If you’ve recently taken up a new instrument, or this is your first, then you’ll know how intimidating it is to try and learn music reading.

To play a few chords or notes is one thing, but to translate the signs and symbols you read on a sheet book into music is quite another!

Yet if you want to reach a high level of proficiency with your instrument of choice, then you have no choice but to learn to read sheet music. Once you can read music well, you’ll not only be able to play with a band, but you’ll understand a lot of musical concepts on a deeper level such as pitch, timbre, and timing.

Are you ready to make sense of all the lines and squiggles and put in the hard work?

If so, read on to find out how you can learn to read music depending on whether your instrument of choice is the piano, the guitar, or the drums.

read sheet music
Sheet music can seem like a jumble of symbols at first, but before long you'll understand most of what you see. Unsplash.
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How to read sheet music

To read sheet music, the first thing you need to do is decide whether you’re going to embark on the journey alone or with a tutor.

Both self-teaching and working with a tutor have their pros and cons, so we’ll explore exactly what they are.

By Yourself

If you’re going to commit to learning sheet music by yourself, then we commend you!

It’s admirable to take the initiative and dive into the deep end without assistance, but we know you can do it.

So, what’s the best approach to self-teaching sheet music?

First things first, you’ll want to brush up on the basic notation symbols, which are as follows:

Staff - The staff is made up of five lines which have four spaces in between them. This is the canvas on which you’ll find the other symbols. Each individual line and space corresponds with a letter that belongs to a note, from A-G.

Clef - There are two types of clef: the bass clef and the treble clef. Depending on what instrument you play and the pitch it sounds in, you will work with the bass clef or treble clef. The bass clef is for lower registers while the treble clef deals with the higher registers.

Notes - Notes occupy the lines and spaces of the staff and indicate which letter note you should play and for how long. Notes are composed of three parts, the round head is called the note head, which is held in place by a stem, and sometimes a flag tails off the end of the stem.

While this might sound like a straightforward first take on your journey to music reading mastery, it can be deceiving.

See, not only do you need to know what the various notation symbols are, but you need to know how to read them when they’re placed together on the staff. Specifically, you’ll need to know whether you’re looking at a whole, half, or quarter note. Whether the note has a flag or not, for how long you need to play the note, and even when to rest (which is indicated by rest notes!)

As such, before you get on to reading the notes with music playing, we recommend that you take some time to truly study the various notes until you have a solid grasp of what you’re dealing with.

With a tutor

If you want to learn how to read sheet music quickly, then your best bet is to hire a tutor.

Why?

Simply because music tutors have been where you are before, so they know all the common mistakes you could make and how you can overcome them.

They can guide you along the process and save you an awful lot of time since self-teaching requires a lot of trial and error and often results in mistakes as you slowly work through the material.

If you like the sound of working one-on-one with a qualified music tutor, then Superprof has you covered.

With Superprof, you can find experienced music tutors specializing in all kinds of instruments near you. Even if you prefer to work online, you can, as classes can be taught online.

Resources

To learn sheet music correctly the first time, regardless of whether you work with a tutor or by yourself, you’ll want to find the best resources out there.

While once upon a time music students had to figure everything out for themselves or with a teacher’s help, these days there’s a wealth of resources available online that can help accelerate the learning process and keep things fun.

Here are some top sheet-reading resources to check out:

Piano sheet music

piano keys
Learning new piano songs is a lot easier when you know a thing or two about sheet music. Unsplash.

For all you aspiring pianists out there, the good news is that learning how to read sheet music for piano at a basic level shouldn’t take you too long.

As mentioned above, the best thing that you can do in the beginning is to dedicate some time to the basics, by learning all about the note values and other music symbols you’ll encounter.

To make piano sheet music easy, we recommend that you take a hands-on approach.

That means go and get a sheet of paper and a pen because we’re about to start writing out the music alphabet!

A keyboard is helpful too (or a piano, of course) as you can see how the alphabet translates to the keys.

In music, the alphabet consists of the letters from A to G.

Using what we already know about the bass clef, treble clef, and staff we can map these three notes out onto our sheet of paper.

Then, you’re going to want to write out the music alphabet going diagonally across the two staves - you’ll want to find an image online to do this accurately.

When you’ve learned what letters on the keyboard correspond to what letters on the staves, you’re ready to start practising. For beginners, learning piano sheet music with letters in pop songs is a fun way to get started.

Simply type in piano sheet music with letters into a search engine alongside the name of a pop song, and you should be able to find the sheet music you can play from day one.

Guitar sheet music

Guitar sheet music takes place on the treble clef, so make sure you know just what that is and its placement in the staff before you get started on the fun stuff

Learning how to read sheet music for guitar, in the beginning, is a case of committing the following mnemonic to memory: Every Good Boy Does Fine (EGBDF).

Starting at the bottom of the treble clef, you have an E, and then at the top, you have an F.

But what goes in between these notes that are spaced out?

A FACE, that’s what.

So that means the F goes after the E, the A after the G, and so on.

Once you learn these mnemonics, you’ll be much better equipped to read sheet music for guitar.

After brushing up on the basics of sheet music for the guitar, you can move on to learning the key signatures, which will tell you what key to play the music in.

Even if key signatures don’t sound familiar to you, sharp and flat signs might.

So depending on what line you find the key signature, you need to play the note as such, for example, an F sharp or a C flat.

One of the last things to learn starting out with guitar music is the time signatures. These are what tell you about the song’s rhythm. Specifically, they indicate how many beats there are per measure, and they look like a fraction with one number above the line and one underneath it.

Drum sheet music

Drum kit
If you want to rock out on the drums, it's best to brush up on drum notation first. Unsplash.

Drum sheet music belongs to the percussion group of instruments, and as such, follows a slightly different form of musical notation than wind and string instruments.

Even though at first glance drum music will resemble classical sheet music, there are some key differences.

For example, drum sheet music uses symbols to represent the various components of the drum kit from the snare to the hi-hat.

You’ll also find that in drum sheet music, the notes are divided by vertical bar lines in the staff, which are known as measures. This is to help you keep rhythm.

The cymbals of the drum set have their own form of notation, adopting an ‘x’ which usually comes with a stem.

To understand how to read drum sheet music, you must first learn all of the parts of a drum set, so that you know what it is you’re supposed to play and what note each part corresponds with.

Here’s an overview of the various parts of a drum kit:

  • Kick or Bass Drum
  • Floor Tom
  • Tom Drum 1
  • Tom Drum 2
  • Snare Drum
  • Ride Cymbal
  • Closed Hi-Hat
  • Open Hi-Hat
  • Hi-Hat Pedal
  • Crash Cymbal

 

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Jess