How to Learn to Read Piano Music Without a Teacher

Wish you could learn how to read music without hiring a piano teacher? Well, you can! Read this article to learn how.


how to learn to read piano music without a teacher


Many people these days set out to learn a new skill online and reading music is no exception. Maybe you’ve always dreamed of playing the piano and you know that you need to learn to read sheet music but you’re not sure where to start or where to go.


This article will guide you in your quest to learn music on your own, without a teacher.


Find out what you need to know

Like with any skill, you need to know what it is you need to learn. It may sound obvious, but this is where you want to start.

To read music, here’s what you need to learn:

  • How rhythm is notated: note values and time signatures
  • How pitch is notated: note names in both treble and bass clefs, accidentals and key signatures
  • Terminology to refer to notation elements such as the grand staff, bar lines, note stems, etc.
  • How the notes are played: symbols like dynamics (p, mp, mf, f), articulation, slurs, phrases
  • Italian terms: yep, you’ll need to learn some Italian because music terms related to expression and speed are in Italian (at least in classical music)


I know this list seems like a lot, but don’t let it overwhelm you!


At the beginning, focus on learning the note values, the note names and basic terminology. That’s it. You can then gradually learn the rest as you learn pieces at the piano.


A good place to start is How to Read Sheet Music and How to Read Basic Rhythms. Both articles include a quiz to assess how well you’ve retained the information.


Choose the notation system you’re going to use

There are many different notation systems out there. The most common in English speaking countries is the alphabet (from A to G) but you may also want to look at other systems such as solfège as used in The Sound of Music (do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do) or others that are used in your culture.


The notation system I use on this website is the alphabet. It’s not my favourite system but it’s probably the most widely used by my target audience. (My personal favourite is solfège as taught in Belgium: do, ré, mi, fa, sol, la, si, do.)


Choose the learning method

To remember the notes, there are several ways to go about it. The method I recommend, if using the alphabet, is the Landmark Notes. What I would avoid is using mnemonics such as Every Good Boy Deserves Fruit.


LEARN MORE >> How to Remember the Piano Notes Without Using Mnemonics


Review with flashcards and/or apps

To learn the note names and the note values, I suggest making your own flashcards, buying a deck of music flashcards, or using a note reading app like The Best 4 Note Reading Apps.


Make sure you also learn the note names in relation to the keyboard. Test yourself at the piano to make sure you know which note corresponds to which key.


You can also refer to the Sight-reading practice & Flashcards playlist on my YouTube channel for note drills using the Landmark Notes.


What to learn next

Once you’ve learned the basics, you can start looking at more advanced things such as notes on ledger lines, more complex rhythms, intervals, chords and key signatures.


Here are the articles I recommend:

Musical Symbols & Terms You Should Know When Sight-Reading

How to Read Notes on Ledger Lines (Drills Included)

How to Read Complex Rhythms (Quiz Included)

How to Identify Intervals on the Staff Quickly (Worksheet Included)

How to Sight-Read Piano Chords Quickly

How to Sight-Read in Any Key: Part I which explains key signatures


Habits to avoid when learning to read music

When learning on your own, you will inevitably make mistakes and develop bad habits. Here are some common mistakes you want to avoid when learning to read music on your own:

  • Writing down the note names in the score. You may think you’re going to learn the notes faster that way but in fact, you won’t. It will only slow you down because instead of looking at the notes, you’ll look at the note names.
  • Adding fingering on every note. Again, it may help you to play something more quickly, but it won’t help you learn to read the notes because you’ll be looking at the fingering, not the notes! Only add fingering where necessary.
  • Using mnemonics. As I explain in How to Remember the Piano Notes Without Using Mnemonics, using mnemonics is the slowest way to read music. Use the Landmark Notes instead.


Have fun

Most importantly, when learning this beautiful language we call music, make it fun! Make it a game and trust the process. Unlike the English language, music is a very consistent and logical language so it won’t take you much time at all. Before you know it, you’ll be reading music like you can read this article. 🙂


Some of the links in this article are affiliate links which means I may get a small commission if you purchase the product I recommend but at no extra cost to you. This helps support the blog and allows me to write articles like this, so thanks in advance for your support!

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    Emmanuelle Fonsny

    Emmanuelle Fonsny

    Emmanuelle Fonsny, or Manu, is a piano and violin teacher, composer and accompanist based in Sydney, Australia. She is passionate about sharing her love of music and her sight-reading and practice tips to help other pianists become more confident sight-readers.



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