Reading Music Step By Step


By now you can see that our strategy is fun, work, fun, work.

What about the work part, reading music?

Here is a set of learning steps that describe children’s common battle to read music.

Make sure that the child can play songs by number, or color, or whatever way gets them happy with the instrument. Do not start their experience with the piano with reading music.


The first step is to look at a page of music. Open up a book such as one of the Bastien Series or I CAN READ MUSIC.

Look at the five lines in the right hand staff. That is the playing field for this game. It has nothing to do with numbers or color. It’s a new game played on a field of five horizontal lines. Play drawing games and let them try to draw five horizontal lines.

That may be as far as you can go with a little child in one day. Older kids find the five lines obvious and are ready for the next steps. Younger kids may take weeks to be secure with these ideas.


Middle C is the central orientation point for a child at the piano. The more you make a child secure with finding and re-finding it, the greater their confidence.

Middle C in the world of the piano exists in two places, in two entirely different languages, one physical (the piano) and one graphic (the page.) Almost all children’s struggles to read music at the piano involves a juggling act between these two skills, which are hard enough separately.

We must find Middle C both on the piano and on the page.


Middle C is the white key to the left of the group of two black keys closest to the center of the keyboard. Click here for a more detailed tutorial and graphics about the five lines and Middle C.

We’ve previously found Middle C, and numbered it, and put a little red sticker on Middle C, or number one. The child should be able to remember it from countless previous Middle C Games.


This is the hard part. Now we must return to the five lines on the page, and find Middle C in relation to them.

Look at Middle C on any page of a child’s piano book. I help kids to recognize Middle C by pointing out that Middle C is the only note that is on its own “little line.” See the drawing below.

Emphasize the concept of the “little line,” because that is a perfect child’s way to distinguish Middle C from any other note in the average children’s piano book.

Point to other notes and play a game of trying to fool them into saying they are Middle C. But they will soon be able to pick out Middle C from a maze of other notes. Wait and make very sure they know where it is. It’s worth another week or two of cementing it in their heads.

It’s worth retreating after this and coming back to the “little line” distinction again and again before proceeding further.


Now play a game of showing them a page of music, and have them point to a Middle C on the page with their index finger. Then, the first person (the teacher or the student) to reach down and play Middle C on the piano keyboard wins.

If it suits the child, keep score on a Post-It and give yourself ridiculously low scores. Do this a dozen times and vary the game by any means necessary. Then walk away and do something else.


Put Middle C away for a bit, and look at a page of music. The little circles (the “notes”) are either on one of the five lines (the line goes through the middle of the circle) or in one of the spaces in between the five lines.

Drawing of musical staff describing notes as being either on one of the five lines, or in the spaces in between the lines.

We’re only concerned with the first three notes: Middle C, the note on the space above it, and the note on the lowest of the five horizontal lines. Confine you initial attempts to finding these three notes.

With that in mind, set out and have the child identify notes. Is that note on the page on a line or a space? You have to do this game, interspersed between the other games, over and over, because until it is mastered, you cannot go further with reading music.

Notice one crucial thing: we have done all of this without reference, except for Middle C, to the piano. Kids have to learn to observe the page and make judgments about it. It is easy to get the knack of this, especially if you don’t have to play anything on the piano.

Later we will combine the skills, identifying the notes, and playing them, but for now we must limit the scope to attain security for the child. Better to go slow now than risk confusion and disappointment,.

The idea is for each step to be so easy that they cannot but help “drawing the line between them.” Drawing all these minute steps together is called “playing the piano.”

Copyright 2017 Walden Pond Press

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