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Reading Music

Updated on December 5, 2014

Reading Music Notes on the Staff

Do you play music, but have wanted to learn how to read music or improve your skills? Here is a lens with resources and materials about reading pitches and rhythms for my students, anyone who wants to read music, and anyone who teaches music. My hope is that the resources will help and encourage you in your studies!

Playing by ear is fun to do and takes much talent, but only playing by ear can place limits on your musicianship. What if you want to share your song with others, or write it down to remember it? What if you wanted to play a song that you have never heard, or one that you can only remember a part of? Reading and writing the notes isn't any harder than reading words, and it can broaden your playing in many ways.

If you can already read music, but want to improve on your listening and reading skills, try these to help you grow into a more accomplished musician! There are several places for "reading" musicians to practice and improve listening / auditory skills of intervals, chord and chord progressions, and improvisation.

This Reading Music lens is joyfully dedicated to the current and past music students of J.O.Y. Music Studio! :D I hope this information helps you become the best musician you can be!

1st / 2nd year students - Try these, and have fun learning your notes!

Bass Clef Practice

Eek! Shark! Game

Musical Notes Game (Harder! There are more in the games section below!)

Printable Note Name Flashcards

Online Musical Flashcards: Click on "Note Identification", choose treble or bass clef, click "Custom Range" and choose notes to study by clicking on the arrows (I would recommend entering the notes for G and / or C positions from the book instead of all of the notes yet), click on "Start Exercise".

Music Student & Teacher Resources

Joyful Songs' Musical Notes

Join my Facebook page for a daily musical "note" about various aspects of music!

Learning Music Theory

Music theory involves many different things besides reading notes on a staff. Melody, harmony, pitch, rhythm, expression, dynamics, tone color are just some of the things you can learn about. These web sites contain activities and lessons on more than one aspect of music. The * ones are the most fun and thorough, although a little more difficult. A few of them have adjustable setting to make them easier for children up to advanced! I hope you will find one or more of these useful!

Music Theory by Alfred Music Publisher - Thorough, fun, and easy to use!

Alfred's Essentials of Music Theory Software, Version 3.0: Complete Student Version, Software
Alfred's Essentials of Music Theory Software, Version 3.0: Complete Student Version, Software
Alfred Music helps ay a solid foundation no matter what instrument a student plays. The computer version in interactive and allows students to review concepts as many times as necessary to gain mastership. The print books contain almost exactly the same as the computer version, but are in print. Some editions are one level at a time; some editions contains all three levels in one; and finally other editions come with a CD to use for aural training. Wonderful resources for beginners - intermediate students of music theory. I have used these for over 20 years with my numerous students and would highly recommend them for multiple levels of learning music theory and reading.
Alfred's Essentials of Music Theory, Complete (Lessons * Ear Training * Workbook)-------------- (CD's Not Included)
Alfred's Essentials of Music Theory, Complete (Lessons * Ear Training * Workbook)-------------- (CD's Not Included)
This music teacher's #1 choice for students who want to learn music theory. See above for review.

Reading Pitches on the Staff

The two most important aspects of reading music are the pitches and durations of the notes. There is more, of course, but those two are good to start with. ~ This section has information to learn which notes to play when they are on those sweet little lines and spaces!

Many people like to use the following phrases to help them remember the note names on the staff. Although the phrases themselves don't mean anything, they are a mnemonic device designed to remember those line and space notes that can be confusing at first.

1 - Check the clef sign you are using. Treble clef is for the higher pitched instruments while bass clef is for lower pitches. Piano uses both clefs, also called the grand staff, to encompass the entire range of the instrument.

2 - Decide if the note you want to know is a line or space note. Line notes have the line cutting through the middle of them. Space notes sit between any two lines.

3 - Use the appropriate phrase by always starting on the bottom space or line and going up. In other words, if you want to know the note on the 4th line of the treble clef use the phrase "Every Good Boy Does Fine". Does is the 4th word, so the forth line from the bottom is D.

Treble Clef Lines = Every Good Boy Does Fine or Every Good Bird Does Fly = EGBDF

Think of birds flying in the sky to the higher notes on the treble staff.

Treble Clef Spaces = FACE (No phrase, just spell the word!)

Remember SPACE = FACE

Bass Clef Lines = Good Boys Do Fine Always = GBDFA

Bass Clef Spaces = All Cows Eat Grass = ACEG

Think: Cows are on the ground near the lower or bass notes.

These traditional phrases can help, but the biggest problem I see as a teacher is that students get them mixed up as to which one to use. Therefore I have a few suggestions to share that have helped my students over the years:

4 - Create your own phrase that has meaning to you. Sometimes the creative process of thinking the letters and coming up with a special (or funny) phrase keeps it in the memory.

5 - Most teachers and books only introduce a few new notes at a time. What I would strongly suggest is spending time each week memorizing those few notes, then reviewing them frequently as you learn new notes. Two or three notes per week is much easier than trying to remember them all at once! When you learned how to read words, you didn't recognize all 26 letters, their sounds, groupings, and spelling all at once. You probably learned the letters by sight over time, then sounds, small words, word families, etcetera, until you were able to read and understand bigger words. It is exactly the same in reading music. Start with a couple notes then build up to reading note patterns, scales, chords, and chord progressions.

Suggestions to help learn the notes:

- make flashcards to study every day (several sites below provide free ones for you to print out);

- read and check the notes in your songs each time you practice;

- write the notes on a staff and label them (links to blank staff paper may also be found below);

- create and / or play a game with them (challenge a friend or family member to name ten flashcards correctly in the shortest amount of time or make two sets of cards and play a "Concentration" type game, etcetera);

- purchase one of the many music theory books and work through it (many suggestions throughout this page). They come in levels from pre-school through adult. Many of the ones for kids are colorful and fun!

6 - It will not happen overnight! As with anything that you want to do well, you must work on frequently for more than a few days or even weeks. With patience, time, and dedication, I promise it will get easier. You WILL be able to read music when you give it a fair chance! =D

Piano & Music Theory

Alfred's Basic Piano Library Theory Complete, Bk 2 & 3: For the Later Beginner (Alfred's Basic Piano Library, Bk 2 & 3)
Alfred's Basic Piano Library Theory Complete, Bk 2 & 3: For the Later Beginner (Alfred's Basic Piano Library, Bk 2 & 3)
Music theory is easier to learn while learning the piano than other instruments. Piano is recommended as a starting instrument for everyone, even if only for a stepping block to other instruments. Most of my piano students have used the Alfred music theory books along with their lesson books. Alfred has matching level theory books, note reading books, and ear training books to correlate with each lesson level book. Very helpful to reinforce the theory concept you are working on in the songs. The children versions are colorful, creative, and fun!! Students usually ask me when they can do more! This book sample is a combined book to correlate to levels 2 and 3 in the older kid's series, but they also have versions for younger children and adults along with books matching certain themes and objectives. These are great whether you use the Alfred series or want to use them independently.

Reading Rhythms on the Staff

The duration of each note you play is pretty important! To see what I mean, sing an easy song you know. Now sing it holding some notes out longer, or making some notes shorter, or a combo of both. Although the same pitches are used, a different pattern of note values (called rhythm) can totally change a piece of music.

Try these links to learn more about types of notes and their values, how they make patterns, and how to count rhythms.

Fun for Kids!!

When children are having fun doing something, they are learning! The information is more likely to 'stick' with them when it has been an enjoyable experience. Here are a few more books students have liked to use!

Jazz Music Theory - Blues Scales, Jazz Chords, & More

Music theory for classical and jazz music are basically the same ~ with a few twists for jazz, blues, and rock! Try these to learn more about jazz foundational chords, scales, and progressions.

Ear Training - Improving Your Aural Skills!

Now, what do you do if you read music, but want to improve your listening skills to play by ear? Perfect pitch is a blessed talent only few seem to possess, but most people can train themselves to have better listening skills.

A great many of the websites under "Learning Music Theory" have ear training programs to practice your listening skills that you may want to take a look at! :)

Flashcards & Bingo Make Learning Fun!!!

Playing games is a great way to have fun, learn, and review what you know!! These are all games which are fabulous in a general music classroom, music studio, or home. I have used these numerous times in the classroom, small group sessions, and private lessons. They are both great resources for students to use at home with their families, also.

Music Reading Games - Free Online & Printable Games!

Some of the below sites have online music games, others have materials for you to print out. They are all free as far as I know. If you are a music teacher or parent who has created other games you would like to share, just let me know in the comment box, or the list above.

Music History & Appreciation

Other music units I wrote for my children, students, and fellow educators. :)

Music Activities Kit - Yes, it says Ready to Use!

Ready-To-Use Music Activities Kit
Ready-To-Use Music Activities Kit
I first discovered this cool activity kit book in my first year of teaching as a music substitute. You know, it can be scary as a substitute not knowing if the equipment is going to work or if the teacher has left you materials to teach a class. This book went with me school to school just in case a lesson plan only said "treble clef" and nothing else for 45 minutes - it sure helped to be able to legally and quickly copy a worksheet or two to teach solid materials that the kids enjoyed and were able to take with them. Since then I have used it to supplement classroom activities and give private students extra practice on music theory concepts.

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