Introduction: How to Read Simple Music

Written music is one of mankind's oldest language forms that is still used today. Music notation has been developing for several thousand years and the style that we read today has existed for over 300 years. Music notation, specifically, is the representation of sounds with symbols. Music is simply a combination of pitch, duration, and timing. This instructable will introduce basic reading techniques and describe different methods to help interpret the notation of music.

Step 1: The Staff

The musical staff is a set of five horizontal lines with four white spaces in between. The staff is critical to reading music as it serves as a canvas to put all of the notations on. All of the different types of notations belong on the staff. The staff is read from right to left. The staff helps us know what pitch should be played based off of where different notations are placed, whether it be in the white spaces, or on the lines. Consider the staff as a base for the rest of our notations. We will add on more markings that give more meaning.

Step 2: Lines and Spaces

Within a staff, there are four spaces and five lines. Depending on what type of clef is placed on the beginning of the staff, the different lines and spaces have different pitches assigned to them. The higher the line or space that the note is placed, the higher the pitch is of that note. In this instructable, we will go over the notes that lay on specific lines and spaces that the treble clef will assign.

Step 3: The Treble Clef

A clef is a symbol that gives meaning to the staff. There are many clefs, but the most widely known are the Treble clef and the Bass clef. The Treble clef is called a G clef alternatively. The reason behind this naming is because the center point of the clef symbol(the spiral looking part) is centered on the second line which is also the G in normal note convention. Most instruments today focus on the treble clef. The melody lines to piano music is usually placed on the treble clef. The Treble clef is used to represent higher pitches. Instruments such as the flute or clarinet read this clef because those instruments make higher pitched sounds. The clef, which is the first thing on the staff, tells the reader which lines represent which notes. The first line of the treble clef, also the lowest line of the staff, is an E. Alternating between line and space, as the notes rise on the staff, the pitch rises as well.

Step 4: Notes

Notes are the meat and potatoes of any sheet of music. These are what let the reader know whats going on. Notes can give duration and pitch based on its shape and location. We've covered how location can give pitch. That is, the higher it is on the staff, the higher the pitch. The shape gives how long to hold out the note. An empty circle is given a value of four beats. This is known as a whole note. Adding a line on the end gives it half the value of a whole note. This is a half note which is held for two beats. A quarter note is half of a half note which is one beat. This is noted as a filled in circle with a stem. Halving the beat gives you a half note which is half a beat. Instead of adding a stem, we put on a flag at the top of the stem. Every flag added on thereafter halves the value of the note. The reason for this is readability. Combining these on a staff gives us music.

Step 5: Rhtyhm

Rhythm is the systematic arrangement of musical sounds, principally according to duration and periodic stress. Now we know that shape gives duration and location gives pitch. Combining these, we get Rhythm. 4/4 time, or common time is the most common form of rhythm in modern music. 4/4 time is giving four beats in a measure. If you listen to your favorite pop tune and start tapping your foot, odds are that you're tapping in sets of four. How fast or slow that you would tap your foot is called tempo. Tempo is the rate of repetition for the set of beats in a measure. Most pop songs today rest around 100-120 beats per minute. The different combinations of different note lengths gives us our rhythm.

Step 6: Melody

Melody is a linear succession of musical tones that the listener perceives as a single entity. Melodies are what we hear in our heads when we remember our favorite pop tunes. Combining notes shape, rhythm, and position on a staff, gives us melody and overall, music. Melody is what is given to us from reading these notes on a page. When we play on a piano or a guitar, we are making melodies from the location, shape, and rhythm of the notes on a page. If you read any sheet of music, you can produce wonderful melodies, for example, Claire de Lune by Debussy is piece with wonderful melodies.


Much like with any skill, practice makes perfect. Music is no exception. Practice reading different notes on a staff. Google search your favorite songs and find what they look like on paper. Read a bit at a time, learn a bit more at a time. Much like learning the alphabet, reading music comes slowly but surely. After time, you'll begin to pick up knowlege faster and faster. If you ever feel discouraged, know that every great musician started not knowing how to read music. This skill came over time and patience, yet it brings so much fun and happiness. As you read more difficult pieces, you'll see new notations and slight nuances that you'll keep learning for a lifetime. Learn music with friends! You can make some amazing experiences with the pursuit of music. Hopefully this article helped to kickstart your music career! If anything hopefully this article has given a bit of insight into what music is and how much content there is to it.

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Swansong made it! (author)2017-06-20

Sight reading takes time but it's a lot of fun to learn :)

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