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Joined: Apr 2021
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Hi all,

I'm new to the piano, I've kind of just been learning on my own in lockdown for the past 3 months or so although I do have a history in guitar, I haven't picked one up in over a decade so it's sort of a fresh start...

My query at this stage, is just regarding recommendations for learning how to read music. It feels far, far more intuitive for a piano compared to what I remember trying to learn with the guitar, but I'm not sure if I'm going about it wrong.

Currently, I am kind of just learning what the note correlates to on the piano rather than learning the names of the notes. So I know the notes you need to play in a chord based on the location on the sheet music (no where near sight reading, I still need to use it to figure out what it is and memorise it rather than sight reading).

Is this a good way to go about learning it or would you recommend physically sitting and learning things like chord names etc?

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Learning the names is very small effort. It will take you just a couple of weeks. And will be very useful when you start playing in another keys out of c major.

For learning how to read it will take more time. Keep practicing for a bunch of months and gradually it will get in your head. Don't worry if it's painful and slow. That's how it is.

After some months you'll see the light.

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Hi Grigeral!

Welcome to the piano and to this forum! You are quite right, reading music is far more intuitive for a piano compared to the guitar. Still I would recommend that you learn the name of the notes simultaneously with their place on the piano. For instance, you can download Bartok's Mikrokosmos from IMSLP and one hand at the time, play the notes and say/sing their names. So all three of them get connected in your mind.

Personally I find it very useful to know which notes belong to which chords (at least for the most common chords), even though I don't play chord piano. If there is a chord, or a three-note arpeggio, in the score, I always write its name and it helps me tremendously, because I only need to see the name plus one of the notes to know which other notes I should play. But I never tried to memorise them actively. Of course scale practice, including triad chords and arpeggios, helped a lot.


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Initially, it will feel like your head is exploding, each successive note and hand movement will feel like you're being waterboarded after 3-4 minutes, a slow and undying experience.

This lets up after about 3 months if you're doing ~2-8 hours a day. You don't need that much, but 2 hours every day is a good aim. Ignore rhythm in the beginning, just focus on playing the notes in the right order. Start 1 hand at a time, you don't need to put it together at all. You're just trying to get comfortable with making the connection between the images of the notation and your hand movement.

You don't necessarily need to know what each note is when reading, for example, the process should end in immediate movement of the hand, with no other thought process for recognition. You're not thinking ABC, and then move your hand, You see the note in those shapes and positions, and your hand moves to the corresponding keys. You will of course eventually recognize each note and sound but you don't need to intentionally train this.

Practicing scales is important for fast recognition of intervals.

Things not to waste your time on, Practicing the same song over and over to get it to sound like the song. This is always the goal, but it's a bit of a time waster for beginners. Some consider it motivational, you can do it, but overall the faster more focused you are attacking reading, the more quickly you get to piano nirvana. Think about it this way, does it really matter that you can recite the little red hen from memory? There's a time cost to memorization, and in the beginning is anything you read really worth memorizing?

Playing piano is different from the act of listening to music. EVENTUALLY it will be pretty close, but in the beginning, it's similar to painfully slowly reading those crappy childrens books full of incorrect ideals and unrealistic behaviors. You totally forget them when you reach the big boy music where the world is an awful but nonetheless colorful place.

If you've ever chopped down a big tree, you start, but it never seems like it's going to finish, but you get to a little more than half way, and push on the tree, and the whole thing goes down. While you're chopping you're super tired and it's massively uncomfortable. That's how it's going to be.

Remember to reduce physical tension with a little shake here and there.

Last edited by EinLudov; 04/20/21 07:57 AM.
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Listening to others play while reading is also a big help that isn't often recommended but I find can be a real asset. I was always a good music reader (I was lucky enough to learn to read music at the same time I learned to read in general), but my speed at reading picked up considerably during classes where I had to quickly scan large orchestral scores while listening. I wouldn't recommend massive scores if you're just starting out with music, but perhaps reading along with scores for uncomplicated piano pieces you like to listen to. Try to visualize what it would look like on the keyboard when you are following along with a score. Try to find yourself in the score no matter where you're starting from.

It's similar to how learning a new language is helped by turning on closed captioning while watching shows in the new language.

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Originally Posted by Grigeral
Currently, I am kind of just learning what the note correlates to on the piano rather than learning the names of the notes.
In fact it may be a very good idea to start like this and learn the names of the notes later. Naming the note is an unnecessary cognitive step between seeing it in the score and playing it on the piano. If you omit it and learn to translate score notes into keyboard keys directly it may be very beneficial for your reading. I'd give this idea a try.

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There are only 12 notes (7 letter names with sharps & flats) repeating over and over for different sound pitches.

When it comes to learning chords, it's ear training than rote memory. You play the same chords in songs many times and learn the different sounds. The last chord I came across in a piece was D-F#-A-C# (D maj7) in inversion. Didn't know the chord right away so used an online chord finder. A lot of beginner songs in C use just 3 chords: C, F & G. A lot of people who learn to read music just play by the notes and don't know all the chords in a piece. Unless you're reading Lead Sheets, you have chords for the bass line and fill in the notes as you play.

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Thanks for the responses and ideas guys, much appreciated smile

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Wow, I think there are great replies in this thread, very helpful thoughts, and illuminating comparisons.

As a beginner (just two months self learning with Alfred Adult AIO Course), I really appreciate when experienced people share their opinions. Thank you very much


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