So I learned this trick from youtube that you can read notes relatively. enter image description here I can see that the first 2 notes in this piece is a G4, instead of figuring out what the third note is, I just press the key a SECOND up from the second note, and for the fourth note, I just press the key a SECOND down from the third note, and for the fifth note, I just press the key a FOURTH up from the fourth note, so basically I press based on the relationship of the future note and my last note, I don't actually think about what specific note I'm pressing, I only think in relationships.

This trick is easy in key of C, where there are only white notes and skipping down and up relatively is easy.

But what if the key is C# major or Cb major with lots of accidentals? enter image description here

enter image description here Should I modify this trick with more sophistication, like more detailed mapping of major and minor seconds, fourths, and so on?

Or are there some other tricks for fast reading in ANY key?


4 Answers 4


As you noticed this relative aproach is useful but has its limitations.

I think the first step is to learn your scales. Learn them one sharp and one flat at a time. And build your way around the circle of fifths. In a key with little flats or sharps your trick of relative reading will still work, but you will have to stay aware that some notes will be flatened or sharped, and you will have to look out for them. In G major for example the F will be sharpened, all the other notes will stay on the white keys.

It also helps that you will hear it if you miss a sharp or flat.

While you work your way further and further around the circle of fifths, you will also have to build your absolute note reading. Being able to read an F or a B when you see one. The best way to do this is to do work away from the keyboard. Just take a score and read note for note and shout out (or sing!) every note you read. Flash cards can help too.

At some point these two approaches will click together.

  • +1 for learn your scales. Practice those scales up and down and in thirds and whatever variation comes to mind until you no longer have to think about the accidentals of each scale. Then you can take one look at the key signature and your relative reading will work like a charm. That's how I do it. My teacher used to have me practice a scale a week around the circle of fifth. Feb 12, 2020 at 22:13

In key C it is quite easy to see, translate and play certain intervals, one of the reasons C is usually the first key to be explored in tutorials, particularly on piano. Those white keys seem simpler!

Once one gets into key sigs of 3,4 or more sharps or flats, more especially when the music contains accidentals (those at the beginning aren't!), it gets increasingly more difficult to read what each next interval is - having to remember which notes are sharp or flat in each key.

Your idea may work partially, but knowing each and every key with its 'changed notes' is essential. So one needs to learn all the scales anyway.And knowing all intervals may or may not help in the bigger picture. Two of us so far have picked up the glaring error in 'Happy b'day'!

I wish there was an easy way into sight-reading. Perhaps it's the holy grail, but on piano at least, your method will give all sorts of problems.

Having said that, it works somewhat on guitar, which has a different way to play in each key. I aired a method a long time ago, and have taught it to students. It does use intervals as its basis. Having established two octave pattern across the fingerboard for either major or minor scale, it's quite easy to follow the pattern of diatonic intervals as the melody unfolds.

As Albrecht says, though, sight-reading (successfully) is a lot more than merely reading the notes and playing them. Similar to a child 'barking at print'. I'll leave you to figure that out!


Your way is one approach to play music. It is really just “playing” by imitating, guessing and listening. But as you see you don’t get far this way.

You have come to the point where you realize there has to be another way! I call it “working”. This means you should study some basic theory about keys, scales, chords, harmony, chord progression and functions (tonic, dominant and subdominant.

This doesn’t mean you have to study music, just consult some piano tutorials or look up some questions in this SE. Then you will understand why the sharpened note in bar 5 (l.h.) isn’t A# but Bb and why this chord is a C7 chord.

So you have to learn as next what is a triad and tetrad especially a dominant 7 chord. It would lead too far to explain in this answer the whole theory. Basic theory of music is a systematic introduction to the basic terms and will give you the fundamental requirement build your own playroom of music.

You will be able to continue “playing” when you will have more fun when you are able to read sheet music.

(All tags in italic).

Btw. these key assignments are not accidentals. They are called the signature.


I have looked up your other questions ... and there is really no better advice than the one you got in a comment of your first question: **Please take lessons - or at the very least read some "teach yourself" books which cover fingering patterns in detail. If you start inventing your own, you will only develop bad habits which are very hard to break later. – Carl Witthoft **

acceptable to use same finger for 2 succeeding notes in this case?

If you can't afford the costs of piano lessons you can also try to play easy pieces that you can download only from pictures when you google a song or one of this terms I told you should learn to know.

  • 1
    Thanks for the callout :-) . I hope the OP takes your advice to heart. Feb 12, 2020 at 16:09
  • If you follow his other questions you will see that "we" are struggling along. The next question of this kind will be the first that I might vote down. Feb 12, 2020 at 16:15

I don't want to just give you a link and run. But I would look at http://musicnotation.org/ for an alternative way of looking at this. Basically, it is different sheet music notation that simply gives a space on the clef for each half step, does away with the sharp/flats notation, and makes it so that each clef is an octave apart (so no learning to read base, treble, alto etc as different).

It does not really solve being able to pick up a standard piece of sheet music and just sight read it.

But, it does make it, in my experience (especially with your relative way of reading notes), much easier to sight read in any key and much easier to transpose as you sight read. I have found that practicing reading notes from that system has majorly helped with developing my "ear" for music and really helped sight reading and playing by ear/how it sounds come much closer to meshing into one system for me.

  • Interesting. How would a chromatic staff deal with the need for double sharps and flats? Feb 12, 2020 at 15:20
  • @BrianTHOMAS Can you give me more context? I would think it would work out just by going to the position two spaces away (one whole step). I think I'm not understanding your question because of how obvious the answer seems...
    – Azendale
    Feb 12, 2020 at 15:23
  • In conventional notation, if I notate a C# major triad, this contains the notes C# E# and G#. You mustn't write F natural - you have to write E#. On a chromatic staff, you'd lose this enharmonic information if you're forced to write an E# as F. They're the same heard pitch, but they're not the same note when you're analysing harmony. In the linked article I liked the Schoenberg quote which says lots of ingenious minds have tackled the problem of music notation! Feb 12, 2020 at 15:41
  • @BrianTHOMAS Under a chromatic staff, the concepts of "flats" and "sharps would become completely unnecessary. One could easily give all 12 chromatic notes their own letter names defined without relation to any other notes, and then C♯ major mght just be "K major", spelled "D G J" or something.
    – user45266
    Feb 12, 2020 at 17:45
  • @BrianTHOMAS So is the enharmonic about a very minuscule pitch shift to fit the chord (that an equal temperament instrument like a piano technically couldn't do)? If so, a chromatic notation should probably have something like a sharp-lite or flat-lite symbol that shows a small (maybe quantified/specified) amount of pitch shift?
    – Azendale
    Feb 13, 2020 at 4:24

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