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An Effective Strategy for Kids Reading Music

You'll need an effective strategy for kids reading music if you are to succeed with younger children. “Reading music” is a very large, vague term. There are levels of reading music. Liszt, the famed romantic star of the piano, was able to read instantly even the handwritten chicken-scratchings of young composers such as in the famous story with Grieg.

That’s the highest level of pianistic expertise, sought and usually attained by modern professional classical musicians. At the opposite end of the scale is the average adult amateur, with whatever music reading skills they can muster from youth, which are often not well-remembered.

Each Hand Has A Different Graphic Language

Children, too, have levels. Some learn right hand (treble clef) up to a certain level of complexity. Some also learn the left hand language (bass clef) but rarely with the assurance of the right hand. Be aware that reading music often involves “speaking” (playing) two different musical languages; right hand (treble clef) and left hand (bass clef.)

Think of it as speaking both Romanian and French at the same time. Both are equally unfamiliar. This will give you an idea of how kids feel when trying to read music. To play and read even one clef (hand) well is an accomplishment, but a pianist must conquer both simultaneously.

Steps To Reading Right Hand

Here are the steps a child must take to learn to read simple music in the treble clef (the right hand.) Some steps involve finding elements on the page, and others involve finding keys on the piano.

Finding Middle C
Finding Middle C

Familiarize yourself with and locate Middle C. It is the only note with the “little line.” (See the diagram.) Be aware that there are five horizontal lines. Look at notes (the circles) on a page. There are only three locations: Middle C, on a space or on a line. Keep drilling visually the placement of notes, as in the drawing. The child must know the answer EVERY time before proceeding. The child is trying to find three things. Middle C, a note on a space, or a note on a line.

Put On The Reading Music Stickers

Stickers for Reading Music

The red sticker is Middle C

Now put the stickers on your keyboard, as in the diagram. The red sticker represents Middle C. Play games finding Middle C on the page (the “little line.”) Review the skill of finding Middle C on both the piano and the page. This is crucial for success with reading music. Don’t worry if it takes four months or longer, depending on the age of the child. This skill must be in place before proceeding. Older kids learn it in a few minutes.

Offer the additional information that Middle C is the white key to the left of the group of two white keys. Play a game finding all the C’s on the piano. You point to a group of two black keys, and the child must find the adjacent white key to the left. After that is mastered, go back to finding Middle C, that is, distinguishing Middle C from all other C’s.

Finding Middle C And Lines And Spaces

Stickers for Reading Music

 5 blue stickers: the 5 lines of the staff

Now play a game with the drawing in which the child must distinguish between Middle C, denoted by the red sticker, and all the other lines, denoted by the 5 blue stickers. Play a key with a blue sticker, and ask, “Is this on a line or a space?” The answer must be “It’s on a line.”

Play Middle C, the key with the red sticker. Ask if it’s on a line or a space. It’s a trick question. Middle C is on it’s “own line,” the “little lines.” Next use the drawing with the stickers (your keyboard) and play all the keys that have no sticker at all. These are “spaces.” If a note is on these spaces, we say it is “on a space.”

Don't Skip Preparatory Steps

These steps will prepare your child for reading music. If you attempt to read music without understanding these skills and ideas, you will be confused from the first moment. If these skills are in hand, it will not be hard to move from one note on a line to the next on a space.

The general strategy is to learn the first five notes above Middle C until they are utterly familiar. Don’t stray into other hand positions until the C position with the right hand is solidly learned. That’s why it’s important to have other things to learn while the weeks pass and the above ideas sink in.

Lastly, do not make the mistake of introducing fingering at this time. It will greatly confuse younger children. Find the notes on the page, then find them on the piano. No note naming, no fingering. Many things are possible once the idea of “note finding” is secure in their minds.

Note finding is a game, with various levels. Play all the levels (the steps above, or I Can Read Music) before gingerly testing the waters with real music. You will succeed if you are patient. Make sure the child has control of the underlying concepts.


We've turned notes into numbers for happy beginners at the piano!


Our PLAY ALONG SONGS are produced by Grammy Award winner Joe Castellon of Sesame Street. They're such an important element in making the piano fun for kids!



Our books and videos are created by Emmy Award winning composer and leading children's educator John Aschenbrenner. Get your child happily started at the piano!



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