How to Read Music

Introduction: How to Read Music

Hi! Do you want to learn to read music, but are think it's too hard? This instructable breaks down the basics of reading music into simple, easy to follow steps. Reading this instructable will make it easy to learn to read and play music on almost any instrument. Let's get started!

Step 1: What Is a Staff?

A staff is a set of five horizontal lines and four spaces. Each line and space represents a musical note with a specific name. The staff is read from right-to-left, top to bottom.

Step 2: Different Clefs

The first thing on the staff is the clef sign. Clef signs tell you which lines represent which notes. The most commonly used clef signs are the treble and bass clefs (the ones used to play piano, for example). The clef that we are going to learn in this instructable is the treble clef (the top symbol on the staff; the bottom symbol is a bass clef). It is most commonly used when playing woodwinds (flute, saxophone, clarinet, oboe) and high brass (trumpet, French horn, mellophone), as well as in singing soprano and alto parts.

Step 3: Time Signatures

Time signatures are used to tell the musician how the piece feels, and how to interpret each note. Note lengths (described in the next step) are partially dependent on the time signature. The time signature consists of two numbers, one on top of the other. The top number tells how many beats are in a measure (think of the beat as the steady pulse of the music). The bottom number tells which note gets one beat. In 4/4 time, or "common time", there are 4 beats per measure, and the quarter note gets one beat. In this instructable, we will be learning to read music in 4/4 or "common time." 

Step 4: Note Lengths

Whole Notes - 4 beats per measure half note - 2 beats per measure  Quarter note - 1beats per measure   Eighth note - 1/2 beats per measure   Sixteen note 1/4 beats per measure          2 half notes = 1 whole  note 4 quarter notes = 1 whole note 8 eighth notes = 1 whole 16 sixteen notes = 1 whole note 

Step 5: Rest

Quarter rest 1 beat per measure Half rest 2 beats pre measure whole rest 4 beats pre measure eighth rest 1/2 beat pre measure sixteenth rest 1/4 beats pre measure

Step 6: Basic Counting

As stated earlier, we are going to be working on reading music in 4/4 time. Recall that in 4/4 time, there are 4 beats in a measure, and a quarter note is equal to one beat. So, there will be 4 quarter notes in each measure. There can also be 2 half notes per measure, or 8 eighth notes, and so on. When counting out the beat, count out each measure in your head. On the beat, think or say "1, 2, 3, 4." This will tell you where each note lies. When playing eighth notes, subdivide the beats by saying "1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and." The "and" indicates the eighth note pulse.

Step 7: Note Names

There are seven note names: A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. In treble clef, the notes on the lines are E, G, B, D, and F. You can remember this with the phrase "Every Good Boy Does Fine". The notes on the spaces are F, A, C, and E. They spell FACE.

Step 8: Sharps and Flats

Sharps and flats adjust how a note sounds. A sharp means to play a note a half step higher and a flat means to play a note a half step lower. These notes fall in between the natural notes.

Step 9: Dynamics

Dynamics determine how loud or soft the music is going to sound. From softest to loudest is the following: ppp (pianississimo), pp (pianissimo), p (piano), mp (mezzo piano), mf (mezzo forte), f (forte), ff (fortissimo), fff (fortississimo). ppp and fff mean play as softly as possible and as loud as possible. mp and mf are the middle range. Dynamics can also be marked with a crescendo which means to get louder throughout the phrase. A decrescendo means getting softer throughout the phrase.

Step 10: Putting It All Together!

The picture shows how all the components we discussed are put together into a piece of music. We hope this inspired you to learn more about music and maybe learn an instrument!

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    5 weeks ago

    Thanks a lot for this document/article/reference.
    I took music at high school and everything I've learned was related to recorder flute.
    I had the yamaha yrf24 version, now I got the 402B and it sounds amazing.
    I'm thinking about learning the flute/transversal flute since its sounds it's very attractive and I needed a quick refresher in a non-formal and boring format.
    You got me back into music reading in a few minutes!.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    A staff with a bass clef uses the following"

    Spaces: Lines:

    --C-- (middle C)









    RHYTHM: measures must contain enough notes and rests to add up to a full measure.

    SHARPS/FLATS: Some sharps or flats are shown at the very beginning of a piece to indicate that these notes are to be sharped or flatted by default. This is called the key signature.

    Also, notes can be sharped or flatted within a measure, as needed. These are called "accidentals" (i.e., notes that are not in the original key or scale of the piece).

    Another type of "accidental" is called a "natural" which just cancels the sharp or flat of a key signature or sharp/flat accidental.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Good catch. Yea, left-to-right, just like text. Although, I have seen some arabic music that was right to left.

    There is an exception to the time-signature rule that is kind of tricky to explain; that has to do with 6/8 (as well as 3/8, 9/8 and 12/8). In these cases, the time-signature still describes the basic info, 6/8= six 8th-notes per measure. The difference is that often a slower pulse is felt.

    For example, in 6/8, we have two beats per measure, each beat consists of three 8th notes ("1 2 3-4 5 6", OR "1 and-uh 2 and-uh"). 9/8 is three beats, 12/8 is four beats. The three 8th notes are beamed together, and the 1st of each group is where the beat is felt. Another way of saying it is that 6/8 has two dotted quarter-notes per measure, each gets one beat.

    It's a pretty advanced point, but those meters are SO cool and beautiful, it is worth understanding.


    7 years ago

    I really enjoyed your instructable, but wanted to verify one thing...the staff is read right to left?