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Music Reading Basics - Beginning at the Beginning

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I took piano lessons in grade school. The neighbor had a piano. My mother had a double keyboard electric/electronic organ.

Those two instruments are the same, but different.

And I had questions.

Questions like, how do I use two keyboards when I'm learning on one.

So. To this day, I have never learned to play the double keyboard.

I remember the neighbor setting me down to the keyboard. She told me stories of faces and good boys who did fine, and something about cows eating grass.

I'm sure there was a page of music on the top of the piano glaring at me. Lines with little black globs on them.

She would sing the scale.

There were white keys and black keys. None of them were my friend. I remember pressing the keys and going off on a tangent, picking the notes of a tune that I knew.

That's good. You know how to play by ear. You are a natural.

That's wonderful, but I still can't read music.

And, now, I'm panicking because I have forgotten the basics.

There is a key, just to the left of two black keys. It's located roughly in the center of your playing surface.

It's called middle C. Middle C will be middle C for the rest of your life.

Conveniently, it's located dead center between your two groupings of lines, as distinguished by the Staff and the bass clef, those symbols on the left side of the note groupings.

The staff looks like a cursive S, and the bass clef looks like an ear.

The letter C is the beginning of your scale. The scale is in alphabetical order, and only uses the letters A, B, C, D, E, F and G. Then, it goes back to A.

It's octal. A number system based on 8? So, your complete scale has 8 sounds. C Major begins on C and ends on C.

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Any letter can be the beginning of your scale. But, you learn the scale that begins with C.

An Octave

So, when you play a full scale starting with a letter and ending on same letter eight keys to the right, it's called an "Octave".

Chords - Played with Left Hand

As I look back, over the years I played a guitar. My sister taught me the basic chords. Basic, meaning the accompaniment or left hand groupings of notes.

So, I learned G, C, F, A, D. Those few chords were enough to play most songs we knew.

My piano teacher taught me the left handed chords as well. Well, some of them. C, G and F, for sure. They are played with three fingers on the keys at once, but two of the fingers change to change the chord. The pinkie finger stays planted.

You can hear the tone change.

I have asked people, multitudes of people, if they know how to read music.

Most say no.

Same people who sing along to the radio. Don't know how to read music.

Here, I thought I was stupid because I couldn't figure it out.

Turns out not many people know how.

The sheet of music with the lines on the top and the lines on the bottom.

The space in between them has exactly one center, invisible line. It is the home of the note "middle C."

However, I have seen music with four or five notes on slash marks. I then mistakenly assumed that there were multiple lines between. Not so. Still only one, middle C, but the writer of the music was in a hurry and didn't want to draw the full bass clef lines layout.

I'm no longer scratching my head.

The keyboard has white keys and black keys. At first they teach you the white keys only. The black keys are, at that point, just points of reference.

The octave we are taught goes from the left of the middle set of black keys, to the white key to the left of the next set of two black keys. C to C.

There are three black keys grouped together in between.

So, when my teacher asked me if I practiced the scale, I couldn't explain why I had not. (Remember the double keyboard issue)

I have always been this way. Lawyer mentality. Engineer brain.

It's really crippling.

That's why, here I am, years later (50 to be exact) trying to learn the basics.

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