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Reading Intervals vs. Notes

reading music

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 comparing the position of the note to the previous vs. knowing the note on the clef then responding which finger plays it. Am I doing right as a starter?

Thanks! I am glad I found your site.

– Chenwei (Naples, Florida, USA)

Albert’s reply: In principle this is exactly correct. You’re reading intervals, as opposed to reading note by note. In other words, you’re reading the distance between the notes, associating those distances (intervals) with the piano keyboard.

In the beginning, this method will work well as long as there are no accidentals (sharps or flats), either isolated or in the key signature. To put it in the simplest terms possible, if there are no accidentals, only white keys are played. Beginners invariably start out playing only the white keys when first learning to read music, since the more advanced skill of reading accidentals needs to come at a later stage.

I recommend starting with reading only pieces with no accidentals, and even then first concentrating on reading only melodies. When you do, train yourself from the very beginning not to look at your hands. You will have a much easier time reading music if you form good habits from the beginning of your studies!

Once you encounter sharps and flats, you’ll need to know the key signature chart, which you can download for free from this website. At that stage, the more you learn music theory and the better you know your scales, the easier it will be to read and learn more complex music.

I cover these and many more concepts in my course on how to read sheet music. This course is designed exactly for students in your and your daughter’s position, and I’m sure that it would save both of you very much time and effort. In the meantime, you can be confident that by reading intervals you’re very much on the right track.

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