Steps to Learning a Lead Sheet

Lead sheets are a simplified form of music notation designed to present the essentials of a tune while still leaving room for creative interpretation.

Lead sheets consist of two main parts:

  1. Written melody
  2. Chord symbols

Interpreting lead sheets works best if you know the tune. Hopefully, this one is familiar.

twinkle lead sheet

Steps to Learning a Lead Sheet

  1. Get the basic right hand melody and left hand chords down pat. Use common inversions for good voice leading and playing ease.
  1. Add a left hand style appropriate to your student’s ability level. It could be a simple rhythmic pattern or something more elaborate such as an Alberti bass.

Twinkle LH styles

  1. Embellish the melody by adding a few notes here and there…


…or get all fancy with the likes of these Baroque flourishes.


To stretch a lead sheet into a complete performance, follow the same steps you used to learn it. First, play the basic tune and chords. Then “dude up” the left hand style and/or right melody on subsequent repeats. You could also add an intro, outro, key changes or improvisation… all good topics for future posts.

Until next time, enjoy your creative music-making journey,







(Reprinted from Clavier Companion November/December 2013.)

Want to learn more about playing and teaching creativity at the keys? Then it’s time to make your way to Denver and join Leila Viss and me for our third annual 88 Creative Keys Camp. Registration is now open, there’s an early bird discount AND you can save even more if you bring a friend. Learn more here.

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