Learning to read music can be rather daunting, especially if you haven’t had any music lessons before. While it is important to realise that there is no quick fix, it is something anyone can do with practice when broken down into easy steps.
In this post I hope to dispel a few myths, and hopefully give enough encouragement for one or two new beginners to take the plunge and have a go.
How To Read Music: Getting started
When you start to learn music theory it’s usually because you are learning an instrument. This is the best way to begin, as you learn to read the notes as you play. In the early lessons you’ll learn the note values and note names. You do this by practicing simple repetitive exercises that allow you to absorb the new information as you go.
Even if you are learning to play a different instrument, it is never a waste to learn the notes on a keyboard. The keyboard provides a visual way to link the theory to a real sound, and to see the intervals (steps between the notes) as you play them.
When you first try to read a piece of music, you should approach it in a systematic way. Look out for the visual clues before attempting to play. With young children, I always say they are being detectives, trying to solve a mystery.
Like learning any new skill, practice is key. Practice is always best ‘little and often’. Learning to read music should be approached in the same way as learning to read words, with a clear strategy and gradual progression of level.
How To Read Music: First Steps
- Learning the note time values. Depending on the age of the pupil this can be taught through rhythm games or with The Clock Song. Both explain the basic music notation in an accessible way. It’s also a bonus that these games are such fun that children are very happy to play many times over! Check out My Note Family Stories eBook which is an effective way to teach note values that kids love.
- Learning the names of the notes – I use an animal themed memory game to help my pupils remember the order of the notes. This is the best way for children to learn as it gives them a good visual trigger and is very easy to memorise. Older pupils also find this method really helpful!
- Do – Re – Mi or Solfege. This very old method of learning to read music has lasted so long for the simple reason that it works! It also encourages the pupil to sing and therefore develop an ability to ‘hear’ the music in your head. This helps by anticipating how the music sounds before you actually play it. The Solfege method uses songs and games so it’s a great way for younger children to start their musical training. It can also be practiced alongside the conventional names of the notes to teach sight singing, build aural awareness and strengthen the musical ‘ear’.
- Understanding the Stave and the Clefs – The stave and clefs can look a bit scary at first! It’s important to explain it in a visual way, and if possible in front of a keyboard. Just as words are written on lines, so are music notes. You just need more lines than with reading, because the notes go up and down. This is why we have the five lines of the stave. Clefs are needed to tell you whether they are high notes (treble clef) or low notes (bass clef). For more practice and printable resources check out my eBook which covers the basics of music theory.