How to Read Piano Sheet Music for Beginners

When you’re first starting out playing piano, it can be quite overwhelming trying to figure out how to read sheet music. Notes seem to fly everywhere on the page, and it’s hard to know where to begin.

However, once you understand the basics of how to read piano sheet music, it becomes a lot less daunting.

In this post, we’ll go over some of the basics of reading piano sheet music so that you can start playing your favorite songs in no time!

The Basics of Reading Piano Sheet Music

Piano sheet music consists of five main elements: the staff, the clefs, the notes, the measure numbers, and the tempo markings.

Let’s break down each element so that you can better understand how to read piano sheet music.

The Staff

The staff has five lines and four spaces. The horizontal lines correspond to the white keys on a piano keyboard, while the spaces correspond to the black keys.

Each line and space is given a letter name—the lowest line on the staff is called “E”, while the highest space is called “F”. If a note goes above or below the staff, special signs called ledger lines are used to extend the range of notes.

The Clefs

There are two main clefs that are used in piano sheet music: treble clef and bass clef. Treble clef is used for high-pitched notes (usually played with your right hand), while bass clef can be used for low-pitched notes (usually played with your left hand).

In addition, there are other less common clefs that are occasionally used such as alto clef and tenor clef. However, for our purposes, we will just be focusing on treble and bass clef.

The Notes

Notes are symbols that represent which key on the piano should be pressed down and for how long. There are two main types of notes: whole notes and half notes.

Whole notes are represented by a filled-in circle, while half notes are represented by an open circle with a stem coming off of it.

The stem can point either up or down; if it points down then the note head is placed on the space below the line it falls on, while if it points up then the note head is placed on the line itself.

The duration of a note is also indicated by its shape; whole notes last for four beats while half notes last for two beats. In addition, there are other less common note values such as quarter notes (1 beat) and eighth notes (1/2 beat), but we won’t be covering those in this blog post.

Measure Numbers

Measure numbers are small numbers located at the beginning of each measure that indicate which measure you’re currently playing.

This is helpful so that you can keep track of where you are in a song if you need to take a break or if you get lost.

Tempo Markings

Tempo markings are symbols located at the beginning of a song that indicate how fast or slow a piece should be played. The most common tempo marking is “allegro”, which translates to “fast” in Italian.

However, there are many other tempo markings such as “largo” (very slow), “moderato” (moderate), and “presto” (very fast). Tempo markings can also be written numerically in beats per minute (BPM).

For example, if a piece has a tempo marking of Allegro 120 BPM, that means that there should be 120 beats (or quarter notes) played per minute.


Learning how to read piano sheet music may seem daunting at first, but once you understand the basics it becomes much simpler!

By familiarizing yourself with things like ledger lines, note values, and tempo markings, you’ll be reading sheet music like a pro in no time!

Allen Joe

Allen Joe is a writer for a piano blog. He has been playing the piano since he was a young child, and has always loved sharing his passion for music with others. Allen's writing focuses on helping people learn about different aspects of the piano and how to play it themselves.

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