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7 Sites That Teach You to Read Music

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This post is part of a series called Creative Session: All About Music Notation.
Nashville Notation: Playing by the Numbers

Last week's article, 5 Ways to Notate Your Music, talked about the importance of music notation to musicians and composers. The article mentioned that reading music is a skill that is well worth learning. In response, reader Jon commented, "I definitely want to read and write music fluently." So for Jon and the rest of us who have made a New Year's resolution to learn to read (and write) music, here are seven websites that can help.

This article was previously published on the AudioJungle blog, which is moving on to a new format in 2010. We'll be bringing you an article from the AudioJungle archives each Sunday.

I've only included lessons that can be done online without needing to download or subscribe to anything, where the training is free of charge, and the sites don't overwhelm you with ads. Learning to read music involves both knowledge and skill. While reference sites about learning to read music are valuable, I've also included some sites with tutorials and exercises where you can practice and improve our reading skills.


1. Teoría Music Theory Web

This week on the AudioJungle Forum, member Juanmares recommended Teoría as a good site for learning music theory. Teoría is a very rich site, having been around since 1997, containing tutorials, exercises, reference and articles on a wide range of music theory topics, including notation. It is a very clean site, with no ads. If you like keeping your reference material on your computer, there is a link on the sidebar of most pages that allows you to download the entire site.

In the Tutorials section of the site, Reading Music comes first. The tutorials incorporate Flash sound and animations to help you visualize the theory behind music notation. The tutorials cover all of the basics without going into too much detail.

To test how well you understand the Tutorials, you go to the Exercises section of the site. Here you are tested on rhythm, notes, intervals, scales, key signatures, chords, harmonic functions and jazz with multiple choice questions. You are given helpful feedback on your answers. For example, in the time signature exercises (under rhythm), you are shown a series of notes within bars, and are asked to choose the time signature. After answering, you are given the option of hearing the notes played by the computer, allowing you to count along with the tune to test your answer.

The Reference section of the site is a glossary of musical terms with very full definitions and explanations. And the Articles section of the site contains more advanced information about Analysis and Theory, Analysis by Composer, Instruments and Music History. While not directly helping you to learn how to read music, the articles seem to be very helpful and interesting.


2. eHow: How to Learn to Read Music

eHow is a site that claims it can teach you how to do just about anything, including how to read music. Like all eHow tutorials, once you finish you can click the "I Did This" button, and rate the lesson. Small Google ads appear at the right and bottom of the page. Related articles on eHow are:

The "lessons" are incredibly basic, but may be worthwhile for a beginner. I estimate that the lessons will only take ten or fifteen minutes. At the end of it, I'm sure you still won't be able to read music, but you will have a reasonable overview of what is involved, and the main concepts. If you have a chance to test this site on an absolute beginner, I'd be interested to hear how helpful it was.

eHow also has a video tutorial called "Music Notation: GarageBand Tutorial" that may be useful to users of that program.


3. Notation Machine: The Basics of Reading Music

The Notation Machine hosts a one-page article by Kevin Meixner called "The Basics of Reading Music". The article covers the basic concepts of music notation. It includes diagrams, many of which have a link underneath that let you listen to the sound of the notes displayed.

While there are no accompanying tutorials or interactive content, the article is well-written, and clearly explains the main concepts of music notation.


4. Learn to Read Music with Flash Cards

Learn to Read Music Online is a site with flash card quizzes on music notation. The opening screen contains just one line of instructions: "Select which notes you would like to include in your flash cards." You can select treble and/or bass cleff, and which notes and octaves to include. By default, all options are selected. Then you click "Start".

After that, the staff(s) you selected are displayed with one note. You press the corresponding letter on the keyboard, and after pressing the correct key, another note is displayed. A few of the responses I got make me wonder if the program is a bit buggy, but overall I found it useful.

Another site that has useful music notation flashcards is The Violin Case. These flash cards start with the treble cleff, but also test the bass cleff. Flash cards are a great way to improve your note recognition.


5. Learn to Read Music on YouTube

If you're a more visual or auditory learner, you may like to check out GrooveyStretch's three-part video tutorial on learning to Read Music. The videos go for around 30 minutes all up, and are very guitar-oriented. You can find the videos here:

GrooveyStretch has a lot of other guitar-related videos on YouTube as well.


6. The Music Notation Project

If you can already read music, and are looking for more advanced and theoretical information related to notating music, The Music Notation Project might help.

The website describes itself in this way: "The Music Notation Project explores alternative music notation systems that seek to improve upon traditional music notation in order to make reading, writing, and playing music more enjoyable and easier to learn." It contains reference and tutorials.


7. More Sites with Basic Information About Reading Music

For a musician, reading music is a long-term, life-long activity. From time to time you'll want to quickly brush up on the basics. Here are a handful of sites that cover music notation in a simple and helpful way:

That's enough reading. If you're serious about learning music, actions speak louder than words. Check out some of those sites, and get to work! If I've missed your favorite site for learning to read music, please let us know in the comments.

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