Sheet music is the written form of musical notes. It might strike you as something complex at the beginning, which is perfectly fine for an untrained eye.
However, just like any language, with constant training and practice, things will start to unfold and become more straightforward.
In today’s article, we’ll provide you with a kickstart guide on how to read sheet music notes, so you can have the basic knowledge that will help you step into the world of musical notes. So without further ado, let’s dive in!
How to Read Sheet Music
Step 1: Get to Know the Staff
The first step that any musician has gone through is getting a handle of the basic information that anyone who reads music needs to know.
The staff is basically the arrangements of horizontal lines where all other music elements lie on. It’s the basic foundation of music reading that everyone needs to follow.
The staff is composed of 5 parallel lines and the spaces between them. All the lines and spaces between them are numbered for easier reference.
The staff lines are counted from the bottom up, starting with the “bottom of the staff” and ending at the “top of the staff”. The lines and spaces of the staff represent notes name A to G from the bottom up.
Step 2: Learn the Treble Clef
One of the most notable indicators of music is that big cursive symbol known as “the clef”. It’s found at the left end of the staff and it acts as the guide that tells you what range of music that your instrument plays.
All voices and musical instruments that play music in high ranges use the treble clef, also known as the “G clef” because it has the ornamental letter G on the far left side. This includes instruments like saxophone, flute, and other high pitch instruments.
The G’s inner swoop encircles the G line on the staff, with the five lines on the staff represented with the following notes from the bottom up “E, G, B, D, F“.
The four spaces are also represented as F, A, C, E from the bottom up. One easy way to remember these alignments is by using these word cues “ Every Good Boy Does Fine” and the word “FACE”.
Step 3: Learn the Bass Clef
Similar to the treble clef, there’s a bass clef, which is also called the “F clef”. This one is used with lower pitch tunes, such as bass guitar, trombone, tuba, and the left-hand side of the piano.
In the bass clef, the lines are represented in the notes “G, B, D, F, A”, which is easily remembered as “ Good Boys Do Fine Always” or “Good Boys Don’t Fool Around”.
The four spaces here are represented from the bottom up as “A, C, E, G”, which is remembered as “ All Cows Eat Grass”
Step 4: Learn the Elements of a Musical Note
In addition to clefs, the notes placed on the staff gives us a guide on which note letter to play in our instrument as well as how long.
There are three elements of a musical note, which are the note head, the stem, and the flag.
The Note Head
The note head is an oval shape that is either open (white) or filled (black). The most basic function of that head is to tell the performer what note to play on their instrument.
The note’s head can either sit on a line or space in the staff. It can also sit above or below the five lines of the staff on a line known as the “ledger line”.
The stem is a very thin vertical line that usually extends from the note’s head either up or down. When it’s pointing up, it’s joined to the head from the right side, from the left if it’s pointing down.
However, the direction of the stem has no effect on the note and it only serves as a way to make the notes less cluttered and easier to read.
As a rule of thumb, you usually extend the stem down if it’s at or above the centerline of the staff and points down if it’s below that.
The note flag is the curved stroke that’s located to the right of the note stem regardless of the direction of the stem. The purpose of the flag is to tell the performer how long to hold on the note.
All three elements are combined together to show the musicians the time value of any given note they’re supposed to play.
Step 5: Differentiate Between Note Values
The combination shape of the note shows its value. For instance, a closed (black) note head with a stem is a “quarter note”, which goes one beat.
An open note head with a stem is known as a “half note”, and it gets two beats. An open note head without a stem looks like an “o”. This one is known as a “whole note”, and it gets four beats.
Flags are used to shorten the note duration, which means that a note with a closed note head, a stem with a flag gets half a beat. If two notes are tied together, they should be held for as long as the value of both of these notes together.
Step 6: Understand Timing and Bars
Lastly, on any music sheet, you’ll notice some vertical lines that cross the staff at regular intervals.
These lines are known as “bars” and represent measures. These lines don’t have any effect on the music sounds. However, their true value is that they give the performer a handy way to keep their place while playing music without feeling lost.
As you can see, once you tackle every part and understand why it’s shaped and positioned in that way, things will start to get easier and easier.
It goes without saying that this guide barely scratches the surface of music reading. However, it’ll help you to pick up the pace quite nicely and advance through the rookie stages quickly.