How to Read Notes Faster Using the Clusters Strategy

A common goal for all pianists who are learning how to read music - is how to do it faster. There are a lot of notes that we have to read all at the same time, in two different clefs and we use a lot of brain power to accomplish this. That's one reason why we're so smart!

Today's lesson is going to teach you just how to do that - read notes faster.

Remember that pianists don't just read one note at a time...we read many all at once. We can have up to 4 or more different notes in each hand/clef that we have to play together on the same beat.

The fact that we do read lots of notes at one time so much when we play is what this specific strategy is built on.

Before we look at this particular method, let's take a quick review of our note names.

Step 1: Review of Note Names

We have notes on each line and space in both the Treble and Bass Clefs.

  • Always read notes from the bottom note to the top note, not from the top to the bottom.
  • Line notes skip the space in between each note and space notes skip the line note in between each note.
  • Treble Clef notes usually go from Middle C upwards (to the right) and Bass Clef notes usually go from Middle C down (to the left).

I play each of these notes in both clefs on the keyboard in the last step if you have any questions about where to play any of the notes. Make sure you go through that section thoroughly if you have any confusion about where they are on your piano.

Next, we're going to see what Intervals are and how they are going to help us learn how to read notes faster.

Step 2: Intervals

Intervals are the distance between 2 notes. Since we have so many different notes that we can play, we also have a lot of different types of intervals.

To determine what the interval is between one note and the next, simply start with the bottom note and then count up to the next note. However many steps you count is the name of the interval.

In a scale, we have 8 notes - although the bottom and top notes are the same, just an octave apart.

If you start with the 1st note and go to the next note, that will be a 2nd...go to the 3rd note and that will be a 3rd...go to the 4th note and that will be a 4th, and so on. It's really that easy!

Knowing what each of these intervals looks like in our music is an important ingredient in the method that we're about to learn. Take some time to learn how to quickly identify what type of interval you are looking at in your music.

Unique aspects of each interval are:

  • 2nd - this is the only interval where they notes appear to be right next to each instead of on top of each other in music.
  • 3rd - these notes are stacked on top of each other and if the bottom note is on a space, the top note will be as well. Likewise, if the bottom note is on a line, the top note will also be on a line.
  • 4th - you'll either have a line & a space or a space and a line in between the two notes and if the bottom note is on a line then the top note will be on a space, and the same for a spaced bottom note.
  • 5th - if the bottom note is on a space then the top note will be also, just like a 3rd. However, this time you'll have either a space or a line in between the two notes.
  • 6th - this one looks like a 4th but there is more distance between the notes and again, the top note will be on the opposite (line/space) from the bottom note.
  • 7th - this one is much like a 5th except that you have 2 spaces in between the two notes.
  • 8th - this is an octave so it will be the same note as the bottom note, only an octave higher. The top note will be opposite from the bottom note as to whether it will be on a space or a line.

Now that we know what each type of interval looks like, we're going to learn the special trick that this lesson is all about that you can use from now on to speed-read your notes!

Step 3: The Clusters Strategy

Now we're going to look at notes when we play them all together at one time in a chord and how we can use our interval knowledge to read the notes quickly.

This special method is called the Clusters Strategy and it just means that you group the notes visually by intervals to be able to read them at one time and read them faster than by going one note at a time. We literally read the notes by the intervals!

Complex chords are ones that have lots of notes stacked together. They are very common in more advanced music and you will find them in both the right and left hands.

As always in music, we make things easier by breaking them down into simpler sections.

The Clusters Stragedy breaks down complex chords into intervals by reading each interval in the chord one at a time. Always read the intervals starting with the bottom note going to the next note and do the same for each interval in the chord.

In our example (images 2 & 3) here we have a 3 note chord.

  • The first interval is between the 1st and 2nd notes, and that interval is a 5th.
  • The second interval is between the 2nd and 3rd notes, and that interval is a 2nd.

Simply read the chord by the intervals instead of by the individual notes.

You can of course always read chords as individual notes and it's not that hard to do when you have a smaller chord like this one with just 3 notes. If you look at the next image though, we have a much more complex chord with more notes and intervals in it. These are the types of chords that you will really want to use this method with once you're comfortable with your note names and intervals overall.

Are you ready to go over all of this at the keyboard and practice with me?

Step 4: Come Practice With Me!

There is a lot of opportunity in this video for us to practice this method together.

I go over note names and where each note is on the keyboard as well as play each type of interval discussed in this lesson. It's a great way for you to really see where everything is on your own keyboard while you practice these with me.

I also go through reading chords using the Clusters Strategy using our sample chord as well as that crazy complex chord in the final image in the last step! It's not as hard as you think!

So make sure you review your note names, where they are on your own piano, and practice reading through some of the intervals with me before you try this Clusters Stragedy. They are foundational to using this technique and once you master this you're going to love how fast you can fly through playing more advanced music, chords and even your sight-reading will improve!

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