Learning To Play Tunes From Sheet-Music

In this tutorial, we will learn to play a number of tunes from sheet-music, concentrating on just the tunes (no chords for now).

We can take considerable short-cuts in learning to read music, because of the music display of the KeyMusician Keyboard, and by already knowing what each piece sounds like beforehand.

We use the Integrated Player/Recorder to first play each tune, learning what it sounds like, before trying to play it. So we first need to make sure you know how to use the player.

How To Use The Integrated MIDI-Player

The MIDI-player lets you hear (and see) just the part you're trying to learn, which is its default mode of operation, where no MIDI output device is selected.

You can also hear all of the parts (MIDI channels) of the piece together, but with only one of them (the one you're trying to learn) displayed. For this option, you choose a MIDI output device (in the “Playback Device” drop-box).

Click on (follow) the following link to learn how to use the integrated MIDI-player:

How To Use The Integrated MIDI-Player

Exercises For Learning To Play Music

When you start the keyboard application, the player is already 'looking' in your home folder, in its “KeyMusician-Keyboard” folder, in its “Tutorials” folder, and finally in its “KMK-Exercises” folder.

In that folder, you will find the MIDI files for each exercise used to learn to play music. They are numbered sequentially (though with some numbers missing), indicating the order the in which the exercises should be done. When you finish one exercise, move on to the next.

Since the player is already 'looking' at the “KMK-Exercises” folder, when you click (open) the “MIDI Files” drop-box of the player, you can choose which exercise's MIDI file you want to load. Click (open) the “MIDI Files” drop-box, and look at the files available to be loaded.

Notice that the filenames in many cases have at the end of them, something like “-3b” or “-1#”. This is a way of telling you the key-signature to use for the piece. For example, “3b” indicates the key-signature has 3 flats. Likewise, “1#” means there is 1 sharp in the key-signature. Use the Transpose button to set the key-signature to match, before trying to play the tune in the exercise.

Note that though setting the key-signature to match the piece will greatly simplify playing it, in some cases there will still be a few flats or sharps not in the key-signature that you'll have to play manually.

All of the exercises in the range 01 through 21 can be played using “(none) – Display Notes Only” setting for the playback device. But they will all sound better if you use an actual MIDI synthesizer device, which can be the same device the KeyMusician-Keyboard uses for its output.

The MIDI files numbered 01 through 24 all use MIDI channel 1 for the solo-part (the part you try to match notes from). So make sure the “MIDI Channel” spin-control of the performance pane you're using has a value of 1.

If you change any parameters of the performance pane, such as the loudness (VELOCITY, VOLUME, or Expression), click (activate) the “Save” button after making the change. Otherwise, the values will revert to what they were before, if you have to hit the “Panic” button (Esc key) to clear any leftover note-display artifacts.

It is important to realize that although the software does everything it can to maintain a clean and accurate display of the notes, things like flipping through the MIDI channels while playing, or stopping/starting the player while playing, or repositioning the play position, can end up with “note-on” events without its paired “note-off” event, or “note-off” events with no “note-on” event, which can mess-up the display.

With the display in a bad state, some notes played may not display (though the keyboard marks are usually accurate). Also, the remains of flats or sharps to the left of the notes may remain on the screen – even though such notes are long-gone.

If your screen is in such a state, you can fix it by stopping the MIDI-player (use the “Stop” button), then pressing the escape-key (or clicking the “Panic!” button) of the performance pane. This will also fix the very rare case where a note keeps playing, and won't stop.

Try Playing A MIDI File

Okay, let's try playing a MIDI file, for starters.

Click (open) the “MIDI File” drop-box, and choose “11-Dvorak-NewWorldSymphony.mid” (which is the exercise we start with for learning to read music).

Click (activate) the Player's “Play” button, listening to it play for 10 seconds or so, then click (activate) the Player's “Stop” button to stop playback.

Assuming the Player's “Playback Device” is set to “(none) – Display Notes Only”, you heard it played with the chords-pane instrument (String Ensemble 1).

Also, assuming the current performance pane's MIDI channel is set to “1”, you probably noticed the notes played being displayed in red, in the music display.

There is another tutorial on learning to play music by 'matching the dots', playing MIDI files, so you can probably guess how that works. But this tutorial is focused on teaching you to read sheet-music.

The round 'dots' you saw when the music played (if the current performance-pane's MIDI Channel is set to 1), show where the note is, with respect to how high, or low the note is (its pitch). It shows up on the 'grand staff' display, which is like a big ladder, moving from the bottom of the display (for low notes), up to the top of the display (for high notes).

In that 'grand staff' ladder, notes can appear either on a line, or between two lines, and they have a one-to-one correspondence with the keyboard diagram on the right of the display.

Play A MIDI File With A Specific Playback Device

We'll play the same MIDI file again (# 11), but before doing so, click on (open) the “Playback Device” drop-box, and choose the same MIDI Output Device the keyboard application is connected-to (you can look at the F1 pane to see what it is, if you want to, but switch it back to the F2 performance pane after looking).

If it asks about loading a soundfont, you can answer “No”, because with the Java Sound Synthesizer, the loaded soundfont only applies to the first instance of it (which the keyboard is using), so it won't do any good. Also, with a Soundblaster sound card, it's not necessary because the sound font used by all, is already loaded.

Click (activate) the Player's “Play” button, let it play for about 10 seconds, then click (activate) the “Stop” button.

You probably noticed the sound was different this time, because an actual MIDI device is connected (rather than being played using the Chords-pane instrument). It should have sounded like an Oboe this time.

In this tutorial, make sure to connect the Playback device to an actual synthesizer, so you can hear the actual instruments used in the pieces.

How To Match Sheet-Music Notes With What You Play

To match the sheet-music note with what you play, you play the note in the corresponding position of the music display to the note of the sheet-music. It's easy. We'll show you how.

Note To Be Matched

Note Played

Picture of an arrow pointing to a note on the 3rd ledger-line below the treble clef.
Note in music to be matched (pointed-to by arrow)

on the 3rd line below the Treble Clef

Picture of the KMK music display, playing a note on the top line of the bass clef.
Note played – Too High – only 2nd line below Treble Clef.

Picture of an arrow pointing to a note on the 3rd ledger-line below the treble clef.
Note in music to be matched (pointed-to by arrow)

on the 3rd line below the Treble Clef

Picture of the KMK music display, playing a note on the second space down from the top of the bass clef.
Note played – Too Low – 4th space below Treble Clef.

Picture of an arrow pointing to a note on the 3rd ledger-line below the treble clef.
Note in music to be matched (pointed-to by arrow)

on the 3rd line below the Treble Clef

Picture of the KMK music display, playing a note on the next-to top line of the bass clef.
Note Played – Just Right – 3rd line below Treble Clef

How To Do Each Exercise

For each exercise, perform the following steps:

1. Play the MIDI file using the Player/Recorder. Listen to the piece, so you become familiar with the sound of it – particularly the rhythm.

With the music display, you will see the pitch of each note (how high, or low it is), but the length of the note is shown only by how long the note is visible. In sheet-music, you can tell how long a note is by its shape. But by knowing what a piece sounds like, you will remember how long the notes are, and you don't yet need to learn the different note shapes.

The piece will repeat over-and-over. Stop the playback when you know how the piece goes.

2. With the printed music visible somewhere (such as your Internet browser screen, or a printout of that screen), play the notes, you see in the music (the round part of the notes), starting with the first note on the left, then the next note to right, from top to bottom. Make the note you play (shown in blue on the screen) match the note (its round-part) in the music. Remember the grand staff is like a big ladder, and notes can be either on a line, or between the lines.

As you get better at it, you will be able to play the notes the same way you heard it in the piece, and it will begin to sound like the piece. When it sounds pretty good, you are done with the exercise.

3. See if you can play the piece from memory. If it sounds like the piece, you've got it, and you can move on.

I mention this step, because although I can play pieced pretty well just sight-reading the music, my performance is prone to error. When I memorize the piece, it becomes my own, and the error rate goes way down, since I can look at the keys, and I know how for to reach up for that next note that skips up the keyboard.

Some people are good at sight-reading, but personally, I recommend using the music as a means of learning to play the piece, and when you perform it, play it from memory.

The difference between a tied-note, and a slurred-note – important!

Notes that are “slurred” together, or that are “tied” together, are connected by a curved-line, either above or below the notes.

In the following picture, the first 4 notes are “slurred” (which means, played smoothly together, with little or no gap between notes). The last 2 notes are “tied”, which means, they are played together as if they were a single note.

Picture showing a curved line under four notes of different pitch (a slur), and a curved line above two notes of the same pitch (tied notes).
The way you tell a “slur” from a “tie”, is that all notes tied-together (as one note) are the same pitch (and the notes are usually separated by the vertical measure-bar). If the curved-line connects notes of different pitch, it is a “slur”.

It is important to recognize tied-notes, because they are played as a single note. Do not play them as individual, separate notes. If you do, the piece will not sound right.

About Notes Above Or Below The Staff-Lines

When notes go above or below the 5-lines of the staff, short lines (spaced above or below the note, spaced the same as the staff-lines) allow you to count-up (or down) how far above (or below) the staff the note is. Notice the notes above and below the staff-lines in the following picture:

Picture of an arrow pointing to a note on the 3rd ledger-line below the treble clef.
In the music-notation display of the KeyMusician Keyboard, there is only room for a single short-line between the staff-lines of the Treble and Bass clefs. It is done this way because it is a scale-drawing, showing the relationships between the Treble and Bass clefs, as well as to the notes on a traditional music keyboard.

In printed sheet-music, notes are written going more than one line above (or below) the staff-lines, as shown in the screen-shot above.

The lowest note shown above (on the 3rd line below the Treble clef is actually the same as the “F” note toward the top of the Bass clef. You can tell by counting down the spaces and lines below the Treble clef: D, C, B, A, G, F.

On Slurs, Stacatto, and Expression Marks

In sheet-music, you will see curved lines indicating slurs (as described earlier), and there are marks showing you how to phrase or play the notes. In the music below, I have left-out a lot of that, because you first listen to the piece, and then play it the same way.

In sheet-music where you are playing a piece you have never heard before, this lack of markings would be a problem, because you wouldn't know how to play it. But this lack helps here in keeping it simple, and you do get to hear each piece beforehand.

The following sub-sections describe each of the exercises. Give each of them a try.

The name of each sub-section is the name of the MIDI file (in the KMK-Exercises directory) to be played in the Player/Recorder for the exercise.

11-Dvorak-NewWorldSymphony

This is the theme from the slow movement of Antonin Dvorak's “From The New World” Symphony, which you will most likely find familiar. It's a slow piece, with few fast notes – perfect for your first attempt.

Here is the music-notation version of it to play from (from the KeyMusician Songbook). Don't worry about the chords for now (unless you want to play them). We're working on playing just melodies for the time being. On this particular piece, the “qwerty” or “dvorak” lines tell you the actual keys to press to play the notes.

Picture of the music of the theme of Dvorak's "New World" symphony, from the KMK Songbook.


12-FolkSong-Shenandoah

The plaintive tones of this North American folk song, underscore its words, longing for home.

If you're using the typing keyboard, watch out for the first note. It's the only note on the “home row” of the keyboard, with all the rest of the tune being on the next row up. You need to get good at fingering (with your left hand) between two rows when a tune encounters the end of a row, and passes to the next row. Here is the printed music for you to play-from:

Picture of the "Shenandoah" tune's music.


4.8.3 13-FolkSong-LochLomand

This traditional Scottish folk song includes the lines:

O ye'll tak' the high road, and Ah'll tak' the low (road)
And Ah'll be in Scotlan' afore ye
Fir me an' my true love will ne-er meet again
On the bonnie, bonnie banks o' Loch Lomon'.
(looks like I spelled the filename wrong)...
This is a tune that straddles between the “home row” and the row above it (on the left side).
It takes awhile to learn to play it entirely with your left hand, but you need to learn this (so your right hand can be free to play chords).
Here is the printed music for it, to play from:
Picture of the "Loch Lomond" folk-song's music.


14-Brahms-Symphony3-3rdMov

The beautiful, haunting theme from the 3rd movement of Johannes Brahms 3rd symphony. This one has a few flats in places you'll have to work at playing manually. It also has some phrases with fast notes. You might want to set the range in the player so you can practice those sections.

Another way to practice a hard section is to stop the player, and play it from memory (remembering the sound of the notes). When you get to where you can play it that way, try it with the player again.

Again (if you're using the typing keyboard), this tune straddles two rows, but you should be getting better at doing this more-complex fingering by now.

Here is the printed music, to play from:

Picture of the music of the theme of Brahms third symphony, third movement.


15-Grieg-PeerGynt-MorningMood-5#

There's an interesting trick to playing this piece, from Edward Grieg's “Per Gynt” (“Per” is like the name Peter), called “Morning Mood”. You will probably find this tune familiar.

If you don't set the key-signature of the performance pane, you will need to know the trick: It's entirely played using the black keys.

You can play it on the typing keyboard without setting the key-signature, by holding the “Page-Up” key down, and keeping it pressed while you play the tune.

Here is the printed music to play-from:

Picture of the music of his "Morning Mood" theme, with five sharps in the key-signature.
Notice that you could also have set the key-signature to 5-sharps, and played it.

16-Greensleeves

This is a traditional English folk song, which you will probably find familiar. There are two sharps in the tune that you'll have to play manually.

If you're using the typing keyboard, the tune straddles the top keyboard row, and the next row down, on the right side of the keyboard. You'll have to get used to fingering between the two rows with your one (left) hand. Try to master this, since you need your right hand for playing chords on the numeric keypad.

Here is the printed music of it, to play from:

Picture of the music of the "Greensleeves" folk-song.


17-Brahms-Symphony1-4thMov-1b

You may find this theme from the 4th movement of Brahms 1st symphony familiar, but regardless, it should be enjoyable to play. It does have some fast phrases that skip around, making it challenging.

If you're using the typing keyboard, set the key-signature right, and it will be easier.

Here is the printed music of it, to play from:

Picture of the music of the theme of Brahms first symphony, fourth movement, with one flat in the key-signature.


18-Ravel-PavaneForADeadPrincess-1#

Though Maurice Ravel (the composer) orchestrated a French Horn for playing the theme, I substituted the Oboe because when I learned to play the Oboe, I really loved practicing this piece. I hope you like it too.

There are some notes in the tune that are held out longer than you would expect, because a note in another part plays the note falling on the count (beat).

Here is the printed music of it, to play from (it's in a different key-signature from the one in the KeyMusician Songbook):

Picture of the music of the theme from Ravel's "Pavane for a Dead Princess", with one sharp in the key-signature.
19-BugleCall-Taps-2b

A bugle is a brass instrument, similar to the trumpet, having no keys for fingering. It naturally plays certain notes, at given intervals. You have probably heard this piece, “Taps”, played at military funerals.

It's an easy piece. I chose it to help you get used to playing common intervals. Remember the feeling of how far you need to reach to play the next note that skips up. Get used to the feel of playing the interval-jumps.

Here's the printed music of it, to play from:

Picture of the music of the "Taps" bugle-call, with two flats in the key-signature.


20-SwedishYulSong-JomfruenHonGaarIDansen-1b

This traditional Swedish (Scandinavian) Yule-song is a lively little piece, and your fingers will have to move fairly quickly to play it.

The title is something like “And The Young Woman, She Goes In The Dance”. In Scandinavia, they have a lot of really fun Christmas music. I first heard this played on an accordion.

Using the typing keyboard, and setting the key-signature, it straddles two keyboard rows. If instead, you play it in the key of C (no flats or sharps), it's all on the row above the home row, but you have to play every “B” note in the tune as a flat, manually.

Here's the printed music of it, to play from:

Picture of the music to a Scandinavian yule song, with one flat in the key-signature.


21-Brahms-Intermezzo-lullaby-3b

When you think of “Brahms” and “lullaby”, you probably think of a different piece than included here, a piece more like in his 2nd symphony. You are unlikely to have heard this one, from his “Intermezzo in E-flat opus 117, #1. Perhaps you will like it even better than the tune you imagined.

The tune is (here) played entirely in the lower (bass – pronounced 'base') clef. Played by the Cello sound, it sounds wonderful this low. I did this so you would get used to playing a tune entirely in the bass clef.

Using the typing keyboard, the tune straddles the bottom row, and the next row up, which is another end-of-row transition you need to get used-to.

Here's the printed music of it, to play from:

Picture of an excerpt of the music from Brahms Intermezzo in E-flat, with three flats in the key-signature.


22-AmazingGrace-3b

This traditional Christian hymn is played here using the bagpipe sound, which didn't sound all that much like a bagpipe until I added the drone-pipe sounds. I split the drone-pipe sounds into a separate MIDI channel to avoid confusing you.

You'll have to specify the player's MIDI device to be an actual MIDI device to hear the bagpipe sounds with their drone-pipe sounds.

A lot of the enjoyment of the KeyMusician-Keyboard is the wide variety of instrument sounds you have to choose from.

Here is the printed music of it, to play from:

Picture to the music of the song "Amazing Grace", with three flats in the key-signature.


23-Sibelius-SwanOfTuonela

This piece, by Jean Sibelius, “The Swan Of Tuonela” (from his Lemminkainen Legend), is a haunting image from Finnish mythology, of dark waters circling the island of the dead, on which a majestic swan swims, singing a mournful song, voiced in the orchestra by an English Horn.

Transposition is not useful in this piece. You have to manually play the flats.

Here is the printed music of it, to play from:

Picture of the music of an excerpt from "The Swan of Tuonela" by Sibelius.


24-Borodin-PolovtsianDances-3#

The Polovtsian Dances, from Alexander Borodin's opera “Prince Igor”, is probably familiar to you from its use in popular music.

This is another piece I really loved in my experience learning to play the Oboe.

It is tricky to play because of its fast phrases, and often-used grace-notes. Grace-notes are short, decorative notes that quickly transition to a main note. There can be multiple grace-notes, and there are many in this piece.

It's the last of the pieces for you to master before taking on the world of sheet-music, so give it your best, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Here is the printed music of it to play from. I left-out the grace-notes, to make it simpler, but you are welcome to play them by-ear, if you wish:


Picture of the music of the theme from Borodin's "Polovtsian Dances", with three sharps in the key-signature.


Congratulations! You've made it through the first of the tutorials for learning to play sheet-music. In the next sheet-music tutorial, you will learn to play chords with the melody, and have a quick introduction to how you can determine how long a note sounds (or a rest remains silent) based on its shape.

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