Do you want to memorise notes on the piano or learn how to read sheet music? It’s similar to learning to read a book; you have to start by learning the letters (the building blocks of words), then you can put them together to form words and sentences. With memorising piano notes, you’ll need to learn where the notes are on the keyboard, how to alter them with sharps and flats, and finally how to recognise those notes on the musical staff.
This guide will walk you through all of the necessary stages, and if you have any questions about our London piano lessons at the London Piano Centre, please reach out to us at your earliest convenience.
Learn Piano Keys On the Keyboard Before The Staff
Start With The Core Notes, and Save Sharps and Flats for Later
This may go without saying, but banish the thought of sharps and flats from your mind when you are just starting off. Start by learning A-G, then you can apply the concept of sharps and flats later. Remember – a “sharp” note is simply a note raised by a half step, and a “flat” note is lowered a half step.
We call these core notes the “natural” notes. C natural, D natural, E natural, etc.
Learning Music Notes On a Piano Keyboard
Start with the keys, not the musical staff — we will apply this knowledge to the staff later. Use a chart like this one:
You should be able to see a key on the piano and name it, or you should be able to play a note on the piano if someone calls out the name. Don’t bother yourself with reading the musical staff until after you are able to name all of the keys on the piano accurately. You could simply start memorising them by rote, or you could try the landmark method:
The Landmark Method
This is a very popular method for recognising musical notes that is taught in the Faber piano method and a number of other courses. To start, you will learn Middle C and the surrounding F and G are on the keyboard:
Then, once you have that point of reference, you will teach yourself all of the different iterations of C, G, and F (in other words, you’ll learn those notes in all of the octaves). Then you can start filling in the gaps from there.
Up is Forward, Down is Backwards on the Alphabet
Do you know the alphabet, or at least letters A-G? Great — you know the musical alphabet as well. If you start with the landmark method, and you can recognise Middle C and C’s all over the keyboard, you should be able to name every note.
If you are moving to the right on the keyboard (or moving “up” as we would say), you are progressing forward through the alphabet. Let’s say you are playing an F on the piano, and you move one note to the right. That new note would be a G, just like the next letter in the regular alphabet. Once you reach G, the alphabet starts over — there is no “H” or beyond in the musical alphabet.
Implement Musical Sharps and Flats
Once you’ve learned all of the “white keys” on the piano, you can start getting comfortable with sharps and flats. It’s easy — just move up or down a half step for a sharp or flat. This is commonly a black key, but it doesn’t have to be!
Take Middle C, to start off. C Sharp (#) is the black key directly to the right of Middle C. But C Flat is the same key as B natural – it just depends on the musical context.
E is the opposite: an E# is the same key as an F Natural, but an E flat is the black key directly to the left of E Natural.
Learning To Read Music Notes On The Staff
Once you can name the keys on the piano by sight (and after you’ve gotten comfortable with the concept of sharps or flats), it’s time to start reading notes on the staff. This is the skill that allows you to grab a piece of music and start playing it or learning it, and it’s crucial to playing the piano well.
Use Mnemonic Devices
Mnemonic devices are an excellent memory aid, and they apply very well to learning musical notes on the staff. Basically these devices assign a word to each letter on the musical staff, thereby making it easier for you to remember the notes:
Might we suggest that a better device for the bass clef (moving from the bottom-up) is “Good Burritos Don’t Fall Apart” – but that’s a matter of personal preference. There are different devices for notes that exist on lines and notes that exist in spaces, but the only thing that really matters is that you learn to read the notes one way or another.
Drill Musical Notes With Flashcards
You can buy packs of bass clef and treble clef flashcards cheaply online, and we highly recommend using them to drill your memory of piano notes. You will increase your speed (crucial to sight reading music as you progress) and gain confidence.
Note: if you get too comfortable reading individual notes on flashcards, it could impede your ability to read musical lines easily on the staff. So once you can work through your flashcards, practice reading notes on sheets of actual music.
Are you looking for a skilled teacher to help you learn to read music and play the piano? The London Piano Centre offers piano lessons for children, piano lessons for adults, and our teachers are all internationally known concert artists. You will learn to read and interpret music, and we would love nothing more than that work with you on your musical journey.