Piano Lessons for Adult Beginners: Learn to Read Music

Master rhythmic sight-reading to unlock the mysteries of reading two-hand piano notation.
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  • Lectures 83
  • Length 2.5 hours
  • Skill Level Beginner Level
  • Languages English
  • Includes Lifetime access
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About This Course

Published 9/2015 English

Course Description

This course is now COMPLETELY FREE, thanks to the generosity of my incredible patrons at Patreon.

Many of the piano students I have the privilege of working with approach me with the false notion that they simply don't have what it takes to be able to read music. This course is designed to prove that anyone with a desire to learn the valuable skill of reading music notation can in fact learn to read music and, to take it a step further, that they can do so in a way that won't cause them anxiety and frustration.

Learn the Fundamentals of Sight-Reading Piano Music by Mastering Your Understanding of Rhythmic Notation

  • Simplify sight-reading one rhythmic concept at a time.
  • Dig into the bass clef to help you unlock the secrets of your favorite songs.
  • Learn new concepts gradually and only as they are needed.
  • Apply new concepts to your practice exercises and to short performances right away.

In short, this course will help you to acquire the skills necessary to confidently approach a new piece of sheet music that you want to learn on your own.

Being able to read music is an essential skill for the majority of music jobs that exist in the world as we know it. These include teaching, accompanying, film scoring, songwriting, studio recording, and a variety of performing gigs. But being able to read music also provides a musician with a wonderful personal gift: the ability to learn to play the music that moves them.

In this course you'll learn about rhythmic note values that range from whole notes all the way down to rapid 16th notes and all of their related rests. You will learn to recognize the most common symbols that appear in written music. You will learn to not be intimidated by the jungle of dots and lines that contain the information necessary to perform your favorite pieces of music.

Course Overview

The course is organized into ten units that each tackle a rhythmic concept. These concepts increase in difficulty only very gradually so that you never feel like you are asked to do something that is over your head. Supporting the rhythm-focused center of each unit are related concepts that enhance your musical understanding and widen the breadth of your playing ability. During each unit, you will be given exercises to play on the piano that will reinforce the concepts you are learning.

Unlike most piano method materials, you will learn the bass clef first. This choice is meant to encourage you to attend to the movement of low pitches - all in the pursuit of a more holistic understanding of the music you listen to and play. You will also be learning about the treble clef and, by the end of the course, you will be able to play music that is written for two hands.

At the end of each unit, you will be asked to put your training to the test in a short performance of a piece of music that will feature recently-learned concepts. As you progress through the units, you will discover that your performance pieces are all part of the same composition. In other words, by the end of the course, you will have played all of the parts to a single piece of music and you will be able to hear what they sound like when played together. For your last project, you will be challenged to learn a specific piece of music entirely on your own.

You are going to learn a ton about reading music and it it is going to be both fun and satisfying.

What are the requirements?

  • Students should have access to a piano or a keyboard.
  • Some course materials are best enjoyed in printed form so access to a printer is recommended.

What am I going to get from this course?

  • Read rhythmic values as small as a 16th note
  • Perform "Melody" by Friedrich Baumfelder
  • Read single melodic lines in both the bass clef and the treble clef

What is the target audience?

  • This course is designed for adult beginners, aged 15 and up, who want to learn how to start reading music for the piano. Although the course assumes very little prior knowledge, it is not appropriate for young children.

What you get with this course?

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Curriculum

Section 1: Course Overview
03:36

In this video I explain what the course is like, who it is designed for, and what you will learn.

Section 2: Just the Basics
01:04

Welcome to the first unit! This section is designed to get you up and running as fast as possible. We only cover the bare essentials so that you can start doing a whole lot of playing and reading in Unit 2. We'll be covering measures, time signatures, quarter notes and their related rests, and finally the counting system we will be using in the first half of the course. There will be a couple of short pop quizzes so that you can check to make sure you are understanding the concepts but this unit is designed to be fairly easy. Good luck!

01:44

In this lesson we will learn about measures. Measures help us organize music and keep track of where we are when we are reading music.

06:39

After watching the above time signatures video, download the music file linked to below. The recording is of the piece "Air on a G String" by Johann Sebastian Bach and is performed by the United States Air Force Band. While listening to this recording, tap your foot where you think it makes sense to do so. As you tap your foot, count to four and then start back over at one. Keep counting all the way through the song. You will want to start counting "one" as soon as you hear the music begin to play. If you need help, try to only listen to the plucked low pitches to know when to count (headphones might help here). And be sure to look out for a couple of spots in the music when everything slows down! You will need to slow down your counting to make sure you match up with the song. Good luck!

03:35

In this video we cover our first rhythmic values; quarter notes, and quarter note rests. I like to think of quarter notes and quarter note rests as having a unit of 1. Some people might tell you that a quarter note is worth 1 beat but that isn't quite true. When you encounter some less-common time signatures, you start to see why quarter notes and quarter note rests aren't always worth one beat. Rhythmic values are best thought of in relationship to other notes. For instance, a half note, which we will discuss later, is the same length as two quarter notes.


Check in: If four quarter notes can fit into a measure of 4 / 4 time, how many quarter note rests can fit into a measure of 4 / 4 time?

04:08

In this lesson we learn how to count the beats in the measures we are reading. The number we count to before starting over is related to the time signature of the piece we are working with. For this whole course, I never change time signatures in the middle of a piece on you. In other words, whatever time signature you see at the beginning of your exercises and performance pieces will be the only time signature you need to worry about.


Counting out loud helps us figure out when something is off and, over time, helps us internalize where we are in a measure. Eventually, we won't count out loud but be sure to count out loud until I mention later in the course that it is okay to count silently.

1 page

This quiz is mostly provided to help you assess your understanding of what we have covered so far. The answers aren't super important - I just want you to have some idea of what you should understand at this point in the course.

Section 3: About Those Quarter Notes and Quarter Note Rests
00:57

In this unit we will be practicing quarter notes and quarter note rests, playing in time, playing through difficult parts and mistakes, reading in the bass clef, and playing with the left hand. The largest interval featured in this unit is just a unison, which is a fancy name for the same note.

01:13

In this video I will be playing a short sight-reading exercise with you. You will be doing similar exercises throughout the course to reinforce new concepts. I'm playing this one with you so you can get used to how I want you to do these exercises. As you progress through the course, you will be asked to play these exercises more and more on your own.

1 question

Just a quick quiz to test your understanding.

05:49

The bass clef is where we often find low pitches. In this video you will learn how to recognize the bass clef symbol for what it really is - the letter F! You will also learn where the F note lives on your piano.

04:18

It's time for another sight-reading exercise - this time in three four time. Yay! I'll still be playing this one with you but I'm raising the stakes a little bit so that you are doing more of the heavy lifting. Don't worry, it isn't that much harder. :)

04:30

How do you know how fast you are supposed to play a piece? - Great question! Near the top of sheet music that you will likely come across in your life there is often a indication for how fast we should be playing. Sometimes this is a word that acts as a rough guide (often in Italian) and sometimes the tempo of the piece is more precisely prescribed. The more precise method for communicating tempo is the concept that we will be exploring in this video.

03:36

This sight-reading exercise is in two four time - a common time signature often used for marches. If you think about two legs marching it will start to make sense why this is a common time signature for that purpose. Count to two and then start over when practicing this exercise.

Article

Filming yourself is a great way to see how far you have grown. Progress in music is gradual so it can be hard to see your growth without a before-and-after comparison.

01:43

This is your first performance! Don't get too stressed out - you don't have to play in front of anybody (unless of course you want to) and I kept your part really simple to start out. If this is too easy, don't worry - I'll challenge you as we go. Too hard? - just play the video again until you get it.

By the way, if you'd prefer, you can always download or print the sheet music for these performances (see attached resource).

Section 4: Half Notes
01:05
In this unit we will be practicing quarter notes and quarter note rests, half notes, playing with the left hand, and score navigation. You will begin playing in what is called "step-wise motion" which basically means that you will be playing notes that are nearby each other.


03:01

Time to learn about those pesky half notes! - Just kidding, half notes are chill. Remember when I told a half note had the same duration as two quarter notes? That's still true. Don't forget to hold a half note out for the full duration.

1 page

It is time for another rhythmic sight-reading exercise. Read the musical exercise attached on your own, counting at any tempo you feel comfortable with. Count out loud and play the rhythm on your piano (the F note) and see if you can push yourself to always read a measure ahead of where you are.

03:23

Let's add a few more bass pitches to our bag of tricks. In this video we learn where we can find the E and G notes in the bass clef and how we can locate them on our keyboard.

1 page

As you are performing this exercise, remember that you are in 3/4 time and that you now have to look out for pitch changes. You are only moving between two note options, F or G, but you will still have to stay focused. Set your fingers over the notes before you begin to play. You can play this exercise out at any tempo you feel comfortable with.

Article

This is a general tip about being economical with your choice of fingers.

1 page

Here is another exercise to strengthen your understanding of half notes, quarter notes, and quarter note rests. You can expect to run into the E, F, and G notes so you might want to find those on your keyboard before you start.

01:31

Time for another performance! You will hear the part you played in the last video in the background so try to sort of ignore that while you are focusing in on your own part. I'll be playing the same part that you are on the keyboard near the bottom of the screen.

Section 5: Half Note Rests
01:13

Half note rests, the major scale, more notes in the bass clef... we've got work to do soldier!

03:15

This is a great exercise for teaching you how to read ahead in your music - a very difficult thing to do without a push. You will be performing one measure while looking at the next one in line. This will be tough at first.

01:32

You might have already figured out that half note rests are just like half notes except silent. And you thought half notes were laid back?

1 page

Another sight-reading exercise featuring half notes, quarter notes, and their related rests. Can you handle the heat?

08:00

Alright, this video is admittedly a beast. We are learning about the major scale, scale degrees, and the key of F. Take your time with this one and go to town on your piano or keyboard while I am covering stuff. Feel free to stop the video and watch it as many times as you need. There is important stuff in here.

1 page

This sight-reading exercise comes with scale degree hints! I know, pretty sweet right? Don't forget that in three four time you count to three and then start over.

02:47

In this video we add two more low notes (C and D) to our understanding of the bass clef. I know, I know... more bass material. What can I say? - Perhaps I need to elevate my thinking. (WARNING: that was a terrible, overly-cerebral joke).

1 page

Here is another exercise to help review concepts we have covered so far. There is a lot to think about in this sheet... no shame in going slow here.

Article

This tip is related to the exercise we did with the disappearing measures. The whole idea is to find a way to look ahead when you are playing as much as possible.

01:27

Another performance! Can you feel yourself growing?

Section 6: Whole Notes and Whole Note Rests
01:52

Treble clef, whole notes, and whole note rests are the topic of choice for this illustrious unit.

01:33

In this video we learn to recognize that crazy curly symbol we see all the time on sheet music for what it really is: a fancy letter G! We will be playing the treble clef with our right hand and we will mostly stick to notes that are to the right of middle C on the keyboard when we are playing in the treble clef.

00:59

In this lesson we are learning about whole notes, which are like blue whales: they take up so much space!

1 page

Let's do another sight-reading exercise to see how well all of this stuff is sticking. If you forget what note you are playing in this exercise, just remember that the clef is literally labeled for you! (Remember? It has that fancy "G" right on there.)

01:28

We are learning about the A and B note in this video, located above the G in our sheet music and to the right of the G on the keyboard. Are you getting into treble? I certainly hope so.

Article

Everyone ignores the tip to move through material slowly but I really think it is a great idea to master something before moving on. Music is tough - we don't always fly through everything. That's totally fine. Sometimes all we need is a good nights sleep and to try again in the morning.

1 page

Just about halfway through the course, it is time for a sight-reading exercise to put all of your new knowledge to work. This sheet will cover a range of rhythmic notes and pitches that we have discussed in previous lessons.

Article

This is just a quick tip to prepare you for the next exercise and to give you some advice about where you should keep your eyes when sight-reading.

1 page

Get your marching boots on for this exercise... and watch your key signature. ;)

01:07

In this lesson we discuss whole note rests, which are like transparent blue whales... they take up so much space!

1 page

I wrote in a bunch of places for you to rest in this exercise. I don't want you to over-exert yourself and have an aneurysm.

01:42

Whole note rests in measures less than four four time are like transparent baby blue whales... they take up a lot of space!

1 page

Isn't music great? You play, and you rest. I have the best job in the world.

01:32

It's time for another performance! After completing this, you will be one musical inch taller.

Section 7: Eighth Notes
01:18

We're mostly inspecting eighth notes and a tweaked counting system in this unit. Eighth notes are cool beans.

03:42

In this video we inspect cool beans... I mean eighth notes. Notice how they relate to quarter notes.

1 page

Doesn't it just seem like there is treble everywhere you look? In this exercise you are practicing everything we have covered in four four time.

01:28

In this video we learn about the E and F notes in the treble clef.

1 page

Treble comes in threes. In this exercise, you will put your knowledge of the treble clef and a variety of rhythmic note values to the test.

01:27

Now things are really starting to heat up. You're playing eighth notes in your performance? What a show-off!

Section 8: Eighth Notes Rests
00:48

In this unit we get into more treble and learn about eighth note rests. Also, I make a fool of myself as usual.

02:28

Eighth note rests are like cool beans... that I ate. Get it? No? It's like this: eighth note rests are like silent versions of eighth notes. Now do you get it?

1 page

In this sight-reading exercise, you'll have to be keeping (ha I said "bee keeping" in my head when I wrote that) an eye out for blue whales, transparent blue whales, cool beans, and cool beans that have been eaten moving forward - not to mention a bunch of other stuff.

02:46

A whole octave of treble. Maybe I should call the cops. By the way, "octave" just refers to notes that are part of a set of pitches between two of the same alphabetical symbols. That sounds complicated but just think from D to the next D up.

1 page

"Octave" means eight - in this case we're playing eight in three four. If that sentence made sense to you, wow.

01:33

Yay! Another performance. And this time we're getting even fancier. If you would rather refer to the printed sheet music, remember that you can print the score from the attached PDF.

Section 9: A Couple Things While You Practice
00:54

This unit is about ties, middle C and practicing the hard stuff. This is the moment where champions are made.

02:26

In this video we are discussing the musical symbol called a "tie" - can you guess what a tie does based on the name of the symbol?

1 page

In this sight-reading exercise we try to apply our new knowledge of ties. Holding through a note can be surprisingly tricky. Stick to it though. You'll get it.

02:58

Middle C is for cookie, that's good enough for me. That what this video is all about.

Article

You might hear a teacher refer to "intervalic sight-reading". They are just talking about reading music by thinking about where a note is relative to the last one you played. This is better than trying to think to yourself, "Okay, I've got a G... where is that on my keyboard... okay now I have a Bb... let me just find that down here on the piano..."

1 page

These exercises are getting tricky. Go slow and don't be afraid to return to difficult material.

01:27

We're at the seventh (yes the seventh!) performance of "Growing". You're doing great if you are all the way here.

Section 10: Sixteenth Notes
02:26

In this unit we're talking about sixteenth notes and a couple of musical symbols to give you migraines. :)

02:18

In this video we cover slurs, which are kind of similar to ties in some ways. Slurring notes is like slurring words - except beautiful.

03:48

Let's talk about these rapid little sixteenth notes. These notes are getting tiny!

Article

Go slow. Seriously. Don't make the same mistake the other people do. Just be patient and go slowly for this part or sixteenth notes are going to get you.

1 page

Here's an exercise to practice sixteenth notes and everything else we have covered in four four time. Lots of stuff to pay attention to now. You better be counting really slowly or some of this stuff will fly right by without you being able to catch it.

02:18

In this lesson I actually make your life easier! You can thank me later. We're talking about piano fingering numbers, which are little hints about which finger you should use to play tricky musical passages.

1 page

An exercise in three four time covering sixteenth notes and everything else we've covered so far. Ya just gotta put in the work.

01:39

You made it all the way to the eighth performance. Awesome! There are only a couple of these left. I hope you crush it.

Section 11: Sixteenth Note Rests
02:00

In this lesson we are talking about sixteenth note rests and how to play that pesky F major scale. I hope you don't mind that we started with the hard stuff. ;)

01:57

It is time to discuss sixteenth note rests. Any guesses? Hey, sometimes we'd like a longer rest but we can only get a short one - it's still better than none at all. Am I right? Am I right?

Article

The next three sight-reading exercises move in a structured way. Be sure to read and understand this heads up.

1 page

This is a tricky sight-reading exercise. Feel free to look it over as much as you'd like before attempting to play it through. You are so close to the end... the question is, will you be able to power through?

1 page

Show me your will power. This is the three four sight reading exercise that engages your problem solving abilities and pushes you to apply all of the knowledge you have gained in this unit so far.

1 page

Time to get both hands involved! This four four sight-reading exercise is going to be a mind-bender.

01:23

This is the last performance before your challenge. Finish strong! Again, feel free to look over the music before you play. This is common practice and it will help you have a heads-up for tricky spots before you get there.

Section 12: Congratulations!
02:25

Congratulations. I'm proud of you.

Article

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Instructor Biography

Joseph Raciti, Music Teacher

Joe Raciti teaches piano lessons online on YouTube and at his website. He holds a Masters of Music Education from The Boston Conservatory and teaches high school music. He enjoys composing, recording, arranging, and, of course, teaching music. You might have also noticed that he doesn't take himself too seriously. Or perhaps it is more apt to say that he is serious about not taking himself too seriously.

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