Music Mini Course: Learn The Basics Of Reading Music On A Keyboard Instrument

Welcome to the wonderful world of music. As you begin reading this Music Mini Course it is fun to realize that you are also participating in a very important cultural aspect from around the world which has been going on for centuries. Did you know that pianos in some form have been around for over 500 years? Some of the first instruments of this kind were created in the late Medieval Period and were called clavichords. They had a very light, metallic sound because the small hand-pounded 'hammers' were made of very light weight metal-like material. These hammers struck strings of varying lengths to create different tones or pitches. The next cousin to the clavichord was the harpsichord invented by Cristofori in Italy around 1450 A.D. This keyboard instrument had a mechanism in it called the plecktrum which 'plucked' the strings and produced a slightly stronger sound than its predecessor. Whether you are playing an acoustic instrument, which is the closest relative to the history just mentioned, or an electronic keyboard, you are now participating in a centuries old musical art form.


Does it matter if you apply the information in this course to a keyboard or a piano? Certainly not. The only real difference is that a full size piano has 88 keys (counting both the white and black keys). Keyboards come in several different sizes. Some have 60 keys, some even less. There are also 88 key electronic keyboards and digital pianos that produce very realistic acoustic sounds. Whatever size your instrument may be, remember that the ARRANGEMENT of the keys and the ORDER of the KEY NAMES is the same on both instruments. Rest assured that your basic knowledge of the fundamentals of music can be done very effectively either on a keyboard or a piano.

Musical Terms

Begin your musical study by becoming familiar with these very important musical terms:

BAR LINE - A vertical line which separates notes into groups

DOUBLE BAR LINE - A set of two (2) vertical lines which stand for the end of a piece of music

REPEAT SIGN - Double bar with two dots at the end of a section or piece of music which indicates that section will be played twice.

MEASURE - The distance between two bar lines.

TREBLE CLEF - The S-shaped symbol which stands for notes played with the right hand. This is also referred to as the G cleff since this inner curve of the symbol rests on the G line.

BASS CLEF - The reversed C-shaped symbol which stand for notes played with the left hand. This clef is also referred to as the F cleff since the two dots beside the clef surround the F line.

STAFF - The five lines and four spaces of both the bass and treble clefs.

QUARTER NOTE - Musical symbol with solid note head and stem which gets one count of sound.

QUARTER REST - Musical symbol resembling a sideways W which gets one count of silence.

HALF NOTE - Musical symbol with hollow note head and stem which gets two counts of sound.

HALF REST - Solid half block sitting on third line of the staff which gets two counts of silence.

DOTTED HALF NOTE - Musical symbol with hollow note head, dot and stem which gets three counts of sound.

WHOLE NOTE - Musical symbol resembling a circle on the staff which gets four counts of sound.

WHOLE REST - Solid half block hanging from the second line on the staff which gets four counts of silence.

CHORD - Two or more notes played at the same time.

BLOCKED CHORD - Two or more notes from the same chord played at the same time.

BROKEN CHORD - Two or more notes from the same chord played in sequence.

INTERVAL - The distance between two notes on the musical staff.

FINGERING - Refers to which finger number is used to play a particular note (See Chapter Two: Fingering)

CURVED FINGER - Refers to playing with a rounded finger and on the tip of each finger. This is the best position of the fingers for playing piano or keyboard because it develops finger strength and independence.


There are only seven (7) letter names used on the piano: A B C D E F G. It is interesting to note here that no matter what instrument you play, whether it is piano, tuba or violin, ONLY the seven letter names above are used in the entire realm of music! There are two very easy ways to visualize and remember the names of the white keys on your piano and keyboard. Remember, the note names on an electronic keyboard are the same as on the acoustic piano.


Understand that the 'CDE' note groups are always located directly underneath the two black note group. The letter name 'D' in the white key always located directly in between the two black key note groups. ANY TWO BLACK NOTE GROUP on the piano has the letter name 'D' as the white key located in between them.


Go to your keyboard NOW and start to play all of the C-D-E groups from the lowest (bottom left) to the highest (top right) on your keyboard. Say C - D - E as you play each key. The F - G - A - B note groups above are located directely beneath each three black note group on any piano or keyboard. Simply locate any three black note group on your piano or keyboard and realize that the F-G-A-B white keys are located directly beneath them. Directly outside of the three black note groups are 'F' on the left hand side of the three black note group and 'B' on the right hand side of the three black note group. Just fill in the outer 'F' and 'B' with G and A and you are done!


Go to your piano or keyboard NOW and find all of the F-G-A-G white keys underneath each three black note group. As above, play slowly and evenly saying the letter names as you play the F-G-A-B groups from the bottom of the piano or keyboard (low left hand end) to the top of your piano or keyboard (top right hand end). Congratulations! You now know ALL of the white key names on the piano!


Both the Treble and Bass clefs each have five lines and four spaces. Learning the actual note names of each line and space (the spaces between each line) is very simple. Please memorize the sentences below for the Treble Clef Line and Space Notes: Treble Clef Line Notes (starting from the bottom line and moving up) E G B D F Every Good Boy Does Fine (the first letter of each word helps you remember the order of the notes)

Treble Clef Space Notes (starting from the first space and going up): F A C E Just remember that the treble clef spaces spell the word 'FACE'.

Bass Clef Line and Space Notes are as follows: Bass Clef Line Notes: G B D F A Great Big Dogs Fight Animals Bass Clef Space Notes: A C E G All Cars Eat Gas

Now you know all the names of the white keys on your piano or keyboard. You have also learned the actual letter names of each line and space on both the treble and bass clefs. You are now on your way to the next level of piano education. Be sure to memorize the information above and you will be ready to begin to learn to read music notation on the piano or keyboard.

Jan Durrant, Publisher and Music Teacher
[email protected]

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