Top Tips for Reading Music in Both Clefs on the Piano

Pat your head and rub your tummy? Remember doing that as a child? Maybe you remember trying to do that as a child...what about as an adult?

No matter what age you are, playing the piano requires this type of thinking when we put both of our hands together to play because not only are the notes different, the clefs are different so we have to read two different languages at the same time, basically!

While challenging, it's not impossible because chances are - you're already playing in both clefs and you're ready to do it better and easier!

These tips will specific things to do and in a specific order so that reading and playing in both clefs will be much easier than trying to pat your head and rub your tummy at the same time!

The first tip serves as the foundation that the others are built upon - so it's important. Let's see just what that is.

Step 1:

You're not going to put both hands together for this first step. (Notice how we're breaking things down - again/as always - to make it simpler to learn)

  • Take each clef/hand separately. Master each one by itself.
  • We always start with our right hand...don't neglect your left hand. Take time to even start with your left hand or bass clef if you're still struggling a bit with those notes and where they are on the piano.

Use scales, exercises, anything you can that will reinforce what the notes are in the bass clef and the treble clef before playing both hands together. This teaches your brain to think in a very specialized way. Isn't it neat that we have the ability to do that?

Now that you have both clefs mastered, let's start putting them together in our music. The next tip covers how to do just that.

Step 2:

When you look at your piano music, what you see is a bunch of notes; some going up and down on the page and other going across the page from left to right.

Let's focus for now on the notes that go up and down.

Notice how I said the notes go "up and down"? That's because we commonly say that, instead of saying the notes go from down to up! However, that's exactly how we read these grouped notes in music...opposite from how we normally say it.

Read notes from the bottom to the top. (That sounds better.) Look at these notes just as you would build something. You set the foundation...the bottom note and then build upon that.

Otherwise, we will look at one note, then another, and forget what the first note was! Confusion is not what we need. (see image #2)

So remember to start from the bottom...always.

There's another way we can look at these notes in a group instead of just one by one. Let's see what that is.

Step 3:

If we start at the bottom of a bunch of stacked notes and go all the way to the top (including the Treble Clef notes), we are looking at the notes as a column, instead of each note individually.

This is where your mastering of each clef separately really helps because your brain is already trained to see each clef individually and as a part of the whole "one" column of notes at the same time! (See why it's important to master them individually before you start playing them together?)

Whenever you see notes in a column like this, you'll know that they are to be played together at the same time. These are usually chords and/or chords supporting the melody in the treble clef/right hand.

Now there is another way to look at these columns of notes that will help you read and play them faster than if you just read each note individually from the bottom to the top. We're going to do a different type of grouping next.

Step 4:

The last tip showed us how to view all of the notes in a column at one time.

This tip is about how to group the notes in that column so that they are much easier to read.

We group them by intervals. An interval is the distance between 2 notes in a chord.

Image #2 shows the interval between the two bottom notes, and that is a 3rd. How does this help you?

When you are proficient in knowing your intervals you can basically "speed read" chords because you automatically group them together instead of slowly reading each note at a time.

There's one more tip that is perhaps the most important as it groups all of these together into a successful path for the goal of playing easily and well in both clefs simultaneously.

Step 5:

Life lesson here - don't jump into the deep end of the swimming pool before you know how to swim.

Don't try to play some incredibly difficult piece or concerto before you have mastered each of these steps/tips AND used them in simple, short pieces that aren't so difficult that you'll become frustrated.

Just as we started this whole process by working on each clef separately...we do the same when we start playing in both clefs in our piano pieces.

This really is true with anything we do...we have to learn how to do it and master certain technical aspects before we can really do what we're trying to do...well.

So have patience...and why don't you get to your keyboard and we'll practice all of these different tips on the piano!

Step 6: Come Practice With Me!

None of these tips are hard to do and master if you take them one at a time and spend ample time really digging in and practicing each one.

In this video we'll practice each of these together at the piano so you'll be able to see the intervals on the keyboard, how I play the notes in a column and even the melody line.

Have some music of your own that is easy nearby so you can apply some of these tips to your own samples while we're going over them in the video.

If needed, review all of your notes in each clef, where they are on the piano (scales), what chords are and what intervals are.

We might not associate 'speed reading' with playing the piano, but these tips will equip you to read the notes in each clef much faster which will only help you play them much faster.

Have fun with this and remember that you'll be able to play more advanced music the more you conquer this major aspect of playing the piano.

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