One of the most important aspects of learning to play the piano is learning to read notes. Not only must you understand which note is on the staff, but you must know how it corresponds to the keys. Fortunately, there are many ways that you can easily teach a child how to recognize piano notes.
Just like when children learn to read a language, reading music is a process that is done step by step. You probably remember teaching your child the alphabet, what sound each letter makes, and how those letters formed into words. You do the same thing when it comes to music.
Learning to read notes is a vital part of becoming proficient at the piano. It must be part of a child’s instruction instead of “cheats” being used.
Lines and Spaces
A music staff is made up of five straight, horizontal lines. Music notes are placed at varying positions on this staff. The treble or bass clef at the beginning will tell you what each of the lines means.
The initial step to reading music involves understanding the difference between a line and a space note.
A line note has one of the staff’s lines going straight through it. But a space note is set between the lines, with the dot taking up the whole area between both. The line rests perfectly on top of and below the dot.
This is fairly easy to understand. Now the clefs will show you what note corresponds to each line.
Treble and Bass Clef
The treble and bass clefs appear at the beginning of a line of music. Bass clefs have different note placements than treble. A treble clef begins at the middle C on the piano and goes upward, while a bass clef begins at middle C and moves downward.
Treble notes are typically played using the right hand, and bass notes are played using the left. There can be exceptions to this rule, but your child is unlikely to run into any for a while.
When you’re teaching your child about notes, there are memory tricks to keep in mind.
With the treble clef, you can remember FACE. The space notes go F, A, C, E, from the bottom to the top of the clef. There are four spaces in each staff.
What about the line notes? You can remember this: Every good boy deserves fudge. Starting at the bottom, the notes go:
Middle C appears on its own line below the staff, while D appears just underneath the bottom line.
With the bass clef, you can remember the space notes with “all cows eat grass.” Starting at the bottom, the notes go A, C, E, and G.
For the lines, you can try “good bears don’t fly airplanes.” The notes go:
On top of the staff is a B, and above that is a middle C. Like with the treble clef, the middle C sits on its own special line.
If you want a quick way to practice the notes with your child, you can make flashcards. Draw a staff with the clef and the note on one side, then put the answer on the other. Your child might also practice drawing their own music notes and staffs.
Keeping the Tricks Straight
It’s fairly easy to remember where different notes go on the staff by using the memory tricks. But one problem that children might run into is mixing up which tricks work with the bass or treble clef.
Practice becomes easiest when the child is confident in their memory trick. The more they practice, the less they’ll need to use the memory phrase, until the notes become second nature.
The tricks for the treble clef are all related to people. You talk about good boys and faces. Meanwhile, the tricks for the bass clef are related to animals, like cows and bears.
Some children won’t need you to point this out and will have no trouble keeping the different clefs straight. But if your child does often get the two mixed up, this memory trick can be super helpful.
Practicing with Flashcards
Some of the practice will be done at the piano itself. Your child will practice playing the note that corresponds to the note on the staff. They might learn some basic scales or make up little tunes of their own.
But for extra practice with learning to read the notes on sight, flashcards are a super helpful memorization tool.
One thing to keep in mind is that you don’t want to wait to start teaching your child how to read music. It should be part of the first piano lesson they have. The longer you wait, the harder it will be for them to start connecting their playing to their sheet music.
You don’t necessarily need to teach your child all of the notes at once, though. You can start using the treble clef and introduce the bass clef later. That’s an especially good idea if your child is young, as they may not have the attention span to learn two different clefs simultaneously.
When it comes to older children, you shouldn’t have any trouble teaching them both clefs in their first lesson. It’s all a matter of their attention span and ability to retain information.
You can start with flashcards practicing spaces and then add lines once your child is relatively comfortable with the spaces. Do this for both of the clefs. Early on in the process, you shouldn’t mix together bass and treble flashcards, as this can become confusing and frustrating for your child.
Once the child gets to the point that they can easily identify notes on both of the clefs, then you can shuffle the flashcards together. They will need to think hard about which clef they’re looking at when determining which note is which. That added level of brain activity will improve their overall recognition of the sheet music.
Working Without Flashcards
Now, it’s possible that your child will have very little interest in flashcards. They might find review games boring and frustrating. A lot of kids are irritated when they have to take time away from playing the piano. That’s why it’s sometimes helpful to use techniques other than flashcards.
You can also combine these techniques with flashcards if you want. That way, your child has a break from being drilled.
Find the Note
Find the Note is a game you can play with whatever song your child is currently learning on the piano. You will use flashcards for this, but not with the same drilling mentality.
Instead, as you and your child sit at the piano, they will draw a card. Then their job is to look at their sheet music and find that same note.
You can do this by having your child match the staffs together, or by using just the letter name of the note. If you use the letter name, that helps your child to understand where the note is on the staff and where it is on the piano at the same time.
Draw the Note
Once again, this method will use your existing flashcards. It will also take you away from the piano. But it’s a good method of learning for the visually-minded children in your life.
Have your child take out a flashcard. Let them study the placement of the note on the staff for a few seconds. Then flip the flashcard over to show the letter. Your child’s job is to sketch a five-line staff with the note in the correct placement.
This method is super helpful for students who learn better by doing. Since they’re actively creating the note on paper, it’s more likely to stick in their brains.
This practice technique involves making connections between a variety of different notes. You’ll use your flashcards. Shuffle them and have your child take five of the cards. Then take the top card of the deck and put it down.
Your child’s job then is to look at the notes on their five flashcards. They should connect those notes to the top note you’ve put down. For example, they should be able to tell you whether the note is a third, fourth, fifth, and so on away.
This will get your child more familiar with intervals and with connecting notes to each other.
No matter your child’s age, learning piano notes doesn’t have to be a chore. It’s one of the first skills that you should start teaching them as they play this new instrument. You can use a variety of different flashcard games and techniques to help them retain the information as they go.