Learning to Read Music Notation

Learning to Read Music – How to read music notation

This section contains information on how to read and interpret music notation, which may be useful to beginners. This is information which may help if you are learning the piano or keyboard or indeed any other musical instrument. It is mainly most useful for musical reference purposes.

The content of this musical reference section includes :

The Musical Staff

In musical notation, the musical staff or stave is a set of five horizontal lines on which musical note symbols are placed to indicate pitch and time. The staff is read left to right and the higher a position on the staff, the higher the pitch of the note to be played. If a note appears above or below the 5 lines, ledger lines are used to indicate the exact note.

The musical staff on its own does not help you to represent any specific notes, that is without a musical clef. The two main clefs are Treble clef and Bass clef – if these are combined it is called a grand staff. When reading music you will have a Clef Type, a Key Signature and a Time Signature.

The two main types of musical clefs are shown below and the notes for each clef are shown on it – Middle C has been underlined with a red mark.


Treble Clef

Treble Clef

Bass Clef

Bass Clef


Musical Scales

In musical terms, a scale is an ascending or descending series of notes or pitches. Each note in a musical scale is referred to as a scale degree. Though there are many different types of musical scales from chromatic scales, modal scales and whole note scales to minor, pentatonic and Arabic scales. The usual scale which people learning an instrument for the first time, will depend on the instrument they are learning and the key of the instrument. For demonstration purposes the scale of C is outlined below.


The Scale of C - in Treble Clef

The Scale of C in the treble clef

The Scale of C - in Bass Clef
The Scale of C in the bass clef


Playing Musical Scales on Piano

Playing a scale on piano, requires a particular fingering technique. The Treble Clef scale is played with the right hand and the Bass Clef with the left hand.

Playing Scale of C (Treble Clef) with the right hand

Starting with the thumb, play the first 3 notes, then hook the thumb under your 3rd finger and continue playing the F to C with your Thumb and remaining 4 fingers. – Therefore the scale is played as 1,2,3,1,2,3,4,5 with 1 being your thumb and 5 being your little finger.

Playing Scale of C (Bass Clef) with the left hand

Starting with the little finger on the left hand, play the first 5 notes, then pass the third finger over your thumb  and continue playing the A to C with your 3rd finger, 2nd and finally your thumb. – Therefore the scale is played as 1,2,3,4,5,3,4,5 with 1 being your little finger and 5 being your little thumb. Simply the opposite layout of the right hand.

Continue to Key Signatures, Time Signatures and more >>>