Musicians have all kinds of ways of learning the music they play and conveying music they’ve written to other musicians. Some do this completely by ear and demonstration, and others will write out what are called ‘charts,’ which essentially outline the chord changes and melody of a song by writing them in sequence on a piece of music paper. For those who don’t know what sheet music is, it’s essentially five lines and four spaces oriented horizontally across a sheet of paper in rows that can vary in numbers. On these lines, composers will write out the notes, rhythms and any other instructional materials in order to play the piece. Reading music isn’t terribly difficult, but it does take some practice! Many musicians these days know how to upload music to spotify before they know how to read music, which is completely understandable. Instruments and music distribution are actually a bit more accessible than expensive music lessons. However, if you’re just starting to read music, we put together a list of tips that will help you get started and start practicing your note reading skills. Let’s get started!
Use Mnemonic Devices
To get started reading music, first determine the range of the instrument you’re learning on. Depending on how high or low an instrument is, they will read music in different clefs, which is a fancy way of organizing high and low range into a small five lines on the page. Let’s say you’re learning to read music on the guitar. Typically, the guitar reads in treble clef, which represents higher ranged instruments. In this case, we can use a mnemonic device to remember what notes go on each line and space on our staff, which is what we call the five lines and spaces. For treble, the notes on the lines are E, G, B, D and F. We can make this easier to remember by adding a word after each letter. For example, Every Good Burger Deserves Fries, is a popular device to remember the letter names for each. For spaces, they are F, A, C, and E, which spell the word Face. Use this device to remember the names of the notes on the staff!
Start With Scales
After you’ve got a basic understanding of the notes on the staff, it’s time to start putting this into practice. The best way to start off doing this is by playing scales, which are all of the notes in a given key played in sequence. An easy scale to start with is C Major. Quickly look up the following in your preferred search engine; ‘C Major Scale on (insert instrument here).’ This should result in sheet music with all of the notes for C Major. Scales are relatively easy to play, so the idea here is to give the student an easy exercise so they can experience playing and seeing the notes at the same time.
Learn Simple Songs
Once you’re starting to get a grasp on reading notes on the page when playing scales, it’s time to try learning a simple song! Regardless of your age, the best thing to do is choose something very, very simple like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star or Mary Had a Little Lamb. These melodies are simple, and give you a basic idea of how melodies can bounce up and down and move through a piece.
After some time, and comfortability, it’s time to try one of the more difficult skills when it comes to reading music. This skill is called sight reading, and it means reading music and playing without having ever seen the music before. This might sound a little bit scary, but it’s a skill that many professional musicians rely on. In the film industry, orchestra members are typically only given their parts a few hours before the session, or at the session itself. That means that musicians need to be prepared to be playing songs they’ve never heard or seen before. To start off, start extremely slow. Choose some relatively simple pieces that use scales you already know, and just go for it. It’s helpful with this kind of practice to have a recording of the piece being played correctly to compare after words.
Practice, Practice, Practice
As with anything in music, the name of the game is practice. The more you do it, the more skills you’ll develop along the way. The most important things to remember are to not get discouraged, and expect to make mistakes! Lean into those moments, because those are the ones you learn from in the long run. Make them loud, make them proud and try again. Reading music isn’t easy, but it’s something that everyone can learn to do with a little practice.