How to Read Piano Notes: A Beginner's Guide

The Piano Notes

The piano is one of the most learned instruments in the world, and is taken up by many kids and adults alike every day. The first step to learn the piano is to learn the piano notes, which can also seem like the most intimidating step. But it's not as hard as you might think. You can play the online piano keyboard to practice this lesson.

There are some easy things you can do to remember each note, and get playing in no time. Here's your beginner's guide on how to read piano music.

The music staff

Piano notes on the staff. G clef and F clef

The music staff is the set of lines that run horizontally across any given sheet of music. Each staff has five of these lines. There are typically five lines for the right hand to play, and five lines for the left. Each staff has its own cleff, the treble and bass, meant for the right and left hands respectively.

Each line on the staff represents a different note from A to G. Line one is on the bottom of the staff, with two being directly above and so on up to five. After G the notes go back to A.

The clefs

There are two clefs: the treble and the bass. The treble clef is meant for the right hand to play, and the bass clef is for the left hand. The treble is traditionally placed above the bass clef, and contains the higher-pitched notes on the right side of the piano.

The treble clef always begins with the treble symbol, which looks kind of like a fancy "G". It extends through the whole staff, with a little tail running under the first line of the staff. If you see this symbol, you know you're playing with the right hand.

The bass clef looks more like a comma, with the top touching line five of the bass staff and ending just short of line one. If you see this symbol, you're playing the following notes with your left hand.

Treble Clef Piano Notes

Of course, you won't get far without knowing what the actual notes on the staff are. Each line and each space between the lines of the staff represents a note from A to G. There are five of these on the lines, and four between.

The lines of the treble clef represent the notes E, G, B, D, F from bottom to top, and the spaces between represent F, A, C, E going upward as well. The easiest way to remember these is with mnemonic devices.

For the notes between the lines it's pretty easy; they spell out the word FACE. If you can just remember FACE, then you know what notes fall between the lines.

For the notes on the lines, a good device to remember is "Every Good Boy Does Fine," or as I was taught, "Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge". These are the more popular options, but you can fill the letters in with whatever words you want that help you remember. Just remember that they go from bottom to top, something some beginners struggle with.

Bass Clef Piano Notes

The bass clef is meant for the lower notes on the piano, and are mostly played by the left hand. 

From bottom to top, the notes represented on the lines of the bass clef are G, B, D, F, A, with the notes in-between being A, C, E, G. There are, of course, a number of mnemonic devices used to remember these, just like with the treble clef.

If you can remember "Good Boys Do Fine Always," or, "Go Back Down For Apples," you'll be able to remember each note on the lines (again, from bottom to top). The notes in-between can be remembered through "All Cows Eat Grass".

Again, feel free to come up with your own mnemonic device, or to look up alternatives. You can even write these notes out on your music sheets at the beginning, or use one of the many helpful music games and apps to help you remember.

Ledger Lines

Sometimes a note will appear above or below the staff, as a higher or lower note that is required to play. In this case, ledger lines are used to help you determine what these notes are.

Ledger lines are similar to the lines on the staff, but appear as a small strike through, above, or below a note that lands past the staff. For example, if we look at line five, or F, on the treble clef, if a note were to come above this line it would be a G and appear with no ledger line. The note above this G would be an A, and appears with a small ledger line through the head of the note.

This may seem confusing at first, but all you really need to do is look for the closest familiar note and count up or down from there to find the correct note.

Note Values

Finally, you'll probably notice a variety of different-looking notes on your sheet. The look of each note determines how long each note is played, otherwise known as their musical duration or value.

A quarter note is most common, and is played for one beat. These notes are filled-in black and have long tails (a straight line attached to the side of the note head) going upward or downward through the staff. 

Half notes look the same, except their centers are white, not black. These are held for two beats. Finally there are whole notes, which have no tails at all, are white in the center, and thick black around the sides. These are held for four beats.

Get these down, and your songs will sound smooth as butter.

Conclusion

You're now well on your way to knowing how to read piano notes and sheet music, and with practice you'll be tickling the ivories in no time. Remember to use the online metronome to have a perfect timing.

For more on learning the piano, check out the other articles, lessons, and apps on our site.