How to Read Music: A Better Way

Did you know that the lines and spaces of the grand staff are simply a map of the piano keys?

Did you know that the letter name of each line and space is always the same, no matter what kind of music you are playing?

And so, the first ledger line below the treble staff represents middle C. Always, no matter if you are playing Blues or Bach!

And the bottom space on the bass clef always represents A in second octave below middle C. Always, no matter if you are playing Jazz or Chopin!

Got it?

Here, for example, are two octaves of music notation (naturals only), where each dot is aligned with its respective physical key (Middle C is marked with a red dot)…

And so, a better way to read music is to skip directly associate each dot on the page with its respective key on the piano. Simply put, the┬ácircled note represents the physical key that the green arrow points to…


Do you see how reading music is possible without ever using names?

Do you see that every line and space always represents a physical piano key? And this is true for any kind of music, no matter how complicated? And that it really doesn’t matter if the circled note is called “A” or “Purple” or “Lucy” or “Charlie Brown”.

This approach maps the notes on the page (a visual-spatial pattern) to the keys on the piano keyboard (another visual-spatial pattern). It is done directly, without any intermediate steps like translating dots to letter names and then letter names to piano keys.

To repeat the point: This is not as hard as it sounds, because each line or space on the grand staff always represents a particular note on the piano, always.

Here is the map for all of the natural notes on the grand staff, extending to four ledger lines above and below the treble staff and bass staff (sharps and flats have been omitted intentionally because they are just details):


The map above is a straightforward right-brain visual-spatial pattern that can be mastered in a very short time with just a little bit of practice (see Study Aids).

That said, if we stop here, we will be forever trapped in the “paint by number” matrix.

We can do better.

learn more… The Musical Way to Read


  1. Which study aid file helps train this pattern? It would definitely help speed up learning new pieces and sight reading to be able to read like this. Thanks, Frank!

  2. Thanks a bunch for asking, Tom. I used to have javascript flashcards on my old Yahoo-hosted site that did exactly this, but wordpress does not allow javascript for security reasons. Boo. That said, I wonder if someone has already created a free Google Play app to do this. I haven’t looked for one myself, but I wonder if you have done a search and I would be most interested in learning what you discover(ed).

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