Music is written in a language anybody can understand. It has been developed for hundreds of centuries. Just like we use symbols in spoken language say English Language which can be understood and communicated with others, Music is also represented with symbols that can be studied and understood.
We will focus on going through the basics of how to read music which will help you started even if you have not read a shred of music in your life. After going through the basics, we will also hint at resources you can use to learn more advanced music concepts if you prefer to take this further.
How To Read Music Notes As A Beginner
Learn the basics
Just like you crawl before you walk, and walk before you run, you need to know and understand the musical symbols before you can hope to read any piece of music. Many people jump into advanced topics without first getting the basics down. This often leads to complete confusion and failure.
Therefore, let’s learn the fundamentals as beginners.
You first need to understand the Staff
The Staff is the five-parallel lined graphical arrangement on which musical notes are written and read. It is the most fundamental of the musical symbols. Without an understanding of this symbol, no other symbol will make sense. All the great musicians you know, Beethoven, Justine Bieber, and many others all studied this symbol before producing those wonderful songs we have been listening to.
The Staff is much similar to a music script that actors need in order to act their part. Musicians similarly need the staff to know what and when to play their notes.
The Staff show what and when to play a note. The what is pitch and the when is the rhythm.
Due to spatial restriction of the staff which prevents it from accommodating a lot of notes, clefs are used to condense the number of notes needed to play a piece of music.
The Clef is always placed at the beginning of the staff. It gives an indication of which line corresponds to a note on your instrument. If, however, you want to play a note which is not on the staff, musicians used what is called ledger lines. But the more ledger lines you have, the more complex the staff gets.
So, this is where you need other symbols called clefs. We have the treble Clef, Bass Clef, and Alto Clef. Our focus will only be on the treble and the bass clefs because they are the main clefs used in writing and reading music.
Know the Treble Clef
The Treble Clef is the first symbol at the start on the left side of the staff. It is also known as the G Clef. It is a weird symbol that indicates to you which note to play on your musical instrument. The big, squiggly sign tells us what each note on the lines will be called. With that sign, you can condense as many notes as possible to play any music.
From the illustration above, the lines down to top represent notes E, G, B, D, F. In addition, the spaces from the bottom up represent notes F, A, C, E.
To effectively memorize these notes and their positions, various sentences have been developed to help you remember them. To recognize the notes on the lines, use “Every Good Boy Does Fine”. To remember the spaces in between the lines, use the words FACE. The second one is straightforward and is far easier to remember. By creating these relationships, it far easier to remember the notes.
Know the Bass Clef
Just like the treble clef, the bass clef also provides a reference of which notes are on the lines. It looks like a staff with two dots in between two spaces. This clef is usually used for instruments like the trombone, piano, and bass guitar.
From the illustration above, the lines down to top represent notes G, B, D, F, and A. In addition, the spaces from the bottom up represent notes A, C, E, and G.
To remember the notes on the lines, use “Good Boys Don’t Fool Around”. In addition, use the sentence “Cows Eat Grass” to represent the notes in the spaces.
Repeat these mnemonics continuously to yourself to ensure they stick in your mind.
Know the elements of a Note
Now that you have an understanding of the two main clefs, it’s time to move on to notes and what constitutes them.
There are three main parts of the note: the note head, stem, and flag.
- The Note head
This is the egg-like shaped symbol that is either open or closed (black). Its function is to let the performer in on which note to play.
The stem is the line that extends from the head of the note. It can go in different directions. However, its direction does have any consequence on the note to be played.
The flag is the curved line that is fixed to the end of the stem.
All these parts are what give us the beat and rhythm of the music. This is what makes you feel the music as it is played.
Know Your Beats
The beat divides a piece of music into little fragments of time. It can be slow and fast.
The notes contain the beats which you will use to create music.
- 1 Beat = Whole note
- 2 Beats = half note
- 4 Beats = quarter note
- ½ Beats each = eighth note
Below is an illustration of the notes and the number of beats they contain.
Know Your Rhythm
The beats by themselves really don’t seem interesting. This is where you also need to understand what rhythm is and how to read them.
Rhythm tells you when to play a particular note. It concerns itself with the left and right of the staff.
Looking at the illustrations above. You can see that a quarter note which is the basic element of rhythm contains one beat. The half note is 2 beats. The whole note is 4 beats and the eighth note contains half a beat each.
With this in mind, let us jump back to the staff.
At the beginning of each staff is an element called a time signature that tells you how many beats are in each bar. That is the top number.
The bottom number tells you what kind of note is to be used as a basic unit for the beat.
With the beat alone, the music played will not sound interesting. However, if you start adding different rhythms to the bar with the number of beats still remaining the same, the sound produces sounds awesome.
You create rhythm by adding different beats of different amounts from different instruments. That is how you create and read awesome music.
Now that you understand the basics let’s head down to the actual reading of music stuff.
Learning Middle C
The Middle C is one of the most important concepts in any piece of music. It is found in the middle of two staffs of your music manuscript. When two staffs with two clefs mostly the treble and bass clefs are combined, we get what is called the Grand Staff. We will focus on only the Middle C here.
Once you understand this symbol, all the other ideas will fall into their proper place in your brain.
This is what it looks like.
It connects both clefs making it easier to know the other notes as easily as possible. In other words, it provides a linking chain that connects the two sections of any instrument you are playing.
Once you have this understanding, you can start reading any sheet music as easily as possible.
If you want to find more advanced lessons on how to read music, we recommend you look for books on the subject or look for YouTube Channels solely focused on teaching Music.
For instance, use this YouTube Channel to learn more ideas on reading and writing music.