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Learning to Read Music – How to read music notation

Are you starting out on the road to reading music? Do you want to know more about how to read music notation? Then this section is ideal for you. Anyone can learn to read music no matter what the age – it just needs practice.

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

The content of this musical reference section includes :

The Musical Staff

When learning to read music, within musical notation, the musical staff or stave is a set of five horizontal lines. It is the staff on which musical note symbols are placed to indicate pitch and time. The musical 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.

The Treble Clef

Treble Clef

The Bass Clef

Bass Clef


Musical Scales

When you learn to read music you will hear a musical terms called ‘a scale’. A musical 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. When you learn to read music for the first time, you will most probably start on the scale of C especially on piano. The reason you start on C on piano, is that there are no black notes (the sharp/flat notes)

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

When reading music to play 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.

This article on how to learn to read music and interpret music continues on the next page. The next section discusses key signatures, times signatures and other musical notation…

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


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