How to Read Music Notes

Updated on June 1, 2017

Learning to read music is like understanding a different language. Once you apply the basic principles, you will find it is not all that difficult. This article will take you step-by-step through the basics of learning to read the notes on the grand staff. Understanding other musical notations will be covered in another article.

Before you begin, read and absorb these 4 concepts:

The two staffs
There are two staffs that make up the grand staff (A staff is the set of five lines). The top staff is marked with a treble or G clef and represents the notes from middle C on up to the top of the piano. The bass or F clef marks the bottom staff and represents the notes from middle C down to the last note on the keyboard. You will notice a big space between the two staffs, but it wasn’t always like that. Earlier composers kept the staff close together, so you could easily see the continuation of left hand notes to right hand notes (it will make more sense in a minute).

Observe the lines and spaces
Notes are placed on a line or a space. When you reach the top or bottom of the staff, a little line called a ledger line is added to the note to continue the pattern of line, space, line, space.

Learn your musical alphabet forwards and backwards
Everyone knows the ABC’s, but how many of you can say it backwards as fast as you say it forwards? ABCDEFG must also be known in your head as GFEDCBA. This will help you quickly identify notes that are on the staff.

Learning to identify the distance between notes is as valuable as knowing the note itself
Most people don’t realize that pianists (and musicians) do not only know the name of the note, they are training their brain to visually recognize the different spacings between notes. For example, two notes next to each other can be any number of spaces apart. Here is a quick guide to identify the distance between notes.

You are ready to read music!

Find the secret lines!
Okay now the fun part. Let’s look at the treble clef first. Do you see where the circular part of the clef is? It circles around a particular line. That is the G line (thus the reason it is called the G clef). That is your point of reference in the right hand. You can always quickly identify the G line because of the clef. Down on the bass clef, look at the two dots on the clef. Find the line running between them. This is the F line (thus the reason that it is called the F clef).

Learn the six C’s
There are six major C notes that you will play in your music career. If you learn them all my memory, it will help you to identify other notes surrounding the C’s. Put them all together in a line and you will see a mathematical pattern. They are equidistant from each other, mirroring the same pattern on the top and bottom. Memorize their position on the staff.

My handy dandy six C flashcard!
My handy dandy six C flashcard!

Notes move in a line/space pattern
If you have a note on the first line of the treble clef (which is E), the next note will be on the space (F). Notes always go up and down in a pattern of line/space. So if you see a note on the bottom line (E) and then the note next to it is on the second line, you can know that it is a (G) because it skipped the (F) space.

Memorize the funny phrases
This is the last step. There are pneumonic phrases that help you memorize the position of notes on the staff, though once you have your secret lines and the six C’s memorized, you won’t need this too much. Here they are:

Treble Clef Spaces: F A C E (starting with the first space)
Treble Clef Lines: E G B D F (Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge)

Bass Clef Spaces A C E G (All Cows Eat Grass)
Bass Clef Lines G B D F A (Good Boys Deserve Fudge Always)

Time to practice
The best way to memorize your notes is with flashcards. Buy a pack and drill yourself until you can recognize the whole deck in less than a minute. Concentrate first on the 6 C's and the secret lines, then study the notes right above and below the C's (these are the D's and the B's). The D's and the B's are the hardest to memorize because they all look so similar. Once you have that down, go to the E's, F's, G's, and A's.

Don't just learn the notes that are on the grand staff. Try to learn the notes that are inside the big space and above and below the staff as well. Flash cards will be help you with this.

Another way to learn your notes is through a notespeller theory book. It is basically a list of exercises that help you recognize the notes. Sometimes it involves crossword puzzles, color by note exercises, and straight drills. It breaks up the monotony of flashcards, especially if you are teaching to a child.

People often don't understand why the notes on the bass clef aren't the same as on the treble clef. When you see it as one continual clef, it starts to make sense.
People often don't understand why the notes on the bass clef aren't the same as on the treble clef. When you see it as one continual clef, it starts to make sense.

I hope this article gave you some helpful hints on how to read music. Stay tuned for more tutorials on other common music theory principles!


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • profile image

      Cyber Poacher 

      2 years ago

      You lost me on the secret lines. Why are the secret line?

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 

      3 years ago from Texas

      Julie, a fantastic hub, why didn't I find you years ago. I love music of all kinds.

      Blessings to you, I will be back

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Just checking I'm not missing something. On your "6 C" picture, there are only 5 C's pictured.

    • lovebuglena profile image

      Lena Kovadlo 

      7 years ago from Staten Island, NY

      Reading music is surely like reading in a foreign language. This hub is certainly helpful in learning how to read music and the notes on the music sheet. It will come in handy. Passing this on. Thanks for sharing.

    • barbergirl28 profile image

      Stacy Harris 

      7 years ago from Hemet, Ca

      This is absolutlely fantastic. I have played the clarinet since I was a 5th grader, which means I am pretty good at the Treble Clef staff because that is all I really needed to know at the time. I also played the Alto Clarinet for awhile but didn't really have to move down to the Bass Clef.

      Needless to say, my daughters are both learning how to play the piano. This is where my knowledge for music really comes in. I can help them with the notes and the counting and the different meanings. But sadly, that doesn't really help when I am trying to help my daughter with the notes in the Bass Clef. This is definitely going to be bookmarked and shared as it is a great way to explain the notes. In fact, I just reviewed this with my daughter! :)

    • nina64 profile image

      Nina L James 

      7 years ago from chicago, Illinois

      What a great hub!!!!! How is it that I can sing but I can't read music? This is a great resource in learning how to read music. I will definitely check out your other hubs on this subject. Your instructions are clear and concise. Voted up!!!!!

    • Joseph041167 profile image

      Joseph Mitchell 

      7 years ago from Nashville TN 37206.

      voted up and useful. I really really miss my guitar about now. I really really want to fool with power G, D, A, and E, and fool with some noises. I gotta keyboard in storage in Antioch. I value music, theory, notation, whatever.

    • uNicQue profile image

      Nicole Quaste 

      7 years ago from Philadelphia, PA

      I took lessons a couple years ago and just realized yesterday that I forgot a lot of it. This was a great refresher!

    • glorgeousmom profile image

      Glo L Bernadas 

      7 years ago from Philippines

      Wow, I never thought reading musical notes could be this interesting and fun. I will be looking forward to your coming tutorials. Thank you. I had fun reading this article. Voted up.

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 

      7 years ago from San Francisco

      14 years of music study plus a BA in music qualifies me to say, 'Good Job. Great report". Now I know why I put in all that work. :))

    • randomcreative profile image

      Rose Clearfield 

      7 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      Great resource, Julie! I love your visuals and simple explanations.

    • Lord De Cross profile image

      Joseph De Cross 

      7 years ago from New York

      This is so awesome! Knowing my math, ang checking this graphs and checking back that kyeboard of mine, I can regain the time lost. "Maybe I can play that amazing grace" better than by ear! You have outdone yourself Julie. You connected that Treble Clef with that Bass Clef smoothly! Thanks!

    • whittwrites profile image

      T B Whitt 

      7 years ago from New Jersey

      I read your Hub once, but I love to write lyrical poetry so it will help me a lot. Great article I will read a few more times

    • healthwealthmusic profile image

      Ruth R. Martin 

      7 years ago from Everywhere Online ~ Fingerlakes ~ Upstate New York

      I love music also and am learning to play keyboard. I still have a long way to go! Thanks for this informative hub :)

    • kygirl89 profile image


      7 years ago from West Virginia

      I love playing my violin and learning how to play other instruments. Being able to read music is very important because it is a universal language. Thank you for this hub!

    • Neil Sperling profile image

      Neil Sperling 

      7 years ago from Port Dover Ontario Canada

      Good stuff - On piano I grasp USING reading notes easier than on guitar -- guitar I play mainly by ear yet understand the basic chords I play... good hub!

    • Julie DeNeen profile imageAUTHOR

      Blurter of Indiscretions 

      7 years ago from Clinton CT

      @breakfastpop- thanks!

    • breakfastpop profile image


      7 years ago

      I love this hub! I am going to print it and study it. Thanks so much. Up and useful and awesome too!

    • Gospino profile image


      7 years ago

      Algvulpes,i love the musical sound that it produce but i don't know how to play

    • agvulpes profile image


      7 years ago from Australia

      This is a timely hub for me as I am just learning to play a keyboard and have been wondering how to remember the notes and the keys associated with the notes. Thanks for the 'primer' :-)

    • TToombs08 profile image

      Terrye Toombs 

      7 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map.

      Excellent information, Julie. Much like Chinese, I don't understand the language of music, but this is VERY helpful! VUM.

    • josh3418 profile image

      Joshua Zerbini 

      7 years ago from Pennsylvania


      I have been involved with music and vocals ever since I can remember. This hub is very informative and presented clearly. Awesome job hub friend!

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 

      7 years ago from Orlando, FL

      Wow! This hub is an amazing learning tool. I'm clueless when it comes to reading music. I thank you for my learning lesson today:)

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Amazing tips! This is definitely a great source for people new to reading music. It is definitely it's own language (especially when you consider the difficulty of reading "Liebestraum" by Lizst). Great Job! Sharing this hub.

    • myownlife profile image


      7 years ago from london

      Wow , it is an amazing tips, as a matter of fact, I left music class due to those notes. I am gonna have a look it again.




    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)