Learn to Read Piano Music

In this beginner piano lesson you will quickly learn to read piano music! 

Learn to Read Piano Music Step by Step

Sheet music on a piano

For this lesson, the only previous note reading skills needed is some understanding of basic "keyboard" knowledge, like direction (up and down), finger numbers, hand position as well as some piano theory like knowing the names of the notes and what a step and a skip means.

So below are first a few reminders about the basics of note reading, before we start to learn to read piano music, .

"Up" and "Down" On The Piano

First you need to know that the piano keyboard has two "parts":

1. The treble part of the piano are all the piano keys from the middle to the right (up). These notes have a high pitch.

  • This part of the piano is usually played with the right hand.

2. The bass part is from the middle of the piano to the left (down).

  • This part is usually played with your left hand.

When playing to the right we call it up on the piano, and when playing to the left we call it down on the piano.

The Grand Staff

When you learn to read piano music, you read two staffs (staves) at the same time. This is called a Grand Staff. The lowest staff is for the low or bass notes, and the upper staff is for the high or treble notes.

You will start playing the right hand while reading the treble, or G clef staff and with the left hand you will follow the bass, or the F clef staff.

Piano grand staff

Hand Position

Learn to read piano music.Finger numbers

Apart from learning the finger numbers (above), remember to check your hand posture each time before you begin to play. It is also a good habit to do so when you finish playing each piece or exercise..

Don’t worry so much yet if your hands “collapses” while you play, but fix the posture properly as you start and end at first.  You'll soon get used to the correct feeling, and will more and more adjust it as you play instinctively.

The hand position you will use when you learn to read piano music in this lesson is called “middle C position”. In this position, both thumbs will share "middle C".

It is not the greatest position to play in since your hands are kind of "squashed" together, but when you first begin to learn to read piano music it is a very quick way to understand how the notes move.

Let's Begin to Read Piano Music

Right Hand Notes on the Treble Staff

We will start using three fingers in the right hand. Finger numbers 1, 2 and 3. Starting on “middle C” (the C located in the middle of the piano), play with your right hand:

  • finger 1 (thumb) the note C,
  • finger 2 the note D,
  • and finger 3 the note E.

Practice these three notes and play them up and down, anyway you like, singing along the note names:

Learn to read piano music

Notes are read from left to right, as you read a book.

Here is a little melody using only these three notes. All the notes are quarter notes and last for one beat (or count) each.

The melody moves only by steps yet. Oh, and yes! Always sing along the note names as you play the first time!

Learn to read the treble clef

Left Hand Notes on the Bass Staff

This time let’s practice the left hand position. We will still use only three fingers. Starting from the same middle C again, left hand plays:

  • 1st finger (thumb) on C,
  • the 2nd finger plays B
  • and the 3rd finger plays A.

Practice these three notes in the same way as above, up and down, here and there, singing (or saying) the note names.

Here is a little tune using only three notes in the left hand. Keep singing the note names!

Both Hands Together on the Grand Staff

Now, let's practice both hands together.

Both thumbs ( finger 1) are placed on the same note, middle C, the other fingers 2 and 3 in each hand is placed on their keys (D and E in your right hand and B and A in your left).

Remember to keep a rounded hand position, and that all fingertips should rest on a key even when they are not used.

Here is the "middle c" position on the piano with both hands:

And here is a little exercise to practice note reading with both hands.

Observe how the notes move in steps and repeats, up and down.

Sing along the note names, and notice how the notes moving up get a higher pitch (means how high or low the tone is), and the notes moving down get a lower pitch:

-Ready for more? OK. Let’s add one more piano key for finger number 4 in both hands.

  • Finger 4 in your right hand pays treble F,
  • and finger 4 in your left hand plays bass G.

In the following example you will also use half notes. They last for two beats.

This time, count “1” for each quarter note, and hold each half note for 2 beats, while you count 1-2. Play slow and steady and count as you play!


-Thought so. Let’s add one more finger, number 5 (pinkie) in both hands.

Observe that each finger 5 is now playing each of the notes that the clefs are also showing us. (See the arrows.)

  • The treble, or G-clef tells us where G is. You play treble G with your right hand finger 5.
  • And the bass, or F-clef where the lower F is. You play bass F with your right hand finger 5.

Here is an exercise using all 5 fingers in both hands.

This example also uses the whole note. The whole note lasts for four beats, count: “1-2-3-4” while you hold that note.

Keep a steady beat. And...sing along the note names.

Up to now, you have read notes moving in steps, and repeats.

This exercise has skips as well. A skip is an interval of a third, skipping one note in between the notes up or down. Watch out for where the skips are!

Remember to sing along the note names as you play, this helps you learn to read piano music easier and faster.

Recommended Resources

Related Pages


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