If you didn’t read the first post check it out here, as this is a continuation from my last lesson where we went over the notes on a piano, accidentals, and a brief understanding of the major scale.
So you’ve come to learn to read music, that’s great. Reading music will help your playing, understanding, and writing of your own music ten fold.
Reading music as some people say is similar to reading a new language.
Today we will focus on reading what is called “The Staff”, “Treble Clef” and understanding/reading “Rhythms/Beats” & “Time Signatures”.
Let’s start with the basics.
Music is written on a “staff” of 5 horizontal lines. Which means there are 4 spaces in between said lines. We can also have notes above (on top), and below the lines.
Here is a picture of a blank staff, with a weird squiggly symbol on the left.
Ignore those numbers for now as we will talk about them in a few sections. That squiggly Symbol on the left most likely looks familiar to you. That’s because it is the “Treble Clef” symbol. A Clef is a specific symbol that is at the very beginning of your musical staff to dictate what notes are being represented on the lines and spaces. There are a few different clefs, all with their own use. Each clef will have the notes on different lines and different spaces than any other clef. For now we will focus only on this one, the Treble Clef.
This clef is quite possibly used the most, it is used in popular music, it is used in jazz music to show the melody, it is used in classical music especially when there is a piano involved, it usually is for the right hand part of the piano, it is also used in guitar music. The other most common clef is the bass clef which is also used in piano (left hand), guitar, and bass guitar, but as I said we will look at the bass clef next lesson.
So as mentioned before the lines and spaces will each be a specific note/letter.
The notes on a staff will usually be some type of circle (we will go over what the circles mean in a bit)
The lower (bottom) of the staff the lower the note on your instrument, the higher (top) of the staff, the higher the note on your instrument. So from bottom to top goes from low to high.
Let us look at the letters ON the 5 lines (from bottom to top)
———F——— line 5
———D——— line 4
———B——— line 3
———G——— line 2
———E——— line 1
You may have also heard this little sentence/mnemonic when looking into/learning about music.
Every – Good – Boy – Does – Fine / Every – Good – Boy – Deserves – Fudge
This is a simple way of memorizing the 5 lines of the Treble Clef.
Here’s a picture of the staff with the letters on said lines.
Then we have the spaces which are in-between the lines:
——————- line 5
E – space 4
——————- line 4
C – space 3
——————- line 3
A – space 2
——————- line 2
F – space 1
——————- line 1
Now this one doesn’t really need a mnemonic, it just spells out the word F–A–C–E
Here’s a picture of the staff with the letters on said spaces:
The last way you can memorize the lines and spaces is by simply going up in alphabetical order from our first line, E, up to the last line F.
Line 5 = F
Space 4 = E
Line 4 = D
Space 3 = C
Line 3 = B
Space 2 = A
Line 2 = G
Space 1 = F
Line 1 = E
Here’s a picture with the letters on both the lines & spaces:
Now as I mentioned before we also can have notes ON TOP and ON THE BOTTOM of the clef, so when the note is on the bottom of the clef, it is still touching the first line, but the circle is formed underneath the line.
Just like when the note is on top it is touching the top line but the circle is formed on top of said line.
Here’s a picture of the notes on top and on the bottom of the clef.
Once again these notes are just one letter before or one letter after the notes before/after it.
So now from bottom of the clef up to the top we have:
On Top of line = G
Line 5 = F
Space 4 = E
Line 4 = D
Space 3 = C
Line 3 = B
Space 2 = A
Line 2 = G
Space 1 = F
Line 1 = E
Bottom of line = D
Here’s a picture with all the letters from the bottom of the 1st line up to the top of the 5th line
The last thing we have when reading music is something called a “ledger line” . Basically notes are infinite they go up and up and up, and down and down and down. So if we are looking at only 1 clef and we want to write some notes that are lower/below D or above/higher than G we can create a pseudo-line above or below the clef. This miniature line will notate notes that are above and below the staff but will not be an entire staff line length/size.
Here’s a picture of a ledger line above and below the staff, and what letters they are.
We would simply go up one letter from our highest note on top of the line, G, so one letter above G would be A, which would be our ledger line above the staff.
And we would simply go one letter from our lowest note on the bottom of the line, D, so one letter below D would be C, which would be our ledger line below the staff.
Finally here is an image of all of our notes from our 1st ledger line below the staff all the way up to our first ledger line above the staff. (We can have as many ledger lines as we’d like, and can have note on to and underneath ledger lines just as we would as a normal line)
Now that we have the majority of the letters/notes on the lines and spaces. We can go over how we would use accidentals(sharps and flats) while reading music. *Remember the term accidental has 2 uses, “They represent alterations to “natural” notes” but they can also mean notes not within a given scale/key*
Whenever we say a letter and it’s accidental we would say note name – accidental.
So I would say F Sharp (F#), BUT when WRITING music, we need to notate the accidental BEFORE the note. Because we need to know this information BEFORE we play the note. If we wrote the accidental after the note, that would be too late and the player may play the note without said accidental.
So on the staff you would see the accidental (natural, sharp or flat) before the circle.
Now let’s say you want to play a D# then a normal D natural. You will need to dictate that natural within the given measure line. (We will go over what a measure/measure line is in the next section).
The natural is just as important as the other 2 accidentals as you will need to tell the player we are changing from a sharp, #, or flat, b, to the “natural note” hence why the natural symbol exists.
Here is a picture of all the notes from the 1st ledger line below the 1st line up to to the 1st ledger line above the 5th line with their accidentals attached to them. (some will, and some will not have a natural symbol, this will be explained in measures in the next section)
Rhythm. So now we know what notes/letters to play, BUT we need to know how long/speed of said notes. Because music isn’t just about what notes are being played, but their rhythmic/beat value and speed within the given song. So at the moment we have only talked about and seen/used notes as a full, unfilled, circle.
BUT different types of circles will dictate different speeds/length of the note being played.
We have 4 main types of rhythmic beat/note-values (there are more than 4 but for now we will focus on the ones used the most).
We have the Whole Note – which lasts 4 beats, and looks like an unfilled, full circle.
We have the Half Note – which lasts 2 beats, and looks like an unfilled, full circle, with a stem attached.
We have the Quarter Note – which lasts 1 beat, and looks like a filled, full circle, with a stem attached.
And we have the Eighth Note, which lasts .5 (half of 1 beat), and looks like a filled, full circle, with a stem and a “flag” attached to said stem.
Here is an image with the circles, and their beat length.
Now as you have seen before, on the staff we usually have 2 numbers on top of one another. This is called a “Time Signature” which tells us how many beats are contained in each measure/bar, and which note value is equivalent to a beat. A measure/bar are those vertical lines (called measure lines/bar lines) that chunk the music into different sections aka measures/bars.
The most common time signature is 4/4. So the top number indicates how many such beats will fill 1 measure/bar.
The bottom number indicates the note value that represents one beat, in this case 4/4 means 4, quarter note beats, per bar. (So 8 eighth notes fill 1 bar, 2 half notes fill 1 bar, 1 whole note fills 1 bar)
So if we see 3/8 this means 3 eighth note beats per bar. (1 quarter note and 1 eighth note fill a bar)
Here are some pictures of different note values per bar, and in 2 different time signatures. 4/4 and 3/8 for example.
So just as important as beat values would be NO note values aka a pause/or rest where no music is played. Because music isn’t just the notes being played or their length, but the silence in-between.
So for all the different beat/value types we have we also have their pair in rests which means to pause or do-not-play for the same beat value.
We have the Whole Rest – which lasts 4 beats, and looks like a whole in the ground with a line (upside-down top hat)
We have the Half Rest – which lasts 2 beats, and looks like a top hat (upside down whole rest)
We have the Quarter Rest – which lasts 1 beat, and looks like a weird squiggly 3.
And we have the Eighth Rest, which lasts .5 (half of 1 beat), and looks like a 7 with a circle on the end of it, or semi like a cursive f without the line through it.
Here is a picture with the symbols and their rest length.
Here is the same picture as before with the different note values per bar in 4/4 and 3/8, but with rest values instead of note values.
Now you may be asking yourself, I see a note/beat/rest that equals 4,2,1, and half. But where are note lengths like 5 or 3?
So there are no specific symbols/shapes that equal these beat values. So what we do is we add a symbol to an already existing symbol to change it/extend it into 5 or 3 beats.
The first symbol, and most simple, would be to add a small dot, like a period, after any note/rest.
If you see a dot after any note/rest value that means it is extending the note, by half of whatever the note is, that precedes the dot.
So a dotted whole note would be for 6 beats, 4+2 = 6A dotted half would be for 3 beats, 2+1 =6.Here is an image with all 4 main types of notes, and rests with a dot and how long those beats would last.
Now the last way we can extend notes values is with something called a tie. It’s basically a semi-curved line that goes from one note, to the same note. A tie will always connect 2 of the same notes, never 2 different notes. So we literally, “tie”/add those 2 note values together. We wouldn’t tie a rest as a rest is just silence, but tying notes together would lengthen it’s sound. Ties also usually wouldn’t be in 1 measure, as we can just use a dot. So a tie would always connect two of the same note across different measures. I’ll put a few examples in this picture below.
We have now gone over how to read music on the treble clef, how to read different rhythmic note values and rest note values, how to read dotted notes, dotted rests, and tied notes. This will get you very very far in your music reading. We can now move onto all 12 main major scales. So there are actually more than 12 major scales as we have different note/letter combinations for some of the same notes, as we talked about in our first lesson. We have an enharmonic such as F# and Gb so they would both get their own uniquely spelled scale, but will sound exactly the same. So the 12 scales we will be doing today will be the simplest 12 scales, aka the scales with the least amount of accidentals for easier understanding, reading, and playing.
For today, I will put these scales in an order where we will go by easiest to hardest (least accidentals to most). Here are the scales we will be doing and their order, for today:
C Major, G Major, F Major, D Major, Bb Major, A Major, Eb Major, E Major, Ab Major, B Major, Db Major, F# Major.
BUT next lesson we will go over a better way of putting these scales in a more specific order, something called the circle of fifths. (This will explain the order of sharps and flats)
I will also link to a downloadable folder that contains .pdf, .png, .midi, and musescore files with all of these scales written in sheet music. I will also have all 12 scales, piano images just like we did in the 1st lesson.
Remember our major scale formula is: 1,W,W,h,W,W,Wh (1 is our first note then we go up these steps in this order)
So just as our last lesson, we can start with our easiest scale, the scale with no sharps and no flats, the C Major Scale.
Now our scale with 1 sharp, G Major.
Now our scale with 1 flat, F Major.
2 sharps, D Major.
2 flats, Bb Major.
3 sharps, A Major.
3 flats, Eb Major.
4 sharps, E Major.
4 flats, Ab Major.
5 sharps, B Major.
5 flats, Db Major.
6 sharps, F# Major.
So before we end this lesson we need to look at our F# scale and understand why we have a new enharmonic. E#. But there is no black note between E-F? So how can we have E#?
So remember in lesson 1 I mentioned we need to go in alphabetical order during the major scales. So our F# scale HAS to start on F# and then go up from F-F (F-G-A-B-C-D-E-F), so if we look at our formula and this pattern:
F# up a whole step is G#, a whole step up from G# is A#, a half step up from A# is B, a whole step up from B is C#, a whole step up from C# is D#, now here is the odd part. A whole step up from D# is indeed F, BUT we have to call it a type of E as E comes after D and we already have an F in our scale, F#. So we would call this F an E# as F is indeed a half step up from E.
This also means there are other odd/rare enharmonics between E-F, & B-C.
E# = F
Fb = E
B# = C
Cb = B
Here is an image on the piano with the odd/rare enharmonics.
So now you can start to read music on the treble clef, play all the different types of rhythms, and start to practice all 12 of your Major scales. Next week we will go over “keys/key signatures”, enharmonic scales, the bass clef, and the circle of fifths. After that lesson I will give a brief introduction for guitar and then continue with guitar and piano the following weeks.