Tips on Reading Sheet Music

Whether you’re shopping for a piano for your six year old to give her/him a “head start”; or you’re a learning musician who needs better ways to practice, here are some counterintuitive tips on reading sheet music.

Tip #1: Get through the learning curve.

The first time you flip open sheet music and stare at the treble clefs and bass clefs and time signatures and other surprising notation, it can be pretty intimidating, particularly if you’re looking at a crazy piece by Prokofiev or something like that.

As with any language, you need to learn in baby steps. For instance, if you’re teaching your six-year-old how to read notation, start with the treble staff alone. Use fun pneumonics, such as the ever popular “Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge” pneumonic that helps you remember the progression of the treble clef. Here are good rules of thumb:

  • Start simple enough so that you don’t feel overwhelmed.
  • Give yourself a “reach goal” – a reading exercise that’s hard for you but not impossible.
  • Practice and repeat – ideally with the guidance of an experienced teacher.
  • Repeat as necessary until you know the language.

 Tip #2: Write as well as read!

It’s all along good to be able to eyeball sheet music and extract euphonious sound from it. But take some time to transcribe and retranscribe pieces, whether or not you ever want to compose. By writing as well as reading, you will develop a new level of fluency with musical notation that will help you with your playing or singing skills.

 Tip #3: The text is ultimately only a rough guide. But the only way to transcend the guide is to master the language in great detail.

This is one of the great ironies of music literacy. In order to improvise and play with true passion – a passion that allows you to forget the technical aspects of what you’re doing and focus on the richer and more subtle emotional aspects – you need to be utterly comfortable with the form.

Thus, if you’re tempted to “skip all the basic stuff” so that you can “get to the good stuff,” you’re doing yourself a disservice. Structure gives rise to creativity – it does not constrict it. So even if you just want to play unstructured jazz or record music for your band, take time to practice correctly and really develop literacy, so that you can then improvise and emote with abandon.

For help with your musical journey, connect with the experienced team here at Pianos Plus. For four decades, we’ve been one of the Bay Area’s leading piano providers, we can help you find solutions for your musical needs.