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What are the best ways to learn how to read music?

Learning to read music might seem like a daunting task. However, the best way is to master it gradually, just as you did when learning to read text. Many people start to read scores when they are starting to play an instrument, so that theory and practice go together. The easiest way to grasp the principles is to have a teacher who can explain it all to you gradually. You can also teach yourself the basics from a book, or by using the internet, where there are many educational resources available. Another option is DVDs which explain how to read music.

To begin with, you need to learn the essentials. All scores are written on the staff, which is a set of five parallel lines. At the start, concentrate on the treble clef, which is used by all singers and instruments in the higher musical range. Just as anybody learning to read must start with the letters, musical students need to learn the notes of the scale and how they are arranged. The notes in the spaces are easy to remember, because they spell out the word FACE, while those on the lines are in the sequence EGBDF – used to make the phrase ‘Every good boy deserves favour’.

Next, you will go on to learn what the shapes of the notes mean, indicating how long they are held for. There are also many abbreviations, taken from Italian, which show how the tune should be played. These range from pianissimo, abbreviated to pp, which is very soft, right up to fortissimo, abbreviated to ff, which means very loud.

As you carry on learning, theory books will help to explain the finer points. However, it is important to listen to all kinds of tunes at the same time as reading the theory on paper. This is what will really bring the whole process of learning to read music alive. It will give an appreciation going beyond just reciting what the different symbols on the page represent.