Introduction to Note Reading


Today we’ve got a fairly long, heady video, but it’ll all be worth it when you can identify the different keys on the piano, as well as identify notes on the music staff!  Here are two PDFs you can use to practice note reading:

PDFs to practice note reading

Note reading in the treble clef

Note reading in the bass clef

The answers for each of these note reading sheets can be found at the bottom of this post.

Additionally, the warm-up exercise from the video can be found below:

Warm-up exercise

C pentascale

Note reading basics

So there’s two parts to reading music. One is looking at a sheet and being able to identify each note, and the other part is being able to then find that note on the keyboard.

First thing’s first – we use the alphabet to identify notes. There are only 7 different notes, so we use 7 letters – A B C D E F G.

The black keys act as our guide posts – notice how they are arranged in groups of 2 and 3. Every white key positioned before a group of two black keys is a C. The other 6 letters go in alphabetical order – C, D, E, F, G – and then it resets to A, B, and C again.

To practice this on your own, goi through all of the letters one by one, until you feel comfortable. Make sure you can readily identify C, as we’re going to focus on this note for the first few lessons.

Now let’s get playing something! Before we even read sheet music, let’s make sure you’re really comfortable with identifying letters on the keyboard. To make this easier, we’re going to learn a “hand position”.

So each hand has five fingers. Yeah I know we technically have four fingers and a thumb, but just work with me. Each one of your fingers is designated a number. The thumb is number 1, index finger is number 2, and so on with 3, 4, 5. It’s the same on both hands, and it’s really that simple. It’s really important to know this because it’s something you’ll need to know the entire time you play piano – as a beginner, and especially as an advanced student. But we’ll get into all that nitty gritty later.

So using your RH, take your finger number 1, your thumb, and place it on C. For this example, let’s use the C that is in the middle of the piano, called “middle C”. Let fingers 2, 3, 4, 5 fall on the letters C, D, E, F, G, so that each of your fingers is resting on its own key. Remember that hand position we talked about in the second video about piano posture – you want a gentle bend, not claw hands or flat fingers.

Now we’ll do the same with the left hand, except instead of placing finger 1 on C, you’re going to place finger 5, your pinkie, on the lower C. In the same way, let each of your other fingers fall on the letters C, D, E, F, G so each finger has a key. Now your hands are set up on the same 5 letters – CDEFG. Just to get comfortable with this shape, try playing these notes in order, up and down, in each hand. You can try hands together if you like, but it’s trickier.

Scene 6 (screen cap)
(grand staff)

Now to read notes! Each of the letters you played on the keyboard has a corresponding spot on the music staff, which is what we call these lines. Notes can be drawn on the spaces or lines (draw).

But let’s backtrack a moment and talk about these two symbols – the top one is called the treble clef, and the bottom is the bass clef (write words).

Scene 7 (face)
(at keyboard to demonstrate)

if you know anything about the words ‘treble’ and ‘bass’, you’ll know that ‘bass’ usually indicates low sounds, and ‘treble’ indicates higher sounds. USUALLY this means that your right hand plays the notes in the treble clef, because your right hand has access to higher sounds, and your left hand plays notes in the bass clef, which make lower sounds.

Scene 8 (screenshot)
(back to grand staff)

So for simplicity’s sake, this means RH, and this means LH. This symbol over here is called a brace, and it’s basically linking the RH and LH together, because as you know, playing piano involves using both hands, often at the same time.

All right. Remember when we found middle C on the piano? Let’s find middle C on the music staff! Here’s were middle C is in the RH, and here’s where it is in the LH. See how it is in basically the same spot? There’s another reason it’s called ‘middle C’ – it’s the C that goes in the middle of the staff!

If we’re going up into the RH, the next nearest note we can draw is a D, which goes here (draw). See how it’s moving up, from a line to a space. The next nearest note we can draw goes here, on this line, and it’s an – E! Then if we move up again, to the next space, we have an F, and finally, one more step up onto a line is G. We’ll just worry about those 5 notes for now.

So every time you see a note in this spot, it is always a D, or it is always an F, and so on.

Now let’s look at the LH. We’re actually going to go on a longer journey for this one, and you have to think about the alphabet backwards. Is your brain ready? Okay.

So here’s our middle C. We step down onto the space, and we get – B. B is before C. Step down even lower onto the line, we have an A. And what happens once we get to A? You gotta reset and go back to the other side of the alphabet, which is G! And going backward from G, you get F, and backward from F is E, and so on to D, and another step down to C. do you get how this works?

Scene 9 (screenshot)
(picture of grand staff with C position)

Okay so remember the hand position we tried earlier? This is what it looks like on paper. CDEFG, and CDEFG. At the end of this video, you can check out one of the PDFs called “note naming practice”, where you can just work on identifying where these notes go.

Scene 10 (screenshot)
(001 pentascale pdf, first line)

Today we’ll try a straight-forward assignment called a “pentascale”. Penta means 5, and a scale is just a pattern of notes.

Notice how this first set of notes is located on the treble clef’s lines. That means they’re played with the right hand. And do you remember what this starting note is? He’s hanging out in the middle, he’s … middle C. Notice how the notes ascend, and then descend. At the end, we have a cluster of notes all stacked up. Notice how it’s our guy C on the bottom, then we skip a note to E, then we skip a note to G. Since they’re stacked up, they’re meant to be played at the same time. I’ll show you how it sounds.

(play) * hold shot of sheet music

Scene 11 (screencap)
The next set of notes is in the bass clef, so left hand. It follows the same pattern – ascending, descending, then a cluster. Do you remember what this note down here is? It’s a C! So it’s the exact same pattern. I’ll play it so you can hear.

(play) * hold shot of sheet music

Scene 12 (screencap)
The final set of notes is a bit different. Notice how it’s the same pattern of notes as in the first line, and second line. This time, they’re stacked up – that means they’re happening at the same time. This exercise is meant to be played with both hands at the same time. I’ll show you the sound.


Scene 13 (screencap)
The final thing to notice is, the different rhythms of these notes. You see our pentascale is a bunch of quarter notes, each getting 1 beat, so we play nice and steady. The other notes you see are half notes, meaning they are to be held for two beats. Always make sure you’re observing these rhythms.

There are a few numbers here. These are finger numbers, and you can just use them as a general reference.

Finally, we have this word ‘legato’ at the beginning, and these swoopy lines. “Legato” simply means to play smooth, and the swoopy lines are called slurs, which means to play smooth. Try to keep the sounds of your notes connected when you see this marking (singing example). It’ll make your pentascales sound more beautiful.

Scene 14 (face)
That was a lot of stuff! Linked to this video are the PDF for the pentascale which I encourage you to practice, as well as the note naming PDF I mentioned earlier. Get really comfortable with this information before moving on, since we know that every great skyscraper needs a stable foundation.

Thanks, subscribe, etc.

Hope you enjoyed today’s lesson of putting it all together, and I’ll be back on Saturday with another Q&A!




Answer key for the PDFs:

Treble clef: C, E,D, F, E, C, F, G
E, D, C, G, E, D, F, E

Bass clef: F, D, E, G, F, D, C, E
G, E, D, E, F, G, D, C

Allysia has been teaching piano in Canada for nearly a decade, and has her Grade 10 RCM certificate. She especially enjoys nerding out to music history and theory. When she’s not making videos or teaching, she’s reading, writing, and jamming in a rock band.

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