Introduction: How to Master Reading Sheet Music for Piano Players

Picture of How to Master Reading Sheet Music for Piano Players

Most of the time when we think of reading, we think of reading a book. What's the last book that you read?

Do you realize that when we read a book, or even more specifically a paragraph on a page, we're not just reading the words? We read the punctuation marks to help us understand the emphasis on certain groups of words that the writer is saying. We also see words that may be in italics or words that are "in quotes" to signify that someone is speaking.

When we "read" sheet music, we have to do the same. We don't just look at the notes, we also have to look at several other things to really grasp and play what is intended by the composer in that piece.

The punctuation in sentences puts words together in groups which then make the words make sense according to what the author wants to say.

The "punctuation" in sheet music is just the same in that it shows us how to group notes together to convey a specific emotion that the composer is trying to inspire in the listeners.

This is why we can really master reading sheet music when we learn how to group notes together. This lesson will teach you several things to look for when you first begin a new piece that will really help you grasp the larger picture of the piece and you will be able to play it much easier and faster.

Let's take a look at the first way to group notes together.

Step 1: Intervals

Picture of Intervals

An interval is the distance between 2 notes.

To find the interval between 2 notes, you simply count the number of steps between the 1st and 2nd note, including both of those as well.

For example; Let's look at the Interval between C and G. Start counting from C up through the G, and you have 5 notes total, so the interval is called a 5th, or in this case a Major 5th.

If you are playing from C to E, you would be playing a 3rd because there are 3 notes starting from C and counting up to the E.

Now there are a couple of ways that we can read intervals in our music so let's move on to the next step to find out what those are.

Step 2: How to Read Intervals in Music

Picture of How to Read Intervals in Music

Remember, that an interval is the distance between 2 notes. You always include the 1st and last note when you are counting to find out how many are in the interval.

Intervals can be read either up and down or left to right.

Up and down intervals are most commonly referred to as harmonic intervals and left to right intervals are most commonly referred to as melodic intervals.

Image 1 shows how we can read intervals from left to right. To do this you simply look at the top line of the chord and figure out how far the notes are from each other. In this example, the first 3 notes are the same, and we call these Unisons. Afterwards, we start seeing the notes move up so we count the first note which is C and go up to the next different note, which is D, and we now have an interval, that is a 2nd.

Image 2 shows how we read intervals up and down. To read these intervals we line up the notes underneath the top note and start counting down instead of to the right. Again, include the 1st/top note and the note that you stop on, in your counting so you'll have the correct interval.

Now let's look at the next thing we need to pay attention to that will help us read sheet music easily.

Step 3: Chords

Picture of Chords

Basically, you need to make it a goal to master chords in your piano playing. Once you've learned how chords are made up and the different forms of chords that we can play, you'll have a much easier time identifying them in your music.

With some knowledge, you'll be able to start identifying chords by the key signatures and knowing what the intervals are even now.

As you go through the step of identifying your intervals harmonically you will see the chords and the more you increase your knowledge of chords, you'll pick them out faster and faster. Playing the chord will also help you hear what type it is, such as a diminished or augmented chord.

Beyond intervals and chords, there's another very recognizable aspect in sheet music that we can easily pick out that will help us read and play the music easily.

Step 4: Scales

Picture of Scales

Scales...we all know what they are.

They really help our playing when we work on scales in some way each practice session. Every piece of music ever written or played is based on scales; even if they end up coming out in chords.

The easiest way to recognize scales in our music is by finding lines of consecutive notes following each other.

Many times, the scale won't start on the first note of the scale as if you were practicing just the scale. They could start in the middle or near the end. But once you start playing the notes you'll be able to figure out what the scale is by the individual notes and even by ear.

Now there are a few other things that we can also look for that will help us read our sheet music faster. We'll look at those next before we sit down at our keyboards together to play through samples of all of these.

Step 5: Other Patterns to Look For

Picture of Other Patterns to Look For

Alberti Bass is when the notes in your left hand are repeated by playing the bottom note, top note, middle note, top note; and then repeating that process. This is very common in piano music.

Arpeggios are chords that are played in single notes rather than all together like we do in a chord.

Chromaticism is where our notes fall in direct succession to each other with no 1/2 steps in between. Each note, in fact, is a 1/2 step from the previous one.

The best way to understand each of these is to see them in your music. I'll show you these as well as intervals, chords, and scales in the video in our final step.

Are you ready to come and practice with me?

Step 6: Come Practice With Me!

OK...we have 6 different things for you to grasp in order to really increase your ability to read sheet music fast and correctly. This is going to make playing more fun!

When you first look at a new piece, try to look for the following things:

  1. Intervals - melodic and harmonic ones
  2. Chords
  3. Scales
  4. Alberti Bass
  5. Arpeggios
  6. Chromaticism

When you first begin, don't try to identify all of these in one session though. Take just intervals for example, and go through and really look at each kind of interval discussed in this lesson. The next day, try going through the chords and identifying the different ones that you see.

As with anything in piano, the slower we take learning new things, the better we will know them in the end!

Take some time to watch this video lesson once you've read through this lesson. I'll show you real examples of each of these 6 methods for reading sheet music so you can hear them and play them with me on your own keyboard.

Once you get these things down, you'll really see an improvement in your ability to read music much easier, you'll play the right notes and express the emotions that the composer was creating.

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