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Learning To Read Piano Sheets

Updated on October 5, 2016

Introduction To Reading Piano Sheets

When you look at Piano Sheets, you are looking at notes, rests and musical terminology on the page such that you can read and play favourite pieces on the piano in a musical manner.

When you are learning to read piano sheets you will need to know your note names and note lengths.


Then you can read this lens to get an introduction of basic musical terminology, understanding and reading rests and learning how to read and remember the musical notes. You will also get an introduction to melodic and harmonic intervals and chords.

All of this will give you a great start in learning to read piano sheets.

Piano Pleasures

If you haven't got a piano you will need a piano to get started

Using Musical Terminology in Learning To Read Piano Sheets

You will be introduced to musical notation, terms and signs in your process of learning to read piano sheets.

Here are some you will need to know to start with:

stave or staff

the 5 lines and 4 spaces where music is written on. Used for single line instruments. In the diagram you see a treble staff where the treble clef is situated and a bass staff where the bass clef is situated.

Top Picture

grand staff

this is when the treble staff and bass staff are joined together with a vertical line called a brace, at each end of the line.

Lower Picture

treble clef

sign which goes at the beginning of the treble or top stave in the grand staff to indicate playing notes with the right hand.

bass clef

sign which goes at the beginning of the bass or lower stave in the grand staff- sign to indicate playing notes with the left hand.

time signature

this is the two numbers seen at the beginning of a piece to indicate how many beats or counts there are in a bar.

The top number indicates the number of beats/counts in a bar

The lower number indicates the type of beat there are 'x' of.

For example:

3 indicates there are three crotchet or quarter beats / counts in a bar



these are the verticle lines you see at regular intervals on sheet music for

ease of counting and flow of the music.

double barline

this is a thin and thick barline to indicate the end of a piece.

bar or measure

this is the piece of music or notes seen between 2 barlines.

These signs and terms are a lot to take in when you are first learning to read piano sheets so they are there to keep referring to. They are usually found at the beginning of tutor books.

Understanding Rests When Learning to Read Sheet Music

A rest is a sign of silence. There are different rest signs to indicate how many counts or beats you need to be silent. And they correspond in name to the note lengths.

In the diagram you see rests with their corresponding notes.

Whole Rest or Semibreve Rest

This is a filled in rectangle sitting below the second top line on any stave and is worth 4 counts of silence.

Half Rest or Minim Rest

This is a filled in rectangle sitting on top of the middle line on any stave and is worth 2 counts of silence.

Quarter Rest or Crotchet Rest

See diagram for its' look. It is worth 1 count of silence.

Eighth Rest or Quaver Rest

As seen in diagram. It is worth half a count of silence.

Learning To Read Notes From Piano Sheet Music

When you are learning to read notes from piano sheet music it is important to understand what a note is first.

A note is a sign on a page or sheet of music ( either single pages or in book form ) to indicate what its name is eg A, B, D ; what key to press in order to create that sound and how long to play that sound for eg 1, 2, 4 counts or beats.

When you are reading notes from piano sheet music you are looking at the 'signs' written on the page and working out what the note name is eg B , F, what the note length is eg 4, 1 count and what the correct key is to press on the piano. You are also learning to read and play notes with the right hand when you see the treble clef and notes with the left hand when you see the bass clef.

This diagram has two treble clef notes on the treble staff.

The first note is a 4 count B.

The second note is a 1 count F.

You will learn which B and F on the piano to press with step by step instructions from a teacher, tutor book or online piano course.


Types of Notes

Notes are divided into two main types or groups;

line notes and space notes.

Line Notes are notes written on the lines of the stave eg like the first note B in the above diagram.

Space Notes are notes written between the lines of the stave eg like the second note F in the diagram.

There are little sayings to help you remember the notes.

Start from the lowest word and work your way up.

The first letter of each word is the musical note name.

The exception is the treble clef space notes where the letters from the lowest note upwards spell a word.

Line Notes

Treble Clef : Every Good Boy Deserves Fruit

F ruit

D eserves

B oy

G ood

E very

Bass clef: Good Boys Deserve Fruit Always

A lways

F ruit

D eserve

B oys

G ood

Space Notes

Treble Clef: F A C E





Bass Clef: All Cows Eat Grass

G rass

E at

C ows

A ll

You can make up your own sayings to help you remember line notes and space notes. When I was teaching a young boy these, he suggested for the treble clef line notes that 'Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge'. I said that 'Every Good Boy Deserves Fruit' is the healthy alternative!


Learning To Read The Notes

Take a look at the diagram of some of the notes you can learn with the right hand and left hand.

The lesson example below gives you 5 steps in learning the notes F G A B middle C (RH + LH ) D E F G, where a new note in each hand is added on each step. Step 1 could be 1 lesson, step 2 another lesson etc. however you could take 5 lessons to master one of the steps.

lesson example

step: 1 2 3 4 5

R H : C D E F G

L H : C B A G F


You would learn to read and play the notes, step by step and with each progressive step you would play exercises and pieces using the new notes of the step plus the notes learnt in previous steps.

Teachers, Tutor Books and Online Courses may vary in the order of learning to read notes .

Sometimes you learn C,D,E,F,G from the right hand middle C and left hand from the C 8 white keys or 1 octave lower.

At each step you would:

1. Get used to interpreting note names from the sheet music and transferring it to a played sound on the piano by pressing the indicated key.

Exercise: Read and play the notes from diagram above using any note length.

F G A B middle C in the bass clef using your Left Hand

middle C D E F G in the treble clef using your Right Hand

2. You would interpret the note lengths and work at getting the counting correct.

At this stage it is time to introduce Rhythm.

Piano Music Box

Whilst you contemplate the notes and think about rhythm get into the mood and look at your piano music box.

Understanding Rhythm When Learning To Read Piano Sheets

Rhythm is defined as movement with a regular repetition of a beat, accent, rise and fall, or the like. In music it is the combining of notes into patterns. When you understand rhythm and the music should be counted, then reading piano sheets becomes easier and your playing is more musical.

This diagram has two crotchets and a minim in different patterns which adds up to 4 counts, thus creating a rhythm. The line between the groupings is a bar line.

You met the time signature before in the Musical Terminology section. This tells you how many beats or counts there are in the bar or measure and hence an indication of the counting you do. It tells you to start the count at 1 and count upwards until you meet a bar line. The counting starts at 1 again after the bar line.

In this example there are four beats in a bar and hence you do repetitions of the counting 1 2 3 4 .

You need to count at a steady, even pace. Imagine marching girls keeping that even pulse going when they march.


1. Clap and count 4 bars of crotchets ( one count note ) using a time signature of



Make count 1 and stronger beat ie clap more loudly.

It would go like this: 1 2 3 4 / 1 2 3 4 / 1 2 3 4 / 1 2 3 4 //

2. Clap and count the two bars given in the example. You have to put the counts underneath the notes. For long notes you move your closed hands for each count or beat.

3. You can now play these two rhythms on the piano using one note.

4. If you feel like being creative, try playing different notes using the given rhythms. You now have a little composition.

Please note that this is one way of composing music.

Take a look at this example.


1. Clap and count this rhythm.

2. Play this rhythm on one note.

3. Play this rhythm on different notes. Wow, another composition!

Remember to count 1 2 3 4 / 1 2 3 4 etc with an even beat.

Jingle Bells

Now it is time to learn the start of Jingle Bells.

Note the fingering numbers, crotchets, minims, semibreve, rests, time signature, clefs, brace and grand staff. All you have to do is add the counts.

When you learn a piece of music you can:

1. Clap and count the rhythm.

2. Play the notes as written.

Aim at getting the note names correct both in reading them from the page and finding the position on the piano.

Then work on the note values to master a great rhythm.

You may have to keep referring to Musical Terminology to help you with the process of reading notes from piano sheets and hence playing a piece.

Learning To Read Intervals and Chords

Up to now we have covered basic musical terminology, rests and the reading of notes

including rhythm and counting. Now it is time to touch on intervals and chords.

Music is made up of notes which form melodies and harmonies in the form of intervals and chords. Let's get an understanding of these to help in the learning of reading piano sheets



Intervals are the distance between tones or sounds called 2nds, 3rds, 4ths,5ths etc

There are two types of intervals, namely Melodic Intervals and Harmonic Intervals.

Melodic Intervals

These are the intervals between notes which are played separately, hence making a melody.

This one is a Melodic 5th.

Harmonic Intervals

These are the intervals between notes that are played together, hence making harmony.

This one is a Harmonic 5th.

The right hand plays mostly melodic intervals and the left hand plays mostly harmonic intervals.


A chord is when 3 or more notes are played together. There are different types of chord. The triad is the most frequently used and consists of three notes played at the same time.

You can see three examples of triads in the diagram to the right.

Chords are either written out in full on sheet music or as chord symbols.

Go Here for further information.

Learning To Read Piano Sheets Conclusion

This introduction has given you an overview of basic musical terminolgy, rests, reading notes from sheet music, rhythm and counting of music and a brief encounter of intervals and chords.

Learning to read piano sheets is a gradual process and the length of time to learn is subject to individual variation.

Reader Feedback

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    • Hezekiah profile image

      Hezekiah 15 months ago from Japan

      I play by ear or from the chord names only. I would love to be able to read music.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Outstanding. Thoroughly enjoy it. I play piano as well.

    • Irenebonjour LM profile image

      Irenebonjour LM 6 years ago

      great lens!! i find it very informative!! check out my lens, too. i'd posted videos of my original compositions there. thanks!!