If you’ve seen music written for brass, string, or woodwind instruments before, you’ll note some important differences between music written for those instruments and what you’ll find when you start to learn to play piano. Because the piano is capable of playing more than one note at the same time, this capability is used to remarkable effect to express harmonies in the form of chords or even separate melodies. How do you read- or even write- two or more notes intended to be played together? When you learn to play piano, accordion, or guitar, you’ll find that it’s not as hard as it might seem at first.
All music is written from left to right, like letters and words, and when you play piano, you are “reading” the music. However, unlike text, a music staff has five spaces and lines, meaning that you could stack several notes on top of one another. Notes that are lined up vertically are meant to be played at the same time. Like all music, notes that are higher in pitch will be higher on the staff, and notes that are lower in pitch are lower on the staff. But because the piano has the largest pitch range of all instruments, how do you show that range with only a five line musical staff? One thing that helps is to add a second five line staff, creating a grand staff.
Much of the music you’ll find when learning to play piano is written on the grand staff, a staff consisting of a treble clef and a bass clef connected by a bracket on the left hand side. The treble clef and bass clef work as a single unit, so notes that are lined up vertically will be played at the same time. The grand staff is often used for classical music, but other styles use it as well. But you’ll also see notation that provides a handy code to transmit some basic information.
Chord symbols are a type of musical code that you may see written above the staff. The code will indicate the chord to be played, and any additional notes the composer desires in a mix of abbreviations, letters, symbols and numbers. Because there are no note values attached to the chord symbols, only the pitches to be played, you can experiment with different rhythms- as long as you change chords when the music does, you won’t make an error.
Whether you see chord symbols or a grand staff, a little knowledge of reading music goes a long way in helping you learn piano.