If you are learning to play an instrument such as the piano, guitar, violin, clarinet etc. you should learn to read music as you learn your instrument. Notes are the words that music uses to communicate with us, and in order to be able to read the language of music, we need to learn what the notes are so we can play them.
Learning how to read sheet music can be quite daunting at first because it looks like a series of lots of lines and dots with several random symbols thrown in for good measure. But in fact, it is not hard and can be quite interesting, if you follow this step-by-step instruction, you can learn how to read music with just a little effort. Let’s check them out!
Step 1: Music staff
Staff is the region where we write the notes. This region is created by lines and spaces. Each line and each space are used to represent a different note. In the image below, you can see the numeration of lines (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th).
Notice that there are 5 lines in the staff. It is possible to create more lines to reach other octaves (the first C of this example and the last A, are in extra lines, also called as Ledger Lines). We will talk about these extra lines soon. For now, we want
Step 2: Treble staff
There are two main clefs with which to familiarize yourself; the first is a treble clef. The treble clef has the ornamental letter G on the far left side. The G’s inner swoop encircles the “G” line on the staff. The treble clef notates the higher registers of music, so if your instrument has a higher pitch, such as a flute, violin or saxophone, your sheet music is written in the treble clef. Higher notes on a keyboard also are notated on the treble clef.
We use common mnemonics to remember the note names for the lines and spaces of the treble clef. For lines, we remember EGBDF by the word cue “Every Good Boy Does Fine.” Similarly for the spaces, FACE is just like the word “face.”
Step 3: Bass clef staff
The line between the two bass clef dots is the “F” line on the bass clef staff, and it’s also referred to as the F clef. The bass clef notates the lower registers of music, so if your instrument has a lower pitch, such as a bassoon, tuba or cello, your sheet music is written in the bass clef. Lower notes on your keyboard also are notated in the bass clef.
A common mnemonic to remember note names for the lines of the bass clef is: GBDFA “Good Boys Do Fine Always.” And for the spaces: ACEG, “All Cows Eat Grass.”
Step 4: Music Notes
Notes placed on the staff tell us which note letter to play on our instrument and how long to play it. There are three parts of each note, the note head, the stem and the flag.
Every note has a note head, either filled (black) or open (white). Where the note head sits on the staff (either on a line or a space) determines which note you will play.
The note stem is a thin line that extends either up or down from the note head. The line extends from the right if pointing upward or from the left if pointing downward. The direction of the line doesn’t affect how you play the note, but serves as a way to make the notes easier to read while allowing them to fit neatly on the staff.
The note flag is a curvy mark to the right of the note stem. Its purpose is to tell you how long to hold a note. We’ll see below how a single flag shortens the note’s duration, while multiple flags can make it shorter still.
Knowing how they look is not enough, now we need to learn their values, the table below can give us a better understanding.
Of course, there are a lot more to learn to fully understand sheet music and better practice, but this article should be enough for you to start off easily, and we will share more tips in the future, so stay tuned!