Music Theory 101: Notes (1)


FOREWORD: this isn't finished, but you can start reading and i like reading comments and sugggestions. :D

Hi everybody,
Let me start off that this "Music Theory 101" project will be a series of instructables covering as much as possible in detail, of music theory.

This is the first instructable of the series, and I am going to start with reading music, understanding notes, pitches, relations, intervals. I am not going to cover rhythm in this one, because I feel that it is seperate from the tonal aspect of music. There will be a seperate instructible just for that, hopefully it will be the next one.

Step 1: Notes and Their Names

Mathematically speaking, music has sequences. Things repeat.
You may have noticed how a piano has 88 keys. This confuses people, and makes them think they have to memorize all of the keys.


In reality, there are only 12 distinct tones.
1. The white keys on a piano are A B C D E F G
2. The black keys on a piano are A#/Bb C#/Db D#/Eb F#/Gb G#/Ab
(b is called a flat, # is called a sharp)

Generally, the black keys can have 2 names, because they are in between the white ones. Keep in mind that there aren't black keys between B and C or E and F. This means that if there is a Cb written in the music, you would be technically playing a B. The same works with sharps.

The picture linked or attached visually explains this.

On the next step, I'm going to explain the function of sharps and flats, and why are they significant.

Step 2: Sharps and Flats

In music, a sharp (#) indicates a tonal raise (going up), usually meaning by a half step. A flat does the opposite.


A half stem is the SMALLEST distance or INTERVAL between 2 tones.


True, a whole step is 2 half steps.

To explain this, look at the keyboard. A halfstep upwards from C is a C# and downwards, B.
A whole step upwards from C is a B (just a B) and down wards, Bb.


You count. One smallest distance from C can be a B or a C#.
Notice it is not a B#, becauce a B# is a C, since there isn't a black key in between.

It is generally safe to say that the black key are incidentals.

I didn't mention NATURAL accidentals (n) yet.
The function of naturals is to get a tone with a # or b to the note that was changed.

In a key of C Major, there aren't any accidentals. That means every white key played is without an accidental. However, G Major, has one accidental, which is on F, making it an F#. Imagine playing music in the key of G, and suddenly (accientally?) it tell you to play a F instead of F#. This would be notated as an Fn, (read as F natural).

I am not going to cover this yet, but a Major key or chord means it sounds happy or sad. minor (you have to write it lowercase) means sad.

The next step will take care of reading actual music.

Step 3: Staff Lines, Notes, Names, Clefs and Keys Signatures

This is going to be a lot to digest, but eventually, you will be able to do this instantaneously.

A Staff line is a reference grid, which consists of lines and spaces.
Each line and each space has a name.
There is 5 lines and 4 spaces.
A staff line must have a CLEF, otherwise, we wouldn't know where to start.
A clef is a marking at the beggining of a staff line, telling us where a note is.

There are 3 important types of clefs.
They are listed on the second image, I found it on wikipedia.

The 3 listed clefs are also called treble, tenor/alto, and bass clefs.

Since note names repeat every 12 halfsteps, its easy to name every note on the staff as long as you can remember one of them.

When I was learning this, I memorized the middle line of each clef.
I found the names of other notes by counting up or down. Now, I don't have to count or anything, I just know it. Practice makes perfect.

Step 4: General Notation and Major Key Signatures

For music to be playable or singable, it has to have the following:
Time signature
and the actual notes.

I havent really explained what a key is yet.

A key is a 'configuration' of pitches used in the music. What i mean by 'configuration' is the number of sharps OR flats listed.
Remember, you cannont have flatsand sharps in a key signature at the ame time, but can in the rest of the music, written as accidentals. Thats partly why the accidental has its name. its not really expected.

How key signatures work.

A key signature may contain sharps, flats, or nothing at all. just because you do not see any sharps or flats, it doesnt mean that there is no key signature. If thats the case, the piece is either in C Major or a minor.

All the key signature says is where the keynote, or the home-tone is located, and which notes are played sharp/flat/natural.

C Major:
tones used: C D E F G A B
sharps: none
flats: none

E Major:
tones used: E F# G# A B C# D#
sharps: 4
flats: none

Bb Major:
tones used: Bb C D Eb F G A
sharps: none
flats: 2

This is where you can start to see a new sequence.


this is the order of sharps AND flats in every key signature. This includes BOTH Major and minor. It also repeats or wraps around, for flat (Db Major) or sharp signatures.
There is a good way to remember this, and my one of my cello teachers thaught me this: "For Children's Good, Destroy All Evil Books!"

This is just about the most important tool you will use for identification until you memorize all of them.

If you want to know how many flats does B Major have, you can start from C and count until you see B. you would have counted 5. So, B major has 5 sharps. If there is more than 5 sharps, you wrap around.

For flats, its different. you count backwards from C. if you want to know how many flats does Db Major have, you count F B(flat) E(flat) A(flat) D(flat). Thats 5 flats.

I am going to explain minor key signatures later, because its importatn not to mix those up. Minor key signatures are VERY different from Major, and sound sad or gloomy.

For your convinience:

Cb Major bbbbbbb
Gb Major bbbbbb
Db Major bbbbb
Ab Major bbbb
Eb Major bbb
Bb Major bb
F Major b
C Major
G Major #
D Major ##
A Major ###
E Major ####
B Major #####
F# Major ######
C# Major #######

There are thing like double sharps or double flats. They are marked as X or bb in the music. you guessed it, it changed the pitch by 2 half steps, or a whole step. Don't worry about those yet, they are quite rare to find in music. These are only used for reading clarity purposes, as it is REALLY annoying to read chromatic passages like the ones in Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the bumble bee". go look it up on youtube.




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      10 years ago

      This is a great Instructable, but you need to add a main image of the final project to the intro step. Please do that and leave me a message when you have so that we can publish your work. Thanks!