How To Read Music

Learning how to read music can seem harder than it is. Starting out, it is like learning a new language, but not quite as hard though. Think of it like an orange with many parts that make up the whole: Make sure to study one part at a time first, not all at once!

Have a great tip or question on how to become better at note reading? Make sure to share it here so others can benefit from your question or ideas!

Learn How To Read Music While Playing

How to read music

Learning to read music while playing an instrument is easier because you can practice and try everything you learn.

Learning by actively doing is, as always, the best way.

But even if you don't play an instrument, you can use the one instrument you always carry with you- your voice!

Studying music theory only in “theory” in your head, is not so effective, but using an instrument and/or your own voice will make everything more logical and easy to both understand and remember.

The Piano

The absolute easiest instrument to help you learn how music notation works is the piano keyboard.

You do not need to be a pianist, or even learn to play the piano, but having a keyboard either as a picture or a real piano, will help you to easily see the notes and the relationship between them on the keyboard.

Using Your Voice

Using your voice in pitch, rhythm and interval ear training is important to be able to internalize also how it “feels” inside. For example; to sing a blues scale will give you the “Aha!” – feeling, not just by looking at one, no matter how much you think you “get it”.

But- what if I have a terrible voice and I hate singing!?

You don’t have to have a great voice, and you don’t have to love singing to learn note reading. In music theory the voice is used as a tool to understand concepts of music better, not to learn singing. For that you may take singing lessons if you like!

For learning how to read music in the best way, you will need to use as many of your senses as possible:

  • Your ears to listen,
  • you eyes to read, 
  • your voice and/or an instrument to feel,
  • some brains and a good sense of humor is great too!

Musical Elements

Understanding musical elements makes note reading easier. Music consists of three main elements:

  • Melody
  • Rhythm
  • Harmony

Although they all make up beautiful music, it is a good idea to focus first on one element at a time as you begin to learn how to read music notes. Go to How to Read Music Notes for more tips.

Or find out how you can Learn How To Read Music In 7 Days

Music Sight Reading

Reading music as you play or sing a piece for the first time is called music sight reading or prim a’ vista.

You can improve your sight reading with simple exercises. Done every day they can take you from “stumbling” through a score to fluently reading music as you play. Here are lessons to make you a better sight reader:

  • Music Sight Reading Part 1Mental Preparation. A list of 10 steps to prepare a music piece in your head before sight reading it.

Reading Piano Music

The piano uses a grand staff. This consists of two staves connected with a brace. When you play the piano, or the harp, you actually read two staves simultaneously!

Compared to most other instruments that only use one staff, pianists needs some clever techniques to make note reading easier. Read more about different types of musical staffs here.

How To Read An Orchestral Score

Learning how not to search for the nearest exit when exposed to an orchestral score, and actually be able to read it may seem like a thriller to most beginners in music theory. Believe it or not- there are actual techniques to doing it.

Studying a score is very rewarding if you know how, and especially while listening to the piece and follow along. When I was a musicology student, we had free passes to the Philarmonic Orchestra. I often brought a pocket score with me to enjoy the music while actually following along in the score (as best as I could!)

When I studied conducting we learned to read orchestral scores like books. It was fun to practice conducting in front of a mirror, with the music on loud- pretending to actually guide the orchestra from the score!

Recommended Resources

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