Music Theory

The Musical Alphabet - You Can't Read Music Without It

By Hoffman Academy Team
The Musical Alphabet

We all know that children prepare to read by learning the alphabet. Did you know that piano students prepare to read music by first learning the musical alphabet?

It’s true! Of course, there are some differences between the regular alphabet and the musical alphabet. For one, the letters in the musical alphabet stand for tones in a scale instead of sounds in speech. Another difference is that the musical alphabet contains just seven letters: A, B, C, D, E, F, G. Why so few? Music needs only seven letters to name the seven tones in a scale. When you get to G, you start over and begin a new octave with A.

Gaining a real comprehension of how the musical alphabet works is essential for many music skills like staff reading and understanding chords and key signatures. Start your music studies with a good foundation by learning the musical alphabet.

Why is the Musical Alphabet Important?

  • The musical alphabet is the connection between notes on a page and notes on the keyboard
  • The musical alphabet is used to name not only notes, but chords and key signatures
  • Almost all instruments in western music use the musical alphabet

Reading Music with the Musical Alphabet

If you know the musical alphabet inside and out, you can read music much more easily. Piano students should be able to say the musical alphabet forward or backward, starting on any letter. For example, the musical alphabet forward starting on E is E, F, G, A, B, C, D. Backward starting on F is F, E, D, C, B, A, G. Piano students should also be able to say the musical alphabet in skips. This means they skip every other letter, for example, A, C, E, G, B, D, F.

When a music student knows how to say the musical alphabet forward and backward, in both steps and skips, starting on any letter, then they can identify any note written on a musical staff. For example, an easy note to find on the treble staff is G because the treble clef sign was designed to mark the line that corresponds to the note letter G. If you know the position of that one note, G, and know the musical alphabet well, you can easily name the other notes on the treble staff. How? By stepping or skipping up and down the musical alphabet.

Musical Alphabet Practice Games

Enjoy learning the Musical Alphabet together. Here are some games you can play to help your child learn the musical alphabet.

Alphabet Ball

Players sit on the floor either face-to-face (2 players) or in a circle (3+ players) with enough space between them to roll a ball. Take a small ball and roll the ball to your partner, or to anyone in the circle, saying any letter in the musical alphabet. The next person says the next letter, rolling the ball either back to their partner or to someone else in the circle. Continue rolling and saying each letter, stepping up, in the musical alphabet. Then try stepping down, skipping up, and skipping down.

Musical Alphabet Flash Cards

Using our printable alphabet cards, or with cards you make yourself, shuffle the 7-card deck and place it face down. Turn over the top card and place in front of you face-up on the floor. Turn the other cards face-up and arrange them in the correct order above the first card you placed, one card above the next, stepping up the alphabet as fast as you can. If the first card you turned over was D, your alphabet should look like this:

D (first card placed)
You can also try starting at the top and going down, skipping up, or skipping down.

Practice in the Car, or Anywhere!

When riding in the car, give your child a musical alphabet challenge. Call out something like, “Say the musical alphabet backwards starting on D.” You can take turns and give your child a chance to challenge you. Once they can say the musical alphabet without hesitation, forwards or backwards, starting on any letter, then take the game up a notch by asking them to say the musical alphabet in skips up or down from any letter.

Let’s Get Started

Hoffman Academy has lots of resources to help piano students master the musical alphabet. Mastery requires practice, and Hoffman Academy excels at making practice fun. If you are a Hoffman Academy Premium member, you can play Alphabet Towers and download the Musical Alphabet Worksheets available in our printable materials for Unit 1. Before you do that, we recommend that everyone watch Lesson 3 for our introduction to the musical alphabet – all of our video lessons are free!

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