Introduction to Piano Sheet Music
Piano sheet music can be known by various names eg piano score, the dots, and is available in various formats such as printed versions in single song sheets or in compilation books, downloadable files eg PDFs, viewable files (displayed online within applications) or mobile device versions.
Sheet music specifies which notes are to be played, the sequence in which they are to be played, the rhythm with which they are to be played and also other performance guidelines such as which notes are to have accents, are to be played staccato (short and sharp) or legato (smoothly joined), crescendo (getting gradually louder) or diminuendo (getting gradually quieter). It usually shows the treble clef (showing the higher notes – usually played by the right hand) and bass clef (covering the lower notes – usually played by the left hand).
Do you Need to Learn to Read Notation?
The ability to read or write notation does not prevent you from being able to compose music as proven by several successful composers who were unable to read music sheets, such as Sir Paul McCartney and Irving Berlin (one of the most successful songwriter of the 20th century). The Beatles Complete sheet music book series is a good example of notation that has been created many years after the original performance of the songs by the artist as an interpretation of the original recording. It is very possible for someone to play music without having ever mastered reading musical notation and there are software programs eg Sibelius which can automatically produce a written score, based on the notes played by the musician – or a score can be manually produced by an arranger, as is common when pop songs are arranged by sheet music publishers.
How Accurately Does Sheet Music Reflect Original Recording of Pop Songs?
Indeed, the piano sheet music published for pop songs are often an arrangers version or interpretation of what the keyboard player in the original band played. Sometimes the music is simplified to enable pianists of modest ability to play and sometimes the original music is embellished to include other accompaniment or riffs that are played by other members of the band, the absence of which would make the song sound incomplete, when played by the piano on its own. It should also be borne in mind that certain styles of music (eg blues, jazz, Irish traditional) and certain musicians (eg many solo guitarists, Elton John, Jools Holland etc…) ad-lib eg improvise as they play ie they change the notes and rhythms that they play every time they play it, keeping the essence of the song through the chord sequence – so sheet music can only attempt to convey one version of what the musician might play.
What is the Alternative Approach to Learning to Read Sheet Music?
An alternative approach to teaching a didactic style such as teaching notation, where the pianist is instructed to play individual note in a particular way, is a ‘skills and patterns’ approach such as DecPlay, which teaches a set of skills eg playing chords and playing melody, around a set of patterns eg a chord pattern within a song and bass riff patterns, so very quickly, the pianist can ad-lib in a professional style and put their own interpretation and style on the performance.