How to Read Musical Notes and Their Corresponding Piano Key (Without Memorizing A Bunch Of Facts)

read musical note

This guide has the most minimal information you need to read musical notes and their corresponding piano keys.

If you’re new to piano you will be able to read notes and piano keys in no time, and have a solid foundation for future learning.

If you’re an experienced player or a teacher you may find some tips and strategies here helpful to your teaching method.

Let’s get started.

This article will also help you improve which you can learn more about here.

1. 7 Musical Notes On A Piano Keyboard

There are 7 core musical notes in music, which are represented by the first 7 letters in the alphabet:

A B C D E F G

Now, let’s match them with the keys on a piano keyboard.

First let’s talk about the structure of a keyboard:

Read Musical Notes

A standard piano keyboard contains 52 white keys, 36 black keys, 88 keys in total.

It is divided by 7 octaves, an octave is a set of keys which has 7 white keys and 5 black keys. 

Let’s dive deep into an octave:

Read Musical Notes

You’ll see that an octave is divided into 2 groups:

  • Group 1 has 2 black keys and 3 white keys. Let’s call this group “chopsticks group”
  • Group 2 has 3 black keys and 4 white keys. So, we have “fork group”

Okay, now, let’s match the notes with the keys:

  • The first letter of “Chopsticks” is C. So, the first white key in the “chopsticks group” is C.
  • Similarly, the first letter of “Fork” is F, then the first white key in the “fork group” is F.

It’s so easy to remember, isn’t it?

To name other white keys, let’s start at C. Then, we’ll count from the left to the right by the order of the alphabet:

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

Read Musical Notes

Repeat that pattern above then we will be able to read all white keys on a keyboard:

Read Musical Notes

That’s it for reading all white keys on a keyboard.

To avoid overwhelming in the beginning, we won’t learn the names of black keys.

Summary:

  1. 7 core musical notes are the first 7 letters of the alphabet: A B C D E F G
  2. An octave has 5 black keys, 7 white keys with the “chopsticks” (2 black keys) on the left side, and the “fork” (3 black keys) on the right side
  3. The first white note in the “Chopsticks” is C; The first white note in the “Fork” is F
  4. The order from the left side to the right side of a keyboard is: A B C D E F G

2. Landmark System To Read Notes On The Clefs

In piano, we’ll use the treble clef and the bass clef.

Your right-hand often plays notes in the treble clef, and your left-hand plays notes in the bass clef.

This diagram below shows you the positions of musical notes in the treble clef:

Read Musical Notes

And below are the positions of musical notes in the bass clef:

Read Musical Notes

You can see that a musical note either lies on a line or space between 2 lines.

Now, let’s talk about the “landmark system” to read musical notes in sheet music.

The term “landmark system” is just about remembering 2 important positions:

  • For the treble clef, you can see it circles around the second line (which is red highlighted and counted from the bottom). This line is our “first landmark”: G-line.
  • Quite the same as the bass clef, you can see a line between two dots of the bass clef (which is also red highlighted and counted from the top).  It’s our “second landmark”: F-line.

From the 2 “landmarks”, we will be able to read other notes!

Now, I will give an example of how to read a musical note in the treble clef.

Suppose that we want to read the name of the note lies on the 4th space in the picture below (counted from the bottom)

Read Musical Notes

Step 1: Recognize that this is the treble clef.

Step 2: Remember that in the treble clef, our “landmark” is the second line counted from the bottom, it’s G-line.

Step 3: Spot the note: It is on a space higher than G-line. Then, count from G-line up to the note by the order of the alphabet: G – A – B – C – D – E

Now, we have the name of that note: it is E!

Hopefully, you’ve recognized the principle here.

Summary:

Step 1: Identify the clef: Is it the treble clef or the bass clef?

Step 2: Remember the “landmark” of each clef:

  • G-line in the treble clef is the second line counted from the bottom
  • F-line in the bass clef is the second line counted from the top

Step 3: Spot the note you want to read: Is it higher or lower than the landmark?

  • If it’s higher, count from the landmark up to the position of that note by the order of the alphabet: A – B – C – D – E – F – G
  • If it’s lower, count from the landmark down to the position of that note by the reverse order of the alphabet: G – F – E – D – C – B – A

Congratulations! By reading to this so far, you’re now able to read sheet music. 

This method of reading note is also called: the “left-brained approach” to read sheet music.

If you want to learn more about the “right-brained approach”, click here to read the guide on how to read piano notes and keys (it has lots of nice and friendly illustrations).

 

Now, let’s combine together to read a musical note in sheet music and its corresponding piano key!

3. Mental Flip Approach To Match Musical Notes And Their Corresponding Piano Keys

Below is a complete diagram that shows you how each piano key matches to a specific musical note.

Read Musical Notes

It may seem overwhelming at first, so I don’t encourage you to remember all the connections.

You will find this approach below is easier to read the musical notes with their corresponding keys:

Read Musical Notes

This is called: The Mental Flip Approach.

From your original sheet music, flip it 90 degrees clockwise.

Then, the order from the low note to the high note in a music sheet transfers into the left side to the right side of the keyboard.

The flow of your music sheet now is from top to bottom.

I will leave the diagram here for your imagination without any further explanation because I’m sure that you already get the concept of this approach.

That’s it for my guide on how to read musical notes and their corresponding piano keys.

If you have any question, please leave a comment below and I will try my best to answer it for you.

About Neil Nguyen

Neil Nguyen is the Founder of Sublimelody - A blog which only publishes high-quality guides with simple instructions and lots of friendly illustrations.

4 comments

Hi Chuck and Neil, I just wanted to thank you for giving me the opportunity to write on Making Music Mag. It’s my very first guest post so this is really cool 🙂

Cheers!

This is a very simple yet informative explanation of basics of music and playing. It’s a good and welcome article for all of those who don’t know where or how to start learning a musical instrument. So, very pleased to have read it. Keep up the good work, Neil! 😉

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