Learning how to read sheet music for piano can be quite daunting at first because it looks like a series of lots of lines and dots with several random symbols thrown in for good measure. The key thing to remember is that piano music simply uses the basic elements of sheet music – it just has a lot of them because a piano player has 2 hands and a total of 10 fingers and therefore the potential to play a lot of notes at any one time. It helps to remember this when practicing as you can practice one hand at a time and make significant progress with whichever piece you are wanting to play. Some contemporary piano music has one stave (usually Treble Clef) for the right hand and chord symbols above or below the staff. Reading music may seem difficult at first, but over time, with practice it will become easier, but do not let it put you off.  With a little bit of time, a pencil and an eraser you can work out how to interpret most music. The first step to learning adult piano is to decide that you want  to do it, then to make a firm commitment to the practice required in  order to be successful. Once you've decided to learn how to play the drums you'll obviously  start looking for someone to teach you.
I’m sure most music teachers have taught students how to read music using rhymes at some stage.
This abstract way of thinking about notes is not only the slowest way to get to know musical notation, it is also highly unmusical, with the rhymes having no bearing on musical direction, pitch, or how each note relates to the next.
I remember having a six year old who was very musical, practiced insane amounts of unnatural hours every day, and could read music exceptionally well. Theory sheets such as the one on the right are very useful for students to put their alphabet practice into use.
I get students to practice in two ways – one, of course, is saying note names as they play. I have had a few students who have felt that if they don’t know the letter name of the note that they are playing, they think they are “cheating” or not really reading the music, and therefore try to just fumble through unmusically with lots of pauses, disregarding rhythm while they think of each note name in isolation, trying to remember which rhyme it was they needed for which clef. Taking this topic one step further, I then have students who feel if they are getting to know the music well and find that they’re not reading every single note, that again, they are cheating. I would love to know any experiences other teachers have had with students and their reading ventures, or also any other methods of approaching teaching notation and reading note names. So, for me, it’s yes to A-G to and fro, yes to naming notes, and yes to intelligently presented mnemonics.
I get kids to recognize EGBDFA in the treble clef starting on the first line in the treble clef and finishing on A (leger line) above the treble staff. EGBDFA in the bass clef starts on the E (leger line) below the first line and finishes on A (fifth line in bass).
I have always taught Treble Clef is called the G clef & shown them how the clef is art around G.
Amy your comment about using the clefs for note reference inspires me to add one of the points I use when teaching note recognition. My twenty years and hundreds of students have taught me that we all learn things differently. I try to start all my students reading relationships and intervals, but you know what, some of them just can’t make the physical and aural connection.


I believe an excellent teacher simply restates the information in creative and interesting ways until the student gets it. I don’t think rhymes, codes or any form of short cut are effective methods to use in music classes.
These methods or techniques tend to cause some confusion, especially when teaching students who were exposed to them from a previous music studio.
But I believe that the original way to reading music is most effective and all music teachers should practice doing so. Our support team consists of music teachers, like you, who also use Music Teacher’s Helper in their own studios. Usually (but not always), the top stave is written in the Treble Clef and the bottom stave is written in Bass Clef.
If we create a link to a product in a review, in most of the time, we do get paid a commission if you purchase the product through the affiliate link. You know, Every Good Boy Deserves Fruit, FACE, Good Boys Deserve Fudge Always, All Cows Eat Grass – or whatever rhymes you have used. But if I asked her to name a note, or asked her to start from a certain note in the music, she wouldn’t know what I was talking about. I explain the lines and spaces and stepping up goes up the alphabet and coming down goes backwards. I don’t think you can bypass this vital stage in getting acquainted with the notes – please, feel free to correct me if you feel this is wrong.
It has taken some effort with a few students to change this old way of approaching reading. It’s fantastic for teaching all sorts of things, and students really enjoy using it during a lesson. Every student has a running composition which we work on when time allows during a lesson, and this enables me to introduce all sorts of music theory points painlessly and with a great deal of lighthearted humour.
Just like a language the movement of the notes and its interval perception is the most important thing. I’ve been teaching piano for nearly 20 years, and never have I seen a more universally successful method for teaching a child to play from sheet music. The top stave shows the notes that should be played with the right hand, whilst the bottom stave shows the notes to be played by the left hand. In this case, you would play the tune with your right hand and improvise the chords with your left hand. I didn’t understand at that stage how she could read music so well without knowing her note names. Rather than rhymes, becoming so familiar with the alphabet A-G that you can say it just as quickly backwards as forwards is key to getting to know notes. The answer that I give them is that it is there to serve the purpose of creating the music.
You can send custom exercises to the parent’s email and they can work on memorizing those specific notes.


I agree that the menmonics don’t really seem to help, so I liked your reminder to work more with alphabet and intervals. Then I show how the treble clef is an old fashioned G, and the bass clef an old fashioned F. It provides a welcome break particularly when focus on the instrument becomes a bit tedious with small children. Of course, she just knew which note corresponded to which key on the piano, without giving them names, and could follow patterns.
Then, all you need is a base point, say middle C for example, and you can figure any other note out from there, going up and down the alphabet.
So once the music has served its purpose and you don’t need to read every note, that means that you’ve learned it well and the sheet music is then just a reference point as you need, or to see the bigger picture rather than individual notes. For example, when I see a harmonic C to G, I probably process it as a P5 first and then as C to G. Mnemonics work well, particularly as I teach guitar and it’s much harder for students to grasp how notes go up and down in steps than it is if they are playing on a piano keyboard.
When we’re teaching music as a language, however, being able to communicate verbally and have the same language is extremely important. Every week I will give a student one other note to memorise – middle C first, then the bottom line of treble clef, then the top space of bass clef etc.
In the early stages, this is just steps (2nds) and skips (3rds), but as new intervals are introduced, rather than solely thinking of each note in isolation, trying to figure out its note name, showing shapes and intervals and how that relates to finger patterns and hand shapes on the piano is much more musical and relevant to understanding direction and phrases. I can see how intervals would work particularly for instruments where the notes are laid out in a line though.
When you first learn to read, it is necessary to sound out each letter as you figure out the word. Otherwise, delving into more complex theoretical concepts and keys and scales becomes exceptionally hard as you can’t communicate verbally and be on the same wave length. Now, we don’t even see individual letters, or even words, but read in sentences, unconscious of each letter. Below the notes between the lines are A, G, B, F.  Using a similar trick to the treble staff, these can be remembered using the saying All Cows Eat Grass and those on the line can be recalled as Good Boys Deserve Fruit Always. I find that it is when a student reaching a comfortable point in reading that they have this little panic about not actually being aware of the notes anymore. And it is generally the ones without a great ear or memory and have had to rely on reading heavily in the early days.



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