Music Teacher's Helper Blog

Teaching Sight-Reading: Part 1 – Note Recognition

Note Recognition

“Catch a man a fish and you’ll feed him for a day. Teach a man how to fish and he’ll feed himself for life!” And so the saying goes.

As music teachers, I’m sure you’d agree with me, that a core objective in our lessons is to develop independence in our students. We don’t want them to be “spoon fed” for years. Rather we want to encourage them to think for themselves as musicians and use their initiative to learn new skills and pieces. Personally, I want my students to learn to read music as quickly as possible and then they can enjoy a lifetime of exploring new music for themselves.

So how do you teach music reading skills? I tell my students that they must memorise the notes but not the music (at first). Here are some resources and ideas you might like, starting this month with:

STEP 1 – Note recognition

A great starting point is It’s a free web based resource that you can fully customise to your student’s needs. The great thing about this method is that pupils can answer the quiz at their own speed without any time pressure. Select “Note Identification” and then follow the self-explanatory steps. You can always paste the link to your uniquely designed activity to include in the student’s weekly email notes or paste it into their preferred social network for practice during the week. By the way, I also find “Keyboard Reverse Identification” good for piano and keyboard students because they have to recognize the notes on the music but answer on piano keys taking things one step further.

On this website is contained a wonderful collection of free print-out activities for students to complete. A very popular activity is the “CodeBreaker” print-outs where the pupil has to work out the mystery words by writing in the names of notes! And if you’re looking for something more old-school then try the Treble Clef flash cards and Bass Clef flash cards.

A great piece of free software that I’ve used with students for many years is NoteCard. Again this software can be customised to the students needs. The game is against the clock so is probably not for complete beginners but ideal for encouraging students that need to get faster at recognising notes. The interface allows you to answer on pitch letters, keyboard or guitar fretboard.

A more recent discovery for me, this is an iOS app which connects to a midi instrument so that the student answers on the keys of a digital piano or keyboard! A very engaging interface and even incorporates key signatures for added key awareness. Highly recommended. Check out my review some time back.

What methods do you use for teaching note recognition? Please feel free to share in the comments below.

Next month I’ll look at developing sight-reading skills through recognising intervals…

See other posts by Reuben Vincent


About the Author

Reuben Vincent
Reuben Vincent is a freelance musician working as a composer, producer and private music teacher, based from his purpose built recording studio in Bagillt, Flintshire, North Wales, UK. His main instrument is the piano although he is also known for a "mean" solo on the Kazoo!!!


  1. Don Parkhurst jr

    See I approach it in the opposite direction. Probably because I’m a guitar teacher. I don’t want my students to be dependent on sheet music. I had two sisters that played in school band and won all kinds of awards but you take the sheet music away and they are lost. In rock memorization of the music is an extremely important skill to have. Reading music is great but too much focus on that is not such a great thing for a rock musician. We focus alot more on having a good ear and improvising. Not to mention going to a gig with everything memorized so well that you can put on a good stage performance.

  2. Reuben Vincent

    Thanks for your comment Don. I agree that sheetmusic is just a memory aid and that it is therefore only a starting point. I also agree that for many conventional teachers sadly reading is as far it goes. Learning to use all facets of your memory really does help you to focus on the performance and open the way to the wonderful world of improvising. Rock on!

  3. Grace Stefan

    Very interesting collection of words I really appreciate your work. Your blog is full of informative knowledge.

  4. B2B

    Great Post Reuben Vincent, Truly made my day the Part one is good for me.
    Thank you.

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