Reading Sheet Music - the Basics

About: I am interested in music and technology.

Just as a quick introduction, I would like to thank you for choosing to look at my instructable out of the thousands and thousand that you can choose from. I really appreciate it.

This instructable will teach you the basics to the world of reading, understanding, and ultimately being able to play sheet music.

A little bit about me and music...I play the alto saxophone and I have been playing for about 5 years and I am a part of my school's marching band and concert band.

The materials that I used for this instructable:

  • Finale Notation Software v25 to write and edit music for this instructable
  • Windows Snipping Tool to take Screenshots
  • Windows Ink Workspace to write on Screenshots

*Just a note: All pictures and screenshots used for this project were created by me. You may use them as well, but please give appropriate credit where it is necessary. Thanks!

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Step 1: Identifing Notes

The first step of successfully being able to read sheet music, is to be able to identify the notes, and the letter that corresponds to them.

There are a few ways to memorize them, but it is quite simple. The letters run from A to G and can be remembered like this:

Notes on Lines (Bottom to Top) -

  • E - Every
  • G - Good
  • B - Boy
  • D - Does
  • F - Fine

Notes in Spaces (Bottom to Top) -

  • F
  • A
  • C
  • E

(The point is that spells Face)

You can also see the pictures for this step for a visual.

Once you can remember these notes, then you can do even more with learning about sheet music!

Step 2: Identify the Key Signature

You should first look at the Key Signature that you are working with. So, you might be wondering what this "Key Signature" thing is.

You will be able to identify the Key Signature by looking at the beginning of the piece of music. If you look at the three pictures with this step, you will see that one of the pictures has two symbols that look like number signs (#), one of the pictures has three signs that look like the letter "b", and one picture that has no symbol(s) there.

The # symbol is called a sharp and it makes the letter that is associated with that line sharp. So, in this case, unless otherwise noted later on, all F's and C's will be played as sharps.

The b symbol is called a flat and it makes the letter that is associated with that line flat. So, in this case, unless otherwise noted later on, all E's, B's, and A's would be played as flats.

If there is nothing marked as a flat or sharp, then it will be played as a natural.

Step 3: Identify Time Signature

Since I am just explaining the basics here, I am just going to stick with the most common time signature which is 4/4. There are many other ones that exist, but this one is the easiest to understand at first.

You will be able to identify the time signature because it will be at the beginning of the piece of music and I have highlighted where you should see it in the music.

The 4/4 Time Signature means that each measure can only have 4 beats inside of it. You will learn more about the values of notes and their durations, as well as the different types of notes in the next step.

Step 4: Music Notes and Their Durations

Now that you are able to identify important parts of your music, now lets get to the fun part...the actual music!

If you look at the screenshot with this step, I show in my example Quarter Notes, Half Notes, Whole Note, Quarter Rests, Half Rests, and Whole Rests. While there are many other notes besides these, these are the most basic and most commonly seen early on.

So, Remember...we are in 4/4 time, so every measure MUST add up to 4 beats. In this case, Quarter Notes and Rests are worth 1 beat. Half Notes and Rests are worth 2 beats. And Whole Notes and rests are worth 4 beats. It is good to keep this in mind now and understand it before the music gets more complex.

Quick Review of this step:

In 4/4 Time, all of these are true:

Quarter Note and Rest = 1 beat

Half Note and Rest = 2 beats

Whole Note and Rest = 4 beats

All beats in each measure must equal 4

Step 5: Summary

You made it! Here is a quick Summary of everything you just learned:

  • You learned how to identify notes by using FACE and Every Good Boy Does Fine to help you
  • You learned how to identify and where to look for your Key Signature, and what it means
  • You learned how to identify and where to look for your Time Signature, and what it means
  • You learned about the different types of notes, and there duration of beats that they are played

Step 6: How This All Relates to DIY

This instructable relates to DIY in two ways

  1. It relates to DIY because you can use the basic information I just gave you, to create your very own music that is 100% made by you, just using the software I used and described in the intro
  2. Also, this relates to DIY because you are learning these concepts with intentions to learn something, and you are doing it yourself, which is so awesome!

Like I said in the beginning, thank you so much for looking at my Instructable! I really hope you learned something!

Please take the following quick survey to help me improve my instructables! I would really appreciate it!

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