Robert Estrin - piano expert

Is it OK to Write Note Names on Your Scores?

Learn what implications this simple action could have on your music learning.

In this video, Robert answers a user question which may sound silly, but has important implications of which you must be aware.

Released on November 5, 2014

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi. Welcome to and I'm Robert Estrin with a viewer question, is it okay to write the names of the notes above your score? Well, this is a really good question. You might think that when you're first starting out, the best thing you could do is, kind of a crutch, is to write those notes since you don't have to count through all those lines and spaces. It can be tedious at the beginning trying to recognize notes, and it can take you so long you might think, "Why not just write them in?" What harm can there possibly be with that? Well, there really is a problem with that.

Here's the deal, if you write in your notes, you'll never have to figure them out so you probably won't. You'll depend upon the written letter name instead of actually counting through the lines and the spaces. Later on when you're fluid with your reading, you might have a very high note or a low note on ledger lines, you might be tempted to do the same thing because every time you get to that super high E or something you're counting, C, D, E, F, trying to get up to it, and you might think, "Oh, this is just a waste of time. Let me just write it in to save the trouble."

It's a big mistake because if you make yourself figure it out every single time, quicker than you think, you'll be able to recognize these notes. But so long as you write them in, you will be depending upon the writing instead of figuring out the notes. Spend a little bit of extra time every single time and you will be rewarded by becoming a fluent reader by making yourself do that, so don't write in the notes.

Now, if there's a note that you're missing, and you want to circle it to pay attention to it, that's a different story. Sometimes, even writing in little lines for rhythms to know where the beats are in a complex rhythm, that could be helpful as well. But avoid writing in the letter names of the notes. Go ahead and figure them out each time, and you'll become a great reader before you know it. Thanks so much for joining me. Robert Estrin here at and
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

William Strickler * VSM MEMBER * on November 8, 2017 @1:20 pm PST
I play violin. I still can't play 16th notes fast enough to keep up with the rhythm. When the 16th notes are in a tricky combination, I often find it much easier to comprehend note names rather then finger numbers. In my mind, I see in my mind the fingerboard as a keyboard with each note in an exact spot and with an exact sound. Finger numbers mean little. With the note name, I don't worry about what position I am in or what finger to use as the finger that will get it just happens without any thought. Another place I use note names is on a run up or a run down the scale, I will write the note name above where it ends so when I play and get to that spot on the violin I continue on the next note without over shooting it. Of course none of this works with sight reading. But once I learn a piece, I am working more on making it sound exactly the way I want it to sound and not like a robot. I guess when I run down a scale to a note, instead of writing the note name, I could try using a highlighter to make that note stand out. Basically, I do need something I can visualize to know in advance, the end of the run so I don't overrun and get out of sync with the rhythm and loose my place.
John D. Beach * VSM MEMBER * on November 8, 2017 @8:46 am PST
I have often wondered why they call it "E-Z Play," considering that the melody-note name is printed in the note on the line or space in which it occurs. Otherwise, the accompaniment chord for the left hand is printed above treble clef notation and the proper, hand position of the chord, tonic, 1st or 2nd inversion has to be figured out prior to any final performance of a piece.
Regular notation, one learned, is so much easier to perform by sight-reading. There is no substitute or short-cut for practice, practice, practice.....which is the only effective way of perfecting one's ability to sight-read.
Robert - host, on November 8, 2017 @11:27 am PST
Everyone is looking for shortcuts in life - it's natural! But you are absolutely right. Spending a bit of time learning notation can save countless hours later on and increase productivity in music exponentially.
Elizabeth * VSM MEMBER * on November 8, 2017 @6:44 am PST
Great answer to a common question for beginning students of music. I encourage my students to think of each note on the staff as a small picture to recognize, much like recognizing a picture of the family cat or dog or family members that you don't see often such as cousins. The process in our brain is about the same.
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