• dianamillermusic

Welcome back!

In this segment of our continuing series on how to read music, we're going to talk about the piano. If you think back to the first lesson in this series, we talked all about pitch. Music uses 7 letters of the alphabet to help designate pitch.

A, B, C, D, E, F, G

Remember, when we get to G, we just start the sequence over with 'A'. If you'd like to practice recognizing these pitches on the treble clef staff, remember you can always practice at MusicTheory.net. (You can also teach yourself Bass and Alto clef!)

Here is our piano:

The easiest way to begin to learn with letters go where it to memorize the very first note: C.

As you can "See" (get it? See? C? Nevermind) the letter C is the white key on the piano that always comes before the two grouped black keys. If you can memorize and identify 'C' on the keyboard, that will give you a solid foundation for the rest. As you go 'up' on the piano, you'll want to go forward through the alphabet. When you get to G, simply start over with A. The result is this:

There is an exercise/game that will help you learn to identify the keyboard notes here, thanks to wonderful folks at musictheory.net. You can also do an exercise where they will show you a note on the staff, and you have to click the correct note on the keyboard. They are all great activities to teaching yourself the language of music.

Let's get a very simple song, Mary Had a Little Lamb.

Notice all of the elements we've covered in other posts: the bar lines, the rhythms, the pitches, etc. Since you already (hopefully) know how the song goes, you can use this old knowledge to sync it to your new knowledge.

What is the first note in the song? It is a quarter note, and its letter name is B. Find B on the keyboard.

Now, look at the music again. Does it go up or down from B?

It goes down! If you refer above to the keyboard, it goes down twice from B. So your first 3 notes in the song are B, A, G.

Using this knowledge, you should be able to figure out every letter note in this song, and match it to a key on the piano. You can easily and quickly learn this song on the piano! (I won't give you all the notes for the song, since then there would be no motivation for you to do the work!)

Let's talk about some piano technicalities quickly.

Have you even watched someone who is unfamiliar with a keyboard trying to type? They do so very slowly, and by using one finger to tap each individual letter key. Someone who uses a keyboard frequently would tell you there is a much easier way. There is a specific position you lay your hands in on the keyboard that allows you to quickly and efficiently type using the entire hand.

The piano is the same way: we DO NOT want to individually pick at each key with one finger. Rather, there is a specific position we need to put our hands in. The song above is in treble clef: on the piano, only the right hand uses treble clef.

Let's look at our hand (isn't mine just lovely). Each finger gets a number.

Finding our 'C' note, we are going to line up our thumb (#1) on C and let the rest of our fingers naturally have placements on the following notes. (Try to find middle C, or the C most in the middle of the keyboard).

Your hand position should look like this.

Your thumb is lined up on C (1), and then index finger on D (2), middle finger on E (3), ring finger on F (4), and pinky on G (5).

This is the basic playing position for most beginners and the most basic songs. However, sometimes a song doesn't start in this position, it starts in a different position. Our song Mary Had a little Lamb starts on a B, which our fingers do not reach if we are in our C-G position. So let's shift our position so that our thumb (1) starts on G instead of C. It should look like this.

Now, our hand position should be our thumb (1) on G, our index finger (2) on A, our middle finger (3) on B, our ring finger (4) on C, and our pinky (5) on D. Now we are in the correct position to play Mary Had a Little Lamb. Here again is the music. I won't label it for you, since that's cheating! I highly encourage you to use rote memorization for your music notes and piano keys. It's just like your multiplication tables: you just need to memorize it!

If you have a piano or keyboard handy, give it a try. If not, go here: Online Piano There are a ton of resources available online if you search for easy beginning piano music, and there are also a lot of tutorial videos on YouTube. Hopefully this gives you a better understanding of where to get started.

Next week, we will focus on the LEFT hand of the piano, which reads music in an entirely different way than the treble clef. It's called the bass clef!

See you next time.


  • dianamillermusic

We are taking a short break from our series on how to read music to discuss a very important topic; in fact, it's one of the reasons I even started this blog. I'm extremely passionate about getting everyone involved in music. Every individual is a born musician, and has the capacity to make music. Throughout our lives, something inevitably happens to change our minds. We hear we aren't good enough, a family member discourages us from participating, or even our own confidence in our abilities fails. Somewhere along the way, you started believing you can't do it; that music isn't "for you".

Folks, this attitude applies everywhere in life, and not just music. I was inspired to write this post after seeing the following on Facebook:

If I can be an athlete, anyone can be a musician.


This is a blog post by Dr. Heather Nelson Shouldice, who is an Associate Professor of Music Education at Eastern Michigan University. It's an excellent post that mirrors my main point: music is for ANYONE, just as fitness is for ANYONE!

It's easy to let society tell us we can't: it's way easier to convince ourselves something isn't "our thing". We don't have the right body to wear certain clothes, we aren't strong enough to be a runner, and we don't have enough "talent" to do music.

I see this attitude frequently teaching music in public schools. At the age level I teach, I don't see it as much. My students are very young (Kindergarten through 3rd grade), so most of them aren't afraid to sing, dance, and try new things for me. However, I do have experience teaching middle and high school students, and those experiences have been significantly different.

While music is not the exception to this rule, in general it is hard to get a teenager (or pre-teen) to do anything new, let alone trying to convince a group of 8th grade boys to sing for you. By the time a student hits middle school, they get very fixed ideas of their identity (their activities, friends, interests, etc). Trying to convince someone to give music a try who has never attempted it before is daunting for both the teacher and the student. Adults don't get off the hook either.

Imagine that 8th grade boy's reluctance to sing, multiply it by ten, and that's the reluctance level of many adults when asked to sing or make music. Actually, I'll rephrase that. Most adults do wish they had some kind of formal training in music; however, when it comes to actually getting them to participate, THAT is where you will meet resistance.

In 2003, NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) commissioned the Gallup Poll Organization to conduct some research into adult attitudes towards music. The results? Of those surveyed, 85 percent regretted not learning to play an instrument and 67 percent said they would still like to learn how to play one. (To see more, go here)

This is interesting; if adults are so interested in music education, why don't they pursue it? Again, we go back to our preconceived ideas of what we can or can't do.

Let's say you are 5 years old. You wished you had learned to play piano. What's stopping you? The most common answer I receive is "time". We don't have enough "time" for anything it seems, let alone music classes.

That statement is only a thought, not a fact. We always have time for the things we truly wish to have time for. If you wish to dedicate some time to the study of an instrument, you only need to begin with 15 minutes a day. (Beginning students in 4th and 5th grade are encouraged to start here as well). Can you honestly say there are not 15 mere minutes a day somewhere in your schedule?

Frequently, the only thing stopping us from achieving our goals is our thoughts. Thoughts drive our feelings, which dictate our actions. Take control of your thoughts, get out there, and crush that dream. Don't listen to anyone else's negative thoughts about it either!

In today's world of internet access, there are YouTube videos for everything if you cannot find a reputable music teacher in your area or don't have access to one. Make a list of your goals, think about how to achieve them, and then simply do it.

Over the weekend, something truly beautiful popped up on my FaceBook newsfeed. A friend of mine shared a video, which was originally posted by a music educator from Manitoba. She attended a clinic with one of my FAVORITE music education clinicians, Dr. Tim Lautzenheiser. The video clip has him very briefly speaking about the importance of music, and how it transcends anything we can describe in words, to the point of being almost a "religious experience". He then asks the 600 music educators who are in the room to sing Amazing Grace together, and gives them a starting pitch. A little ways into the song, he asks them to add harmony.

The result is spontaneous, completely unrehearsed, and transcendent in its expression of why music is VITAL to the human experience. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, and remember, it's NEVER too late to become an athlete, a scholar, a cowboy, or even a musician.


  • dianamillermusic

Last time, we talked all about how to read pitch: how high or low a note is. This included how to read pitches on the staff using the first 7 letters of the alphabet. For more practice on that, feel free to head over to https://www.musictheory.net/exercises/note .

We can determine a note's pitch based on its position on the staff. But how do we know how long to hold out a note? The answer lies in rhythm.

When creating rhythm, we will take our music notes and make small changes to help us determine how long we will hold them out. As you can see above, different variations will become different note values. In many cases, we add a stem to the note. The stem does not control or change the pitch of the note. Only the note head determines that.

Before we dive into it, here is a review from last time of some words and music terminology you're going to see:

Double Bar Line : It means the song is over.

Bar line: Line that separates beats of music in order to read them more clearly.

Measure: The unit that contains a small grouping of beats. Beats are usually grouped in units of 2, 3, and 4 most commonly.

If you look at the example below, you will see the beats are divided by the bar line into groups of 4. This would be a 4/4 time signature, though it isn't marked in the examples.

The Quarter Note and Quarter Rest

A quarter note has a duration of sound that lasts one beat. A quarter rest has a duration of silence that lasts one beat.

You can substitute the "ta" for 1, 2, 3, 4, and the 'R' stands for "rest". Click on the video below to practice along.

Click the video to check how you did.

Click on the video below to hear how this exercise would sound.

For more practice counting eighth notes and quarter notes/rests, click the video below!

It's important to note that when we are counting half notes, we only clap once and then hold out the note for the full duration of both beats. Also notice that the half rest (looks like a top hat!) receives two beats of rest. So, two half rests next to each other would equal four total beats of rest.

Click the video below to practice more half notes and half rests. Notice that the last two lines will use quarter notes, quarter rests, and eighth notes as well! Also notice that instead of ta and ti-ti, in the video I switched to using counts in order to count our eighth notes. Instead of "ti-ti" we use "1 and".

There are a few more different rhythms, but I will only touch on them briefly and I won't include a listening example. Here are some rhythms that have longer and shorter durations than the ones I already showed you.

That was a lot of information! Hopefully this gives you a good beginning foundation for rhythm. Remember, rhythm only refers to the duration of the note, and not the actual pitch (highness or lowness). To review pitch, visit here.

Next time, we're going to starting combining our knowledge of pitch and rhythm to really dig into reading the language of music.


music education | learn to play | piano 

© 2019 Diana Miller