Music business and lockdown—has the industry gone digital?
Sheet music—it is one of the most important prerequisites for making music and it can make your musical life a lot easier. Learning to read music is therefore one of the most important skills to learn on your way to being a musician. If you’re fluent in the language of notes, the door to the world of music is already open a lot wider for you. Especially in when it comes to instruments, reading music becomes vital. But how exactly can you learn to read music and which strategies are particularly recommended? In this article, we take a look at the best methods.
Many musicians not only dedicate themselves to playing existing songs, but also to composing their own works. For both, understanding the details behind a wide variety of pieces is helpful, as is some knowledge in the area of music notation. The more notation you can read, the easier it is to approach new songs—whether covers or originals—with the care they deserve and to really understand what you're doing. Even though playing by ear is just as much fun and is practiced by many highly successful musicians, it makes sense to develop a certain basic understanding of sheet music and music theory, especially at the beginning.
The ability to read sheet music saves you a lot of effort in learning or writing and gives you a deeper understanding of music. Many pieces thrive on the diversity of the note world. They play with the different possibilities that arise from the different tonality and with the help of the different notes that occur. All this is based on the classical staff, which now consists of five lines. Over the years there were many changes until we arrived at the modern system with two clefs. Thanks to these, notes are no longer a matter of interpretation, as was often the case before.
As a rule, notes are now divided into two keys. On the one hand, there is the treble clef for the rather high notes. Low notes, on the other hand, are represented by the bass clef. A look at our staff with its five lines shows you more precisely which notes have to be played on the respective instruments. If you imagine a sixth line below the five lines and draw a filling body on it, this is the dotted C: the base upon which most of the music is built.
While the C is on the imaginary sixth line at the bottom, below the fifth line is the D. Directly on the fifth line is the E, while between the fifth and fourth lines is the F. In each case, with another half step up, it is again a higher note. After E and f follow G, A and H. Then it starts all over again.
If you take a look at the piano, you will surely notice the black and white keys, the latter of which stand for the whole notes. The key to the right (the black key) is always one semitone step higher. The same principle is found on other instruments, of course, but it is most obvious on the piano. If there is a ♯ before the note on your sheet music, this raises the note to be played by half a tone. In practice, this means that on the piano you don't have to press the white key, but the black key to the right of it.
With a ♭ before the note, the exact opposite effect is enacted: The note becomes lower by half a tone, so you have to play the black key to the left of the white one. But this is not only important for the tonality, but also for the designation of the notes. For example, a C with a ♯ in front of it becomes the note C sharp. If, on the other hand, the C is preceded by a ♭, it is a C flat. This is exactly how you handle other notes such as D sharp and D flat. If you also use a dissolve sign, this will dissolve the accidental. This may seem confusing at first, but it is one of the first things you will learn relatively easily.
Also very important, in order to play the existing notes optimally and in the right rhythm or groove, are the time signature and the speed. Many pieces are written in 4/4 or 3/4 time. Specifically, the time signature tells how many quarter notes are played in a section. In 4/4 time, for example, four quarter notes are played, while in 2/4 time there are only two quarter notes. Of course, the whole thing also exists with eighth notes and so on, but we don't want to go that deep at this point. The time signature contributes to a better understanding of the style of the various pieces of music and should also be taken into account.
The combination of the beat and the given tempo values often contributes to the liveliness or sometimes to the melancholy or ballad-like playing style of the respective pieces. The faster the piece is written with its notes and in the corresponding measure, the more lively the arrangement will be in practice and vice versa. If you then remember the terms forte and piano, which are necessary for the strength of the keyboard playing (at least for the piano), you are on a really good way. Forte stands for strong and powerful, piano for soft and gentle. If you come across the terms fortissimo or pianissimo, this reinforces the respective effect.
You can often learn to read music without professional help, at least as far as the basics are concerned. There are numerous literature, apps and gadgets for this purpose. The following options have proven themselves over time, but it should be said that at a certain point it is worth going to music school or to professional music teachers.
The youngest musicians usually practice reading music at school. This can be very helpful, because as a child you learn things like notes faster. But even as an adult it is worthwhile to learn to read music. Even directly in music school, the reading and understanding of the notes can be learned and even deepened. As in so many other areas, practical training is also the best way to learn to read music. This is true for your instrument as well as for understanding music theory.
Many musicians have already proven that musical notes are not everything in life. The very famous musicians Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney and Eric Clapton are said not to have been able to read or reproduce notes during their entire musical career. How much truth there is in this is, of course, difficult to verify. Nevertheless, the success story of many musicians and artists shows that the feeling for good music clearly outweighs perfect knowledge of theory and sheet music.
Right here at mukken, we're dedicated to a wide variety of topics that keep you busy in your everyday life as a musician. Whether it's learning to read music, learning to play an instrument, or features about musicians—you'll find what you're looking for on our blog. In addition to our blog, our portal offers you the opportunity to use personals for musicians and to exchange information with other users. Not only about reading music, but also about common projects and new bands. Just register and start making contacts in the industry!
Originally published on November 13, 2022, updated on November 13, 2022