to make the most of their ability. The entire history of Western music is available to those who have mastered this skill. Yet for so many, reading music remains the single biggest obstacle to learning it.

It certainly was for me. In my childhood I even had an incompetent piano teacher fire me because she couldn't get me to read music. She literally told my mother, "Take your money every week and throw it in the garbage—Albert will never be able to play the piano!" As a result of this early experience, it was years before I would ever touch a piano again.

What is more unfortunate still is that music teachers fail to recognize the importance of training the ear to recognize what is heard. Most often, exclusively reading-based approaches result in the inability for the ear to guide the hands to the right notes. In turn, this results in slower learning, poorer memory retention and insecurity and uncertainty during performances.

My own position is therefore that the music educational system should place at least as much emphasis on ear training as it does on reading music. There is a simple reason for my conviction: Each art form requires developing sensitivity to its sensory modalities. The painter's eye is trained to notice infinitesimal details of light and color, the dancer's body to the subtleties of movement, the actor's voice to nuances of diction and inflection. The musician's artistic modality is sound, and the music educational system should therefore make every effort not only to sensitize the ear to sound, but also to train students to comprehend the music they hear.

Such an approach by no means diminishes the role of the eye; on the contrary, it only supplements it. At its best, reading music involves hearing each note in advance of playing it. It is not simply a matter of pressing the right keys at the right time—it is about first hearing in the mind's ear the notes one sees on the printed page.

Reading music therefore involves the synthesis of several musical faculties. First, the eyes must be trained to recognize the symbols of music notation. Secondly, the brain interprets these symbols, dividing them into pitch, rhythmic, dynamic and expressive components. It is at this stage that the music should be heard in the mind. Next, the brain sends the muscles the appropriate signals and the arms, wrist, hands and fingers must respond accordingly, at the right times. Finally, the ear properly gives feedback in two respects: confirming or denying that the correct notes were indeed played, as well as ensuring that the notes were played with the desired sound. This feedback loop is as dependent on good technique as it is on a trained ear.

How to Learn to Read Music

The reason the overwhelming majority of piano students are overwhelmed by reading music is because it is overwhelming. Play music at sight requires the simultaneous use of nearly all skills in piano playing: recognizing notes, finding their corresponding keys on the piano (each key on a piano plays several actual notes, called enharmonic), pressing the keys at precisely the right time and with the right speed, releasing the keys at the right time, listening with the utmost care to the sounds being produced, and expressing one's emotions in the process. It's no wonder most students find the task daunting.

Even the most complicated task can always be broken down into smaller steps. The foremost task in reading music is simply to recognize the note names, entirely independently of an instrument. You can't read a language if you don't yet know the letters. This is step one in reading music. If you are not yet able to read note names aloud as easily as you can name the letters in this sentence, you can't possibly expect to be able to read music at sight! You need to master this task before moving on.

How often to practice sight reading

Reading piano music (or music for any instrument) should be thought of much like training a muscle. Both the human mind and body function according to a strict use-it-or-lose-it principle. Practicing a little every day will yield better results than practicing a lot once in a while.

My goal is to make sure that my students become competent at reading music much more easily. I've therefore created a series of free lessons (listed below) that will introduce you to the essentials of reading music and ease your path.

If you're serious about reading music, I've created a comprehensive DVD and workbook course, How to Read Sheet Music. It's a beautifully produced, definitive professional method for training the eye to read music, and it will save you many hours of time and frustration. I invite you to check it out.


Reading Music Lessons

    Bass Clef
    This video is an excerpt from my course, How to Read Sheet Music. Let's take a look at the F clef. Here is the symbol:
    Beethoven's Fifth
    Question: I really hate to bother you with something so trivial, but I am trying to play a game and I'm stuck since I don't know anything about music. I need...
    Bottom Number of Time Signature
    Question: What does the bottom number of the time signature tell you about? Albert's reply: In simple meter, the top number of a time signature tells us the...
    Changing Fingerings
    Question: When sight reading new music by professional piano players, are the fingering positions subject to interpretation or are the fingerings 'set in...
    Compound Meter
    One of the more confusing aspects of learning to read music for many music students is compound meter. Also called compound time, I've seen virtually all...
    Double Flats
    Question: I am learning the Schubert Impromptu Op. 90, No. 3. Everything was going great until page 5. That's when the double flats came into play. I need...
    Finding the Notes on the Keyboard
    Question: How does one really remember to look at the key note on paper and find where it is on the piano? I want to be able to see the note and play it on...
    Finger Numbers
    Question: I can read notes but I don't know which finger I'm going to use with that note. I just wish to have sheet music with finger number on every note or...
    Grand Staff
    The grand staff (also called 'great stave' in British English) is a pair of clefs connected by a brace and used in particular for keyboard music:
    Half Note
    A half note (also called a minim in British English) is a note in traditional Western music notation that is notated with an open note head and a stem.
    How to Find the Melody
    Question: I was wondering if there is a trick to figuring out the melody line on a score. Is it always the top notes? What happens when it goes to the left...
    How to Read Piano Notes
    Learning to read piano notes need not be drudgery! This article will introduce you to the basics of piano music notation. The first thing you'll notice when...
    How to Read Piano Tabs
    Want to learn how to read piano tabs? Then look no further! Piano tablature notation is designed for simple music, and it's easy to learn.
    How to See the Music
    Question: Hi Mr. Frantz, I thoroughly enjoy reading your website. I have played single-clef instruments most of my life with very little formal piano...
    How to Write Music Notation
    Question: How do you write music notation of songs or hymns? How do you concentrate on musical beats? Albert's reply: If you're new to writing music, you...
    Learn Music Notes
    This lesson will allow you to learn music notes by introducing you to music notation. In it, I summarize the essentials of the system of notes and how you...
    Learn to Sight Read Music
    Question: I learned piano through the Suzuki method, and when it came to piano theory, I was aurally-dominant enough to fake it, too lazy to want to learn,...
    Ledger Lines
    Question: I know the notes are E, F, G, A, B, C, D, E, F, but how do I tell what the note is when it goes over or under the lines? Albert's reply: You're...
    Piano Note and Length of Stem
    Question: Mr. Frantz, I'm so glad I found your website. It is very professional and beautiful—obviously a lot of work and thought went into it. The...
    Piano Tablature
    Piano tablature (or 'piano tab' for short) is an abbreviated method of music notation. While used for modern pop music, the idea is nothing new: interestingly,...
    Playing by Ear and Sight Reading
    Question: When I was 8, in 1974, my mother sent my to the Cleveland Music School Settlement, in hopes I would learn to read notes to play the piano. I never...
    Quarter Note
    A quarter note (also called a crotchet in British English) is a note in traditional Western music notation that is notated with a solid note head and a stem.
    Reading Intervals vs. Notes
    Question: My daughter is currently learning (almost a year now) and I am learning with her. My challenge is music notes. When I play, I am kind of simply...
    Reading Intervals vs. Notes
    Question: My daughter is currently learning (almost a year now) and I am learning with her. My challenge is music notes. When I play, I am kind of simply...
    Reading Ledger Lines
    Question: I am having so much trouble reading the part where Schubert departs from the lovely, melodic scenario at the beginning and begins this dark...
    Reading Multiple Voices
    Question: Does your course also cover how to properly read and practice the multiple voices found in almost every piano/vocal/chord sheet music I see? I have...
    Reading Music
    How to Read Sheet Music course available now! All musicians need to learn to read music if they are to make the most of their ability. The entire history of...
    Reading Notes: Which Note Is Which?
    Question: My main problem is identifying and remembering which note is which. Is there any special way I could train my mind and brain to recognize the notes...
    Reading Piano Music
    For most piano students, reading piano music is one of the biggest hurdles in learning to play the piano. I've therefore assembled a series of practical, ...
    Reading Piano Notes
    Question: I just had my piano lesson yesterday and my teacher asked me to play this song and I did, and he realised that I was reading the numbers above the...
    Reading Sheet Music
    In my experience, reading sheet music is usually the greatest challenge for most piano students. The difficulties can be mitigated some by understanding that...
    Sharp and Flat Together
    Question: How do you play a note with both sharp and flat symbols in front of it? Albert's reply: There shouldn't be a note with both sharp and flat signs...
    Sight Reading and Timing
    Question: Hello, I have been playing with the piano now for four years. The first two years I have been teaching myself while my daughter was taking...
    Sight Reading and Training the Eye
    Question: I have a question about sight reading and how it relates to piano theory. I can sight read a normal piece pretty well, but only at a slow tempo.
    Sight Reading Methods
    Question: What do you think is the best method for training students for sight reading? Somebody said that one of the methods is practicing sight reading......
    Simple Meter
    'Dictionary definitions' of simple meter (also called simple time) tend to be so confusing that they are of very limited use to beginning music students.
    Solf├Ęge Note Names
    Question: Hello, I am a beginner at playing the keyboard and I have just been learning to read notes. My teacher has given me notes to practice - like...
    Synchronizing the Hands
    Question: Is there any 'rule of thumb' regarding playing notes in both clefs, at the same time? In other words, do the stems need to line up or do the notes...
    Time Signatures
    A fundamental component of music rhythm, time signatures display the meter of a piece or section of music. A time signature is composed of a top number and a...
    Training the Eyes
    Question: I have a few students who have great difficulty reading the notes on the staff. It has been brought to my attention that it may be due to a...
    Treble Clef
    This video is an excerpt from my course, How to Read Sheet Music. This symbol is called a G clef:
    What Is Music Notation?
    'Music notation' is a contradiction in terms. Music is heard, while notation is seen. Notating music is thus a translation from one sensory modality to another.
    Whole Note
    A whole note (also called a semibreve in British English) is the longest note typically found in music notation. It is notated with only an open note head...
    Writing in Fingerings
    Question: I am returning to playing the piano after 20 years. I took lessons from the age of 8 until I was 17. My problems are fingering, sight reading and...

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