Would you like to learn how to read piano music better? Here is a piano lesson which will help to make note reading easier.
The skill of reading piano music fluently is important to master as you are studying a piece of music. This is a process that starts with decoding the notes, or the patterns of the notes in the piece.
Remember that this process of learning the notes is just one of many, and knowing how to read the notes of a piece doesn’t actually mean you know the piece yet.
But we do want to master learning the notes of a composition as quickly as possible, so we can focus on expression and how to interpret the piece...
The good news are that there are "tricks" to learn how to read piano music easier. This is what some piano students seem to grasp instinctively, that notes should be read as patterns, or clusters of patterns.
Each pattern represents a certain hand or arm movement, as well as a typical fingering. Much like reading words- when you scan through a text, you read words not letters and sentences more than each word at a time.
Seeing the notes as groups, as “words” or “sentences”, makes it easier for your brain to quickly decode what it means to play this pattern. Reading note by note (letter by letter) makes learning slow, and gives you no sense of context.
When learning how to read piano music we can observe that piano music consists of three basic groups of patterns:
That is only three groups. Each group of patterns represents millions of possibilities, of course, but it is still just three groups.
I have done that to show you in this famous sonatina in C major by Clementi: (Click here to get a free PDF).
All of a sudden you will see the piece in a new “light”. Instead of a bunch of unidentified notes in a “forest” of black and white - you can see patterns and shapes of only three concepts; scales, chords and intervals!
Your brain will "like" this very much, and apart from making it easier to learn how to read piano music, it will be easier to memorize later as well.
Now play and practice each “color”. Try to find repeated patterns of exactly the same thing (Yay, bonus!), or similar patterns that you still play using the same technique.
But wait! Music is rhythm too, and all those other little markings everywhere and the pedal, and, and…!!
True. But you can’t do it all at once can you?
When you learn how to read piano music, you need to prioritize.
The shapes, patterns and outlines (and what fingers to use) in the piece is what you need to get literally your hands on first, since these will be stored in your “motor memory”- controlled by a part of your brain commonly called “reptilian” brain, where they actually can be put on “auto pilot” when you learn more intellectual concepts like dynamics, tempo etc. (Very cool!)
So secure these movements (including the fingering) first. Rhythm is your immediate next step, and then other areas added for each repetition.
Since you can't do it all at once, you need to prioritize. Here are suggestions on two levels for the order that is best to work with when learning how to read piano music:
For first beginners starting out in five finger positions, first work on:
Start practicing a piece focusing on one aspect at a time:
For a bit more experienced players prioritize like this:
At first practice slow, legato and mezzoforte (medium loud) as it gives you a more secure playing. Then add each new “ingredient” gradually as you master the previous; of course sometimes you do more at once, like when you work on phrasing it is interconnected with dynamics.
And all the above is interconnected in the interpretation and expression of the piece. Integrating the parts into a whole is the whole idea ;)
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