3 Steps for Reading Music

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Learning to play the saxophone can be both intimidating and exciting. One of the biggest concerns beginning students have is learning how to read music. Luckily, this is not as difficult as you would think. When a student goes through properly organized lessons, the ability to read music is almost an automatic result of going through the lesson material. Here’s how it works.


You may have heard that music is a language, and there are many points that music and the spoken language share. One includes how our brain learns. When a baby is born, they are not able to speak, but as time goes on they begin to learn the names of objects in front of them. For example, a small child (who’s learning to speak) will see a dog and point in excitement. The parent will most likely point to the animal and say, “dog”. After some time, the child begins to associate the sound, “dog” with the animal they see in front of them. Soon, when the dog runs by, the child will point and mimic the sound, “dog”, which is greeted by positive confirmation. The child has learned to identify and use the proper name of the animal.

The Chalkboard

The example above makes sense, as we all learned a language in a similar manner. Notice that the parent did not do the following: when the child saw the dog and pointed in excitement, the parent did not take the child inside and spell out the word “dog” on a chalkboard. Why not? Because that’s not how our brain learns a language. Sometime we try to learn music in this fashion, which makes the learning process difficult.

Our Brain

Since the chalkboard approach is not the best way to learn a language, then we'll use what works, and apply it to music. However, we'll need to make some substitutions.


Instead of having a dog as the subject, we'll use notes. The sound and fingering of the note will take the place of the word, "dog". It still may sound like a challenge, but as I mentioned earlier, with proper instruction, reading music is a natural result of practicing.

First Step

When you’re learning a new note, do the following:

  • Look at the note on the page
  • Find correct fingering
  • Play the note (while looking at it) 10 times

If you do this every practice session, you’ll learn numerous notes in a short amount of time

Second Step

Let's say you've learned the notes B, A, G. When playing music, only play written music that contains these notes. Sounds pretty straight forward, but sometime we try to do more than this, causing us to fail. When that happens, we can feel like we’re not cut out to read music, when the truth is that the right direction was not followed.

Third Step

As your ability to read music grows, spend time every day playing written music that you’re working on, and new material. Another name for reading new music is sight reading. Spend time sight reading every day. Finding new music to read every day is simple; read from music books you own, or jump on line and read music that’s on your level. At first, sight reading will have a lot of errors, but you’ll improve over time.

Lesson Content

The approach for learning music just discussed can be done on your own, or you can get started with our free lessons. They incorporate this pattern, and once you’ve completed the free lesson series, you’ll be reading music, which takes about a 1 week. Of course you won’t have all the notes down, but you’ll see that reading music is not as difficult as you may have thought.

Your Experience

If you give this approach a shot, let us know how it goes. Additionally, if you remember learning how to read music yourself, let us know what worked for you. Go ahead and share in the comment section below. Thanks for sharing!

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