Bass clef notes: how to easily read notes for the left hand on piano?
If you’ve ever looked at a piece of piano music, you probably noticed that it is split into two parts. These two parts are showing the so called treble clef and bass clef notes. Together they tell both hands which notes to play.
Most beginners learn to read the treble clef first, as in piano music the right hand often plays the melody. This means that much less time is devoted to reading the bass clef. Even experienced pianists are often much slower at reading bass clef notes.
So if you feel like your left hand piano note reading is lagging behind, then don’t worry. This post is going to teach you some tools that will help you to speed up your ability to read the bass clef.
How to read bass clef piano notes
The bass clef stave system is made up of 5 horizontal lines. Just like notes for the right hand, bass clef notes can either sit on the line (line note), or in the spaces between two lines (space note).
If you look at the note chart below, you will see that middle C is a line note. The note 1 below middle C, which is B, is a space note. This pattern of line – space – line – space continues all the way down the bass clef.
Rhymes help you remember bass clef notes
Using the note chart to identify each bass clef note would be really slow and cumbersome. That’s why it is common practice for beginners to learn two rhymes that can help them to quickly identify notes.
Here is the rhyme for all the line notes:
And the rhyme for all the space notes:
💡 Try to memorize these two rhymes, or even make up your own!
Reading by intervals
When reading music, you could rely on the rhymes above to quickly identify notes. However, it would be a slow process.
Here is the solution: Most of the time you can actually just use something called “reading by intervals”. Intervals describe the distance between two notes.
- Identify the first note by using the rhymes. In this example the first note is E. The E is a “space note”.
- The third note is a “line note” (D) and therefore directly neighbors the E. This simply translates to the next white key on your keyboard.
Other than to find the starting note, how many times are you going to use the rhymes in order to play this left hand part? That’s right, none! Once you’ve got the starting note, the notes only ever move up and down by jumps of one. Simply transfer these jumps into single upward or downward steps with your fingers, and you’ll easily be able to play the bass notes.
RECAP: There are two ways of reading bass clef notes, using the rhymes to identify each note, and using the “reading by intervals” technique. Always use the rhymes to find the starting note. From then on, read the intervals (jumps) between notes and make the same jump on the piano keys using your fingers. Only revert back to using the rhymes if the jump between two notes in greater than 2.
💡 Make sure you put this new approach into practice by playing through all the songs in the Piano Beginner 1 course. Intermediates should check out all the great songs from the Intermediate song courses.
Author of this blog post:
Elliot Hogg – Music tutor from Leeds who specializes in teaching piano, music theory, and music composition.
Visit Elliot’s website.