• A Beginner’s Guide To Reading Sheet Music (and Sight-Reading!)

    in Piano

    reading sheet music

    Many musicians who play by ear dream of being able to read music. There are countless pieces of complex music, especially in classical music that are fairly difficult to play by ear. Knowing how to read music opens the doors for being able to play anything you want as long as you can find the sheet music. Reading music is also an excellent brain exercise.

    So, with all these great things that come with learning how to read music, what are we waiting for? Let’s jump right into the basics. We will begin with a basic understanding of how to read the notes on a sheet of music.


    1. The Grand Staff. Music is notated on what we call the grand staff. Each note written on the grand staff tells us exactly which key to play. As shown below, the Grand Staff consists of a treble clef and bass clef. The treble clef is played with your right hand, and the bass clef is played with your left hand.


    1. Locating Middle C and Reading Notes. Middle C is our anchor of note reading. Many beginner pieces will begin on Middle C.

    Here is what Middle C looks like on the staff in sheet music.


    Here is Middle C on the keyboard. It is the fourth C from the left. You can find the first C by counting three notes in from the left side of a full, 88 key keyboard.



    A step above Middle C is D. There is no line through D.

    D copy

    The note above D is E. E is on the first line of the treble clef staff.

    E copy

    The notes C, D, and E are all we will be playing today.


    1. Time Signature. The time signature looks like two numbers stacked on top of each other and will be right next to the clef signs, like this:


    The top number will indicate how you will count and keep your rhythm throughout the piece. For example, if we have 4/4, it means that you will count 1,2,3,4, 1,2,3,4, etc. If we have 3/4, you will count, 1,2,3,1,2,3, etc. The bottom number will tell you which note value gets one count/beat. You won’t see that number changing much with beginner level music.


    1. Note Values. Today, there are only four different note values that we will focus on. A note value indicates how long you hold the note.

    Note Values
    The first note value we will look at is the quarter note. The quarter note is held for one beat.

    Next, we have the half note. The half note is held for two beats.

    Then, we have the dotted half note. The dotted half note is held for three beats.

    Lastly, we have the whole note. A whole note is held for 4 beats.


    1. Understanding Rhythm. To make sure you have a solid understanding of note values, let us practice with a couple rhythmic patterns.

    Rhythm 21. Let’s clap this rhythm while counting out loud. Remember the quarter notes get one count, half notes get two counts, and the whole note gets four counts. We will count 1,2,3,4 and start again from 1.

    Rhythm 1

    2. Now try clapping through this piece. Notice the 3/4 time signature. We will count 1,2,3,1,2,3, etc.

    Once you have mastered these, go ahead and print our sample sheet music here, and place on your music stand to prepare to actually play the pieces that we clapped.

    Step 1: Locate time signature. Now we know how to count for this piece. (1,2,3,4,1,2,3,4, etc.)

    Step 2: Find the first note and briefly study the pattern.

    -The piece begins on Middle C and repeats three times.
    -The next note is one step up to D, which is repeated five times. D is the key to the right of Middle C.
    -It goes back down to C and repeats three more times.

    Step 3: Study and clap through the rhythmic pattern, just as we did earlier.

    Step 4: Figure out hand placement. In the beginning, most pieces like this one begin with your thumb on Middle C. Since this music is written in treble clef, we will place our right hand thumb on Middle C. Your second or index finger will land on D, and your third finger on E. The left hand is resting.

    Step 5: Take a deep breath and prepare to play through this piece SLOWLY. Begin by counting and playing, making sure to hold each note value for its appropriate duration.

    Step 6: After reading through the piece once, go ahead and play through it one more time.

    Step 7: Repeat this process with the next piece, noticing the change in time signature (hint: count in threes) and a new note right next to D, E.


    Information is useless without action, so here’s what to do right now:

    1. Sign up below to unlock and download my simple compositions.
    2. Download my simple compositions here to practice using this system.
    1. Despite the possible initial difficulty with reading music, think about what you’ll be able to sight-read if you keep practicing. Also, don’t forget that in the end, it’s all about finding your voice through the music and having fun.



    The following two tabs change content below.
    Lara Mirinjian has passion for people, passion for playing the piano, and passion for teaching. She believes that success is dependent on mastering the basics, so she specializes in teaching the basics with an emphasis on sight-reading to the point of mastery so as to build an indestructible foundation for her students. Today, she is a proud teacher of a number of students who are learning not just the technical aspects of piano playing, but of the beauty of music. Come settle where piano meets passion at larasmusic.com.

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The "Official Guide To Piano Playing." Click here for more information.


    { 22 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Raymond Kafyulilo

    I thank you very much to provide the lesson of sight reading piano. My questions is I want to Open a school music in Tanzania how can you help us to get an Instruments like Pianos . We need 6 (six) piano. ? That is my QUESTIONS.


    2 marco

    Go to work!!!!


    3 Emmanuel Hisay

    I can read some music sheet but I need to know how read it fast and more.


    4 joshua jazzy

    Thanks sir.. I started playing the piano by Ear. And don’t bother about sight playing and reading but I wish I could master sight reading one day.. This article is very helpful as an interesting foundation to build upon… Thanks.


    5 Tekena

    Wow…Sight reading in “HearandPlay”, that’s new! but totally awesome. ;)


    6 Mayeso

    playing piano by ear meant more for me and sir, I dont want to learn this! so tiresome,Eish


    7 Jgs

    I love that coz it help my understanding faster


    8 Martha

    Thank you for the simple explanations. It really helps me to understand this new lingo!


    9 Bright Daniel

    Wooow! Am gonna love this.I really Love playing the piano,i have great passion for music and also learning new stuff.Thanks Lara.


    10 Blessing

    Thats very good..continue with the same spirit..


    11 Charlein

    Thanks…me and my daughter is interested to learn…God bless


    12 Prince

    Goodmorning to you, am Prince by name, i have been following your teaching few day ago, am interested in leaning how to play the piano, please i need the background on how to play the keyboard. Thanks and God bless


    13 Worrell Phulchere



    14 nzingula habari

    iwould like to know how to play piano


    15 Abel faith

    Thanks very much sir, God bless you and More Grace to your able.


    16 Mabel prince Obisike

    l am really impress of this information i learnt,it has guided me to scale through.Thanks a lot.


    17 simon ekakabor

    How do I get the count correctly


    18 Motaung

    How are u sir I trust u that u cn hlp me I’m playing a keyboerd at church.so realy wana no how to play all 12keyz pls and thank u


    19 Motaung

    I realy need how to play in 12 keyz pls sir thank u


    20 ayodeji

    thanks,bt am a beginner so i need some lessons to master all the keys.more grace to ur elbow


    21 Emark

    i will love to recieve music notes and also want to learn how to sing with them. I cant even sight read and i am a praise singer. please, I need help this area of sight reading a.d even sight singing too. thanks in anticipation.


    22 Chima

    Wow, I really enjoyed going through your teachings, it’s so educating, you wrote it out in a way that every person can easily understand it, thanks so much


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