How to Read Music Notes
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.
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.
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!
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