How to Read Piano Music

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How to Read & Play Piano Music

Woman Playing Piano
Jorge Rimblas / Getty Images

Preparing to Read Piano Music

Now that you’ve familiarized yourself with the notes of the keyboard and treble staff, it’s time to put them together and start playing the piano!

In this lesson, you will:

  1. Learn how to read treble staff piano music.
  2. Play simple chords and melodies on your piano.
  3. Learn how to play the C major and G major scales.

How to Touch the Piano

  1. Sit upright at middle C.
  2. Keep your wrists loose, yet sturdy. Hold them fairly straight, avoiding any noticeable angles.
  3. Place your fingers 1 or 2 inches from the edge of the white keys. Stay off the thinnest areas of the naturals next to black keys.
  4. Relax your left hand on your knee or bench; he’s sitting this one out.
  5. Print the lesson if you plan to practice this lesson at your leisure.

Let’s begin: Continue to your first C major scale.

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Play the C Major Scale

C major piano scale.
Image © Brandy Kraemer

Playing the C Major Scale on Piano

Take a look at the treble staff above. Middle C is the first note on the ledger line below the staff.

The C major scale above is written with eighth notes, so you will play two notes for each beat (see How to Read Time Signatures).

Try It: Tap out a steady, comfortable rhythm. Now, make it slightly slower: this is the rhythm you should use for the rest of the lesson. After you’re able to play the complete lesson with a flawless beat, you may adjust your playing speed. For now, moderation will help you develop your ear, hand, rhythm, and reading skills evenly and thoroughly.

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Playing the C Major Scale

Descending C major scale.
Image © Brandy Kraemer

Playing Descending Piano Scales

By now, you might be wondering where to put your fingers. To play a descending C major scale, begin with your littlest finger. After your thumb plays the F (purple), cross your middle finger onto the following E (orange).

You’ll learn more about finger placement on the piano keyboard after you’re more comfortable reading notes. For now, just keep a good posture, and take your time.

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Play a C Major Practice Scale

Practice scale in C major.
Image © Brandy Kraemer

C Major Ascending Scale

Practice this climbing C scale slowly. You’ll see it’s quite easy to play; two notes forward, then one note back, and so on.

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Play a Simple Piano Melody

C major piano song.
Image © Brandy Kraemer

Reading Note Lengths

Take a look at the next measure of the same passage. The very last note is a quarter note, and will be held for twice as long as the rest of the notes in the passage (which are eighth notes). A quarter note is equal to one beat in 4/4 time.

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Play the G Major Piano Scale

Ascending G major piano scale.
Image © Brandy Kraemer

Playing Accidentals on the Piano

Now let’s step outside the key of C and explore the G major scale.

G major has one sharp: F#.

  • On the staff, the F# will be marked only once: in the key signature.
  • On your keyboard, find any F# and remember its position. It’s the first of three black keys.

Remember, in G major, F will always be sharp unless marked by a natural sign.

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Playing Simple Piano Chords

A descending G major piano scale.
Image © Brandy Kraemer

Playing Simple Piano Chords

To play piano chords, you’ll need to learn the basic finger patterns.

  • The G major chord above is a four-note chord. Right-handed four-note chords should be played with the thumb and pinky on the lowest and highest notes, respectively.
  • The middle fingers are generally up to you, but try to use your index and ring fingers for the middle notes whenever possible.
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Play a Simple Tune in G

A piano tune in G major.
Image © Brandy Kraemer

Let’s see how well you can do on your own. Play the above measures at a slow, steady pace.

The symbol at the end of the first measure is an eighth rest, indicating silence for the duration of an eighth note.