How to Read Piano Scores

The first thing to realize about a piano score is that it omits many details that appear in a full score. For this reason, you will not get the complete picture of a piece of music just by looking at the piano score. However, you will be able to assess the main melodies and harmonies. Piano scores are useful for looking at the bigger picture and getting a feel for the main elements of a piece, but they are a poor substitute for a full score.

Step 1

Learn to read treble clef, which is the first clef in a piano score. The lowest line on the staff is an E and from that point upward, the note names increase by one letter name. This makes the first space F, the second line G, and the third space A. Musical notes always start over at A after G is reached. The notes then continue up the musical alphabet.

Step 2

Memorize the notes of the bass clef, which is the second clef in a piano score. The bass clef's lowest line is G, and it continues upward just like the treble clef.

Step 3

Understand how sharps and flats work. A sharp raises the note name by a half step. On the piano, the distance between white and black adjacent keys are a half step. Some white keys also create half steps if there are no black keys between them. For instance, E and F do not have a black key between them, so they are considered half steps.

Step 4

Learn to play notes on the piano. On the piano, there are two sets of black keys, one double-set, and one triple-set. The white key immediately to the left of the double-set will always be a C of some form. The C in the middle of the piano is middle C and appears just below the staff.

Step 5

Analyze the treble clef part. The highest part in the treble clef is typically the melody, although in some cases the melody may appear in the middle voices or the low voices. The melody is identifiable because it is more rhythmically interesting than the rest of the score.

Step 6

Study the bass clef part. The bass clef will typically contain your accompaniment and chords. This part will move at a slower rhythmic speed than the melody. The exception to this is highly contrapuntal music that has several melodies playing at once, such as the music of Bach.

Step 7

Notice any markings in the score that indicate specific instruments. Sometimes, there will be small text that indicates the oboes are playing a particular section, or that there is a flute solo.

Step 8

Pay careful attention to the dynamics used in the music. Dynamics give clues about how to interpret the music since they control the volume of the piece. A louder piece may be more majestic while a quieter piece may be more subdued.


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