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[Basic] How to read sheet music?

Do you enjoy music but are intimidated by reading music notation? Have you heard a fantastic tune or wish to perform your favourite music but are unable to read sheet music? It is not a tough task. Simply begin at the bottom and work your way up via practice and application of what you've learned. It will take some time to acquire the talent, but with the right understanding and coaching, anyone can learn to read sheet music.

We'll go through the fundamentals of the sheet here. Are you prepared? Let's get started.

I. The Staff:

Sheet music is written on a series of five horizontal lines called a staff. The lines and spaces on the staff represent different notes that the musician will play. There are 5 lines and 4 spaces in one staff. The notes are alphabets used from A through G.

<The Staff>

II. Clefs:

At the beginning of each staff, you will see a symbol called a clef. The two most common clefs are the treble clef and the bass clef.

a. Treble Clef:

The above symbol is associated with Treble clef. The Treble Clef is also called a G clef. It is because the line that passes through the curve of the symbol where it curves at the end is the second line which is a ‘G’. The treble clef is used for higher-pitched instruments like the piano, violin, and flute. The notes on the lines of the Treble clef are E, G, B, D, F; which can be mnemonics as

Every Good Boy Does Fine”.

The notes on the spaces are F, A, C and E; which can be spelt out as FACE.

b. Bass Clef:

The above symbol is of the Bass Clef. It is also called as an F clef because the fourth line passes between the 2 dots on the symbol which is an ‘F’. The bass clef is used for lower-pitched instruments like the cello, bass guitar, and trombone. The notes on the lines are G, B, D, F, and A; which can be mnemonics as

Good Boys Do Fine Always”.

The notes on the spaces are A, C, E and G; which can be mnemonics as

All Cows Eat Grass ”.

III. Notes:

Notes are the basic building blocks of sheet music. They indicate which pitch to play and for how long. Notes come in different shapes and sizes and are written on

the lines and spaces of the staff. There are a few notes which are essential to learn.

a. Semibreve:

This is also known as Whole Note. This is represented by a circle. It has the value of 4 beats meaning it will last for 4 counts.

b. Minim:

This is also known as Half Note. Along with the circle like Semibreve it also has a stick attached to it called a stem and the circle is called a note head. As it is half a note, it has a value of 2 beats meaning it will last for 2 counts. Also, if there are 2 half notes or 2 Minims it becomes a full note or Semibreve.

It would be noteworthy to know the direction, if the note head is at the bottom the stem will always be in the right side, whereas if the note head is at the top then the stem will always be on the left side.

Adding on if the note head is above line 3 then the stem goes downward and vice versa if the note head is below line 3 then the stem goes upward on right side. If the note head is in the middle line then it can go either way.

For Example:

Whereas these are incorrect notes.

c. Crotchet:

This is known as a quarter note. This time the note head is filled. The value of this is 1 beat. Thus, 4 Crotchet make a Semibreve. 2 Crotchet make a Minim.

d. Quaver:

This is also known as the Eighth of the note. A tail is added to a Crotchet to make a Quaver. Has the half or ½ beat. If 2 or more, Quaver are together or next to each other, then they are beamed together.

For Example:

If there is more than one tail to a Quaver then it is Semiquaver, Demisemiquaver and Hemidemisemiquaver for 2, 3 and 4 tails respectively. Their beats as you guessed, will be the sixteenth beat or ¼ beat, the thirty-second beat or 1/8 beat and the sixty-fourth beat or 1/64 beat respectively.

IV. Rhythm:

Rhythm is indicated by the duration of the notes, as well as symbols called time signatures and bar lines.

Time signatures tell the musician how many beats are in a measure and which type of note gets one beat. There are different time signatures such as 4/4, ¾, 2/4, 2/2, 6/8 and 3/16. This is indicated at the very beginning of the music sheet, after the clef.

For Example:

Bar lines divide the music into measures, which help the musician keep track of the rhythm and stay in time with the other musicians. There are different bar lines like single, double and final bar line.

For Example:

While counting the rhythm of the music if it is 4/4 then it means that there are 4 beats per bar and because the denominator is 4 then it means Crotchet gets 1 beat. Similarly, if it is ¾ then there are 3 beats per bar and Crotchet gets 1 beat. Having said that can you guess 6/8? It is 6 beats per bar and Quaver gets 1 beat. Simple right? One last one what will be for 3/16? Comment your answers down below in the Comment Section.

V. Key signatures:

Key signatures appear at the beginning of a piece of music and indicate the tonality of the piece. These symbols (sharps or flats) tell the musician which notes to play sharp or flat throughout the piece. They consist of a series of sharps or flats placed after the clef and before the first bar line. If there are no sharp or flats after the clef then it is called a key C major.

a. Sharps:

Sharps are the notes that are high in the given key signature. It has the Symbol of #.

The above sharp is on the F line then we need to play F sharp; whenever we see a F to be played in the music we need to play F sharp and it is G major. How is G major?

So, here is how we can find all we need to do is count 1 note up on the last sharp to find the key of the music. Here, there is F sharp and its 1 note up, that will be G major.

Every major has a relative minor, which can be known by counting down 3 notes. For the above G major, it will be E minor.

Similarly in the bass clef, the sharp is in the F line so it is F sharp and it is played in G major. If there is nothing after the clef then it is C major and there can be Accidentals, which are the sharps/ flats that is written before the specific note.

b. Flats:

A flat is a semitone lower tone. It is represented by a symbol similar to a lowercase b.

So, here we got 2 flats, the first one is on the middle line B and the last one is on the fourth space up that is E line. Thus, every time there is B and E we need to play B-flat and E-flat. The key is B flat major. How it is B flat major?

Check the last but one flat. Here, it is B flat, so B flat major.

The relative minor will be counting down 3 notes. B flat major will have a G minor.

Already Done!

I hope this quick review has provided you with a basic grasp of how to read sheet music. It takes effort and patience to read sheet music, but with time and determination, you can master this crucial talent. It will be exciting and intriguing to read and perform music once you have covered the fundamentals. It is also a crucial ability to be able to write your own music.

Now that you understand the fundamentals, can you read key signatures, notes, and the beat of a song? Grab a music sheet from of your favourite song and double-check that you understand the fundamentals. Have a wonderful musical learning journey.


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